Monday, November 10, 2014

Gospel Driven Student Leader

Two summers ago, Kelechi Umoga went back to Nigeria and began building a health clinic in the village of Abuja, Nigeria.  He hopes to go to med school and be a doctor, but he’s already begun to transform  health care in his home country!   

The Cornell Chronicle wrote a fantastic article about his work that you can read here.

Cru at Cornell is literally one of the largest student organizations on campus because of leaders like Kelechi.  He is a very committed leader in our ministry here and what that means is that he’s a contributor who shows up  week in and week out to work alongside others in an effort to serve his fellow students and work in ways that make Cornell more joyful.  To me that’s incredibly important.  I know that Kelechi can bring people together to work on something great in Africa because I’ve seen him do that here on campus.  

As a desk receptionist at Anabel Taylor Hall, one of Kelechi Umoga’s duties includes locking up Cornell’s Sage Chapel on the nights when he works.  A couple of weeks ago when he walked in after 11:00pm he saw a solitary student sitting in a pew quietly staring forward; deep in thought.  Kelechi hesitated a moment, not wanting to disturb the guy, and then politely asked him if he would mind shutting off the lights when he left.  The student obligingly said ‘yes’ and Kelechi was going to leave, but he felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to walk over and engage the student in conversation.   They ended up talking for quite a while and I have no doubt Kelechi was able to be of considerable comfort to this new friend who was struggling over the recent break up with his girlfriend.   In the end, they exchanged numbers and made plans to meet again.    Kelechi is a caring, helpful, compassionate person who makes time for others not just when he’s doing something spectacular, but even late at night when no one is around to see him. 

Kelechi hosts a Community Group, gives guidance to our student prayer team and sings in our Cru Cornell Gospel band. This guy has integrity and it’s a beautiful thing to witness.  When he sings there is a power that flows not just from his strong vocal chords but from the authentic, blood earnest faith that he has in Jesus Christ.  His conviction is evident and there’s just something right about a person proclaiming that “God is good all the time” who actually believes that!   

In the spring of 2013 Kelechi accompanied our group on a service trip to Haiti where we work with an orphanage.  Kelechi is fluent in French which was incredibly helpful and he was certainly a natural with the kids.  I have this image burned into my mind whenever I think about Kelechi of him dancing with the orphans one evening at the house.  He told me once that back in high school he was really into partying and his dance skills were somewhat notorious.  So much of that party scene was destructive and self-promoting and so when he became a Christian he was very cautious about getting involved in that type of scene, and so he really doesn’t dance as much.   But he brought out the moves that night, and the kids were all about it!   And for me, that scene really captures so much of who Kelechi is.   He’s a man in motion, engaging with others, bringing joy and blessing to those around him.   When you think about it, that’s pretty much what dancing is really supposed to be about anyway.  So for me his skills are still notorious! 

When it comes to motivation, drive, initiative and even big vision, you could say that there are a lot of guys like Kelechi at Cornell.  But to me, what sets him apart is that he’s such a team player.  Kelechi has plans that’s for sure, but he’s unusual in that he’s not out there trying to just do his own thing by himself.   He lives life connected with others, and he has good friends.   For any grand endeavor to really work in this world you need capable people who can truly lead others, motivate others and  mobilize their friends.    Kelechi is adept at joining together with others and getting other people involved in whatever he is doing. 
Kelechi spent this last summer studying  for his Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and in the end, his score wasn’t that great.  He will need to keep studying and retake the test in order to gain admittance into med school and that was discouraging for sure.   But as long as he feels called to be a doctor I am absolutely certain that he will strive and persevere and overcome in order to achieve that goal.  And even though the scores weren’t as good on this round as he would like, I feel confident that he will make an incredible doctor some day because he already does so many of those things that great doctors must do!  He actually cares for people, he serves others, he lives a life of consistency and conviction.  He passes his classes here at Cornell, so I also know that he’s academically capable, it’s just a matter of time before he improves his MCAT scores and proceeds to med school.  But in the meantime, what he’s going to do is trust God and live his life doing all kinds of wonderful things, and so there will be no time “lost” that’s for sure! 

Either way, Kelechi is planning to take a gap year and  this past weekend, he was with me in Rochester, attending Cru's intern preview weekend.  He is seriously considering sticking with us next year as an intern which would be absolutely incredible!  

In case you haven’t read this article about him, please check it out:

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pressed but not crushed

Some of you have been “in the loop” so to speak, and many of you have not really.  I wanted to give you a brief synopsis of some medical/health challenges that have recently been a part of our life, so that you can join us in prayer more specifically. 

A couple of years ago Stephanie suggested that I go in for a routine physical.  The standard blood tests revealed a low white blood cell count, and so my physician asked me to have a second test run.  I eventually got around to that, and again, had a low white count.  Last March when I was getting a prescription for malaria meds for Haiti, my doctor and I talked about my results and set up another test and an appointment with a blood specialist etc.  Long story short, I ended up having some more blood tests and eventually a bone marrow draw!  That was intense, but not as painful as you might imagine.

A few weeks after that we had this really terrible Doctor visit where the doctor told us she was concerned that I might have a pre-leukemic disease called Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). (google "leukemia and MDS and you'll find it.)  She explained that MDS always becomes leukemia and told us the facts about how relatively unsuccessful bone marrow transplants are.  That was a hard day.  Although she considered me a definitive 'rare case' because of my age etc. she was preparing us for the worst.  "By the numbers" she said I might only have 10 years to live.  WOW!

I am extremely grateful that I had read John Piper and David Paulison's article titled "Don't Waste your Cancer" years ago!  Seriously!  Everybody should really read that article, because statistically, everyone's gonna have a doctor appointment like that at some point!  
Our kids knew I'd been getting tests and we had been told that leukemia was an option even before that day.  We came home and shared with our children that the doctor thought I might be on a slightly faster track to heaven than most daddy’s my age.  We read some scripture and tried to convey to them some of the intensity in a way that let them into what was going on but also wasn’t completely alarming or anything.   Together, we spoke of the reality of God’s goodness, sovereignty and love for us. 

In July I went to Columbia University to what is arguably the best MDS lab in the world.  There, my new Doctor –Dr. Raza checked me out and determined that at this point, I do not technically  have MDS.  She cannot conclude at this point that I have it, but, given the blood and marrow readings, it’s quite possible I am headed that way –but not  for sure.  That day was actually quite encouraging because my blood levels were actually normal!  Yeah!  I truly consider it all an answer to prayer.  My white blood cell count was in the normal healthy range for once! Praise God. 

I’m scheduled to visit Dr. Raza in New York city every two months now.  After conducting an expensive genetic screen they’ve determined that I’m in a grouping that’s slightly less likely to end up with MDS – Leukemia!  (I DON'T have a certain genetic deformity which virtually ensures you'll end up with MDS.)  And that's awesome!  But again; it is still a very real possibility that what we are looking at now is the early stages of this thing called MDS.

I rest knowing that Jesus is the good shepherd and my life –which James reminds us is a “vapor” is truly in the HIS hands.  Every day is a gift from HIM, and I want to live it for his glory and his purposes.  We have joy in the midst of trial because of who God is.  We rejoice in the Hope of the Glory of God. 

Not only that (as Paul continues in Romans 5:3-5) but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  

Please pray for 1. Healing and Healthy blood!  2. Faith as we walk through the difficulty  3.  Wisdom. I want to know what the Lord has for me in all of this. 

How do I feel?  I feel perfectly normal.  I've never had any "symptoms."   I feel great.  There is literally nothing "physical" that seems noticeably compromised.  In fact, even though the White Blood Cell count is "low" the doctors have told me that my Immune System is technically healthy and fully functional.   

So what are we doing?  Praying.  Thanking Jesus for every day. Eating lots of Kale and all kinds of green stuff.   Trying to exercise more regularly and pretty much keepin on keepin on.   (Dr. Raza has given me a specific diet recommendation.)  

Read "Don't Waste Your Cancer" online here.

Check out Dr. Raza on youtube here

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Seasons Matter

     Continuing with agricultural metaphors that I use when talking about campus ministry.....

My grandfather Betts was a verifiable "green thumb."  He worked that Tucumcari (New Mexico) dirt faithfully and always had fresh beans, tomatoes and squash etc.  He passed the gene along and although my dad didn't get a garden planted every year, he certainly gave it a go on and off throughout my life.   I've never planted a garden, but as I get older (and get more kids to feed!) I've felt this desire to get into it.

Have you ever heard of planting potatoes in a trash can?  This spring, I watched a few videos about planting potatoes in barrel.  With any kind of barrel or bin or even some type of cylindrical fence wire and some straw, you can plant a whole bunch of potatoes in an upright arrangement.  "Container Gardening" is a fantastic urban gardening technique, and it's also good for keeping the deer out of your crops!  (Go on youtube and search for "plant potatoes in a barrel" or check out this link.)  I was inspired reading about harvesting hundreds of pounds of potatoes!  What a great idea!

Then I went to Wildwood, NJ for our Cru Summer Mission.

When I came back, I still wanted to plant some potatoes, so I found my friend Teddy at church.  Teddy is a masters student who studies potatoes!  You couldn't find a better helper!  I told him what I wanted to do.  He wasn't too familiar with the barrel technique, but he had heard of it.  I asked him where I could get some good seed potatoes and he said he'd talk to one of his professors.  We both acknowledged that it was a little late to be planting.  

A whole week passed by and the next week, I saw Teddy at church and here's what he said.  "My professor said you would need to plant some very specific (fast maturing) variety of potatoes if you wanted to have any yield planting at this time of year.  And even then, you would really need some ideal growing conditions.  Without a greenhouse, you really can NOT count on the elements to help you out.  And besides that, you don't have access to the seed potatoes that you would need even to have a chance.  It's not going to work out for you this year."

Shut Down!  

Here's what happened. Growing crops takes time, and it's critical to get seeds in the ground at a certain time of year.  It doesn't  I matter how good your soil and your compost is if you aren't planting at the right time of year!  It doesn't matter how carefully you place the seed or how nice your irrigation system is.  It won't matter how much care and "love" you give your garden -you have the plant in the spring!  I could've found the nicest barrel, procured the finest soil and fertilizer, but at the end of the day, I was just too late! Even with the help of an Ivy League student who majors in tubors at Cornell, you just don't plant potatoes outside in Ithaca in the middle of July.

Planting crops is a "time critical" endeavor.  There are times of year when you must do certain things if you want to have things to do the rest of the year!  Every field has it's seasons, not all seasons are the same, and you've got to act accordingly.

In campus ministry, there are also seasons that are special, and there are things that must be done in the summer and in the  fall or things will be very very hard.  (I would say "impossible" but we know that with God all things are possible!)

The fall is a time to meet tons and tons of new people and help them get plugged in.  We must get out on campus to welcome as many new students as we can.  We must labor  to make campus ministry visible, tell people that we exist, inform them about our on campus fellowship.  We talk to people about Jesus and explain the necessity of life in gospel-centered community.  We invite them to check out our small groups where they can connect with others study the Bible and gather around the gospel.  The fall is special because the weather is good and the school year has just begun.  The "climate" is literally "right" for making new connections! People actually  have time to hang out and talk more than they will in about a month.  Everybody wants to meet new people and make new friends.   And people are just forming up the "rhythms" of their year.  They are making decisions about how they will spend their time, and who they are going to be hanging out with.  Campus ministers and student leaders must engage as many people as they can in the fall because that's when students are settling in.

In essence, this is our planting season!   As the year goes on, life on campus gets more hectic, frenzied, and here in Ithaca -cold!  Students schedules become more settled and rigid.  Habits have been formed and if a student hasn't made Christian fellowship a part of their life, it will be harder to integrate it in the middle of the year.  But if we will put the work in during the first few weeks of the fall, we can see a new "crop" of leaders raised up.

Everything we do is dependent upon dedicated, Jesus exalting student leaders.  In order to do what we do and make the gospel as accessible as possible on campus, we need as many student leaders as we can get.  The new students we connect with in the fall are the leaders of the future.  And if we fail to connect with those students in the fall, we will be lacking man-power in the spring and going into next fall.

This dynamic really affects our Community Group leaders.  They understand that if they don't work hard in the fall, their Community group might be about as big as my potato harvest.  Nothin!   The beginning of the year is when you have to make the majority of your new connections.  You can go walk around the dorms in November, but you won't find tons of students willing or even able to modify their schedule to help you launch a new missional Community Group at that time.  But if you work hard in the fall, you'll have a group ready to minister to those around them for the rest of the year.   You've got to get your hands dirty in the first few weeks of the fall!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Calving Season"

There's really nothing quite like the beginning of the fall semester!  It's a time of year that is truly special and unique.  
Most people have never seen the 7 part documentary called "The Last American Cowboy."  It's about 3 different Montana cattle ranches and the families that own/run them.  It's thoroughly interesting to see how all three ranches really do things a little bit differently based on their size and resources. 

I reference that movie often at the beginning of the year as I'm coaching our student leaders because  I compare the beginning of the school year to "calving season."  Calving season on a cattle ranch is an extremely important, extremely busy,  and unique time of year.  It's an "all hands on deck" season where the normal rhythms of life are disrupted by the critical work of delivering  the baby calves.  The whole years work and the  financial future of the ranch is dependent upon live, healthy cows, so the key is to see as many calves "hit the ground" safe and ready to thrive.   Everybody is "on call" and life looks different during calving season.  

Normally the cowboys and ranch hands don't stay up all night -but during calving season, that's not rare. The work is exhausting, and although normally the hands don't sleep in the barn -during calving season they might.  The workers are on a round the clock schedule and where on a normal day, no one would ever have to sleep in the truck -during calving season they will!  Everything is different during calving season and the "routine" or lack thereof is informed by the mission during this special time of year. 

And that's how it is during the beginning of the fall semester on campus.  Diligence is the name of the game, especially at a place like Cornell.  Together with our student leaders we labor in ways and at a pace that is unlike any other time of year.   We spend more money on food -both as we host kick-off events, but also as we spend time eating in the north campus dining facilities with new students.   I eat fewer meals with my family during this time of year, and our student leaders also eat less at home.  We stay up later -attending glow in the dark dance parties, hosting late night sports events and planning for the next days activities.  We get up early, to spend time in prayer, we're sending tons of emails, texts and facebook messages to new students who are interested in getting connected to the body of Christ.  We spend hours standing at tables in all sorts of strategic places on campus welcoming people, handing out information packs and inviting people to our small groups.   The first few weeks are different, they are definitively more hectic and they require more energy than usual.  

A campus ministers life looks very different during the first month and a half of school the same way a cattle ranchers does during calving season.  You simply cannot treat that time of year the same as any other.  The pace slows down around October, but right now, we're still in the midst of our "calving season."  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Right In Our Own Back Yard!"

Two of our kids were downstairs riding skateboards and the rest of us were in our apartment when after a quick rap on the door, a girl from China walks right into our house with a confident "hello."  It's 9:15 in the morning, and  even though we have never met, she's standing in our entry way, exclaiming at the cuteness of Juniper and wandering down the hallway to the living room! 

"Hello!"  I greet her back.  We all introduced ourselves and began to talk about apartments for rent in the area.  I ended up walking around the neighborhood and helping her and her friends find some living accommodations for the summer.

It's not that that was a daily occurrence by any means, but I tell you that story to highlight just how involved we are with the international student population in Wildwood!  The students are everywhere -even walking right into our living room!  
So often it's merely sentiment to say "there are people from all over the world right in our back yard." But on the Wildwood Summer Project, it's actual fact!   Throughout the week and with increasing frequency we and our students hang out in the backyard of the project house talking with new friends from all over the world.

I was hanging out one night talking with a guy named Alex from Romania along with a couple of other guys including a guy I'll call "G" from China.  We were talking about original sin and I was explaining the Adam and Eve story which was actually brand new to "G."   Alex, had grown up around the Eastern Orthodox tradition, so he was at least familiar with the narrative.  As we talked about the effects of the fall in the world and in our lives Alex exclaimed grievously "Awww Adam!  Why did you eat that F****** apple!?"  (I think he speaks for all of us.)  As we went on, I was explaining that Jesus is the only one who has ever lived a perfect and sinless life.  So that the gospel was not confused as being simply another moralistic tale, I told some other stories from the Bible, explaining that all of the characters in the Bible are actually sinful, fallen human beings, and only the God in the flesh, Jesus can save us.  As I told different stories, I dialed em up using BibleGateway on my iPhone.
It was a great conversation and everyone was really engaged.  "G" said, "I am really interested in the Bible right now!"  I explained that he could read the whole thing online in his own language!  He said, "yah, but how long would that take?"  I said "Probably a couple of months."  He said  "Don't they have a movie or something?"  I said "well, actually...yah.  They kind of do!  Just this past year the History Channel made a movie!"  I said "I'll buy it and how bout next Thursday we can start watching it!"

Here's what's cool.  "G" actually went home and downloaded the full miniseries on his computer!  But then, someone stole his laptop!!  NOOOOOO!  But he came out on Thursday, and towards the end of our International Cafe, we set up a screen right in the driveway and about 10-15 of us watched the first episode of the Bible movie.  

There were guys literally getting their first exposure to the Biblical narrative!  And they were into it!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

F.A.T. Volunteer

F.A.T. stands for Faithful, Available, and Teachable.  Dan Seo is definitely FAT!

The truth is, Dan Seo wasn't planning on staying at Cornell for a whole semester after he finished school, but thankfully God was!  Dan rocked out his Electrical/Computer Engineering degree in just 3 1/2 years and was dutifully applying for jobs throughout the fall of '13 but nothing panned out!  Dan had seriously considered staying at Cornell and volunteering alongside our interns, but in the end he and his family had decided it would be best if he went straight into engineering.  BUT, surprisingly, he just wasn't getting the offers!  The situation was actually very stressful.  Dan is certainly capable and qualified, but the discouragement compounded each time he would do an interview and fill out an application only to be passed over.  And not only was Dan himself getting unnerved, but his father and mother were increasingly distressed which put a lot of pressure on him. When January of 2014 arrived, Dan decided that -without another job available, he would hang out in Ithaca for the semester, and spend time serving our ministry with his free time.  

Dan was able to have a God-centered perspective on it all.  Relaying his experience to our movement he said; "I ended up without a job and I like to think that it was by God’s grace that I didn’t get a job [last semester]."  It's been a faith challenge for sure, but those of us who have been involved can affirm that Dan has fought hard to believe truth in the face of adversity. (In fact, at the time of this writing, Dan is still applying for jobs, and is even now trusting God even with the future so uncertain and out of his control.)

As a student Dan was a real servant leader who was a big part of leading Community Groups in Collegetown.  Dan also acted as the functional "secretary" of our ministry, helping to ensure that notes were taken at every one of our leadership meetings and typing up 'minutes.'  He would typically post the minutes right after the meeting thereby enabling anyone who was unable to attend to "catch up" on all the stories and business that had been covered.  Numerous leaders benefited from that contribution!  Doing that, also enables us as staff to look back on over 2 years of leadership meetings to keep track of what we have covered in the past and help us be more effective going forward.  As a volunteer, Dan was able to keep doing those things and even more.  

Dan's friends would tell you that he is truly one of the most disciplined and organized people they have ever met.  I knew that his strengths would be a wonderful compliment to our staff team.  Explaining his experience working with us he said  "I don’t think J, Will, or Mercy will take offense when I say they are not logistical/administrative masters or necessarily detail driven. They just weren't made to be people sitting in front of a computer screen typing all day....or to discuss logistics for hours on end.  Instead they... communicate, direction set, build relationships with people, teach and lead.   But me, with my personality and disposition, I’m an organizer!  I like figuring out logistics, planning and thinking about the details."
Especially as we organized and orchestrated the logistics and finances of our 3 spring break trips, Dan and his spreadsheets enabled us to send students to New York City, Guatamala City and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. And because he didn't have any coursework on his plate, Dan was able to be very available to fill in holes and help with almost anything at all! And it certainly wasn't all business! We enjoyed his company and appreciated his friendship.

I will say that for my part, I was extremely grateful that Dan was able to stay with us!  And I know that the rest of our staff team loved it as well! He certainly finished his time here at Cornell in a way that was definitively non-traditional, but it was so, so helpful.  (In fact, I truly hope that others will follow his example and do the same in years to come!)  Sharing at our last weekly meeting, in his matter of fact way,  he encouraged others to consider staying as an intern or volunteer staff. 

"I wouldn’t ever want people that serve as a volunteer staff, much less intern, to have not thought this over. [Going to] work immediately, taking a vacation, a celebratory trip somewhere fun, or just bumming around and relaxing (after graduation).....none of those are the wrong choice to make.

But I do believe there might be a better choice. Like a lot of thing Cru advocates, Fall Getaways, Summer Projects to name a couple, it may not always, in every situation be the best move, like when you need to be studying or working at a job, but like a lot of thing Cru advocates, staying and serving is something you will not regret doing. For me, it's been a blessing and helpful in my walk, and I hope that makes staying a bit more appealing."

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Blessing with Bikes

The Wildwood summer project motto is "treasuring Jesus and making him known."  We want to be conduits of God's love and blessing in every way that we can while we are here this summer.  One creative approach we've decided to employ is free bike maintenance.   On Thursday nights, we provide free bike repair to anyone who needs it.
College students come from all over the world to work in Wildwood, NJ over the summer.  Because almost none of them have cars, many of them purchase used bicycles from local shops, craigslist and random neighborhood dealers.  Many of these bikes are pretty beat up!  The wheels are bent, the gears and brakes are a mess and you wouldn't believe how many bikes I've seen this summer that are missing bearings!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Bicycles.  (Just coming out here to Wildwood, I brought a bike for everyone in the family along with two child carrier trailers to tow behind our bikes!)  And most of the other staff here also have bikes and know how to work on them.  So we decided to buy a mechanic stand and each Thursday evening at our International cafe we set up shop at the end of the driveway and work on peoples bikes.  

We've advertised our services on our flyers, so plenty of kids show up with messed up bikes.  We'll line em up and get to work adjusting cables, pumping tires, fixing brakes and lubing chains.  While we work the students either hang out with us and chat or sit down in the back yard enjoying the snacks and meeting new friends.

There are a couple of things that I really like about this venture.  To start with, it's just a very simple way to serve others practically.  People's bikes are broken, their tires are flat and they need someone with tools to help them get back on the road.  And there we are.  Secondly, students come in with busted, struggling bikes and we bring a certain 'restoration' as we get things tuned up, unstuck and put back together.  And in that way, what we are doing with the bikes is really a picture of what I believe God is doing through this project all the way around.  He is using our group to teach and proclaim the good news of Jesus thereby ushering in life restoration to people who are broken and hurting.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tyler Kelleher: Content in God

Tyler Kelleher enrolled in the Cornell vet school in the fall of 2010.  He did his undergad at UC Davis where he had been involved with Cru, and when he showed up to Ithaca he had just finished a Summer Project in South Africa.   Because of his experience in ministry he was able to jump right in to our movement and was a dedicated leader pretty much from day one.

Many grad students find it difficult to stay plugged in with campus fellowships, but Tyler was truly an exception.  He possessed a spiritual maturity that came from age and experience, but he operated with a vitality that made you think he was still an undergrad!   He was very involved in the leadership of small groups and he was a huge part of our praise band.

Tyler in Guatemala
"Authenticity" really became the theme of the evening at our senior share, and Tyler brought some powerful reflections to the table.

He titled his message "The sufficiency of Christ and displaying the gospel in singleness".  He opened up about what it looks like to cope with disappointment in relationships.  Basically, what do you do when you really want to be married and it just doesn't seem to be working out with anyone?   He talked about really finding your identity in Christ and and resting in His unconditional, overwhelming and profoundly sufficient love.

At the beginning of his talk, Tyler said candidly "I want to be married and I'm not afraid to admit it."  He talked about God's good and glorious design for marriage and expressed his plain desire to have a wife.  He went on to talk about how he had pursued relationships with Godly women over the years -in a way that was honorable and God-glorifying and yet nothing had panned out.  He talked about the discouragement that comes with growing older and seeing friends and even his younger brother get engaged and find a spouse. He talked openly about believing lies.  It's easy when things aren't going how we expected them to go for us to believe things that aren't true about God and about ourselves.  Tyler began wrestling with the idea that there was something wrong with him, and that God was holding out on him.  Ultimately he began to believe that he was "unlovable".

Tyler said "I Ultimately realized that I that was believing a lie which boiled down to 'I’m not lovable'.
That was nothing less than a Satanic lie. Yes, we are all messed up and in need of grace, that’s true, but the enemy wants you to believe that part without acknowledging the rest of the story, namely THE CROSS!!!
From Jesus’ work on the cross, we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are loved.
Jesus was willing to endure the pain of being betrayed, scourged, mocked, and ultimately murdered for the sake of reconciling us and bringing us back to Himself to be with him forever"

After preaching the gospel and talking about his journey towards peace in the face of disappointment, Tyler went on to encourage everybody to maximize their singleness. He said "we shouldn’t be feeling unloved, discouraged or incomplete!  We should live in Christ every day -even doing things that might be harder to do once you are married!  

Throughout the years, I had the chance to talk with Tyler about relationships many times.  And I can personally testify to the way he consistently treated the women around him with respect and honor.  I've seen him grow tremendously in his faith as he believed God.  I know that God has a plan for him, and statistically speaking,  he will most likely get married some day.  But I can see clearly that God has a unique path for Tyler. Right now he's headed to California where he plans to work as a vet for a few years and then he wants to work somewhere overseas.  Tyler has a heart that is very missional and would like to work somewhere where he can make a significant difference.
Tyler provided leadership on our Guatemala Spring Break mission trips

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Senior's Hannah and David

As I've mentioned before; during our last large group meeting at Cornell each year we have our seniors share parting words of gospel informed wisdom and exhortation.  One of the reasons this is such a powerful time is because our leaders share with openness and authenticity.  In doing so, they set a powerful example and really bless their classmates and fellow leaders.

Hannah Weaver explained;
"A lot of times in Christian community, especially here at Cornell, we are afraid to share our struggles with others. Whether it is because we want to seem perfect, or we are afraid of being judged, we all at some point try to hide from revealing our sin. We think that only God needs to know about it and no one else does. However, it is this attitude that typically keeps us from truly repenting from sin and therefore from experiencing God's forgiveness through grace. The truth is we are sinful.  We are not perfect - only Christ was perfect. He died for us so that we can live for eternity with Him in Heaven."

Hannah is dating another Cru senior, David Kim.  During her share time, she talked about their relationship and courageously opened up about some of the ways they had really struggled as a couple to maintain sexual purity. She explained that it was only by opening up, sharing their struggle with friends and confessing sin to others that they were enabled to live differently and pursue holiness. 

David also shared at our meeting, talking mostly about his first couple of years at Cornell.  I met David his freshman year and invited him out to a small group Bible study that I was leading with Edgar Lei.  He did come out a few times and Edgar and I repeatedly encouraged  him to get plugged in with Christian community, but he just never really got involved.  David had grown up in a strong Christian home and church but it seemed like he was on the path to being one of those students who "fall away from the faith"  when they get to college.  I'd see him on campus and he'd show up to Church on Sundays, but he was always telling us he was too "busy" to get more involved.  

David was on the Cornell track team, and no doubt the course load at Cornell is arduous, but what David was really 'busy" doing was watching hours and hours of T.V!  Growing up, his family didn't have cable and he hadn't been allowed to watch a lot of television, so when he got to college, he decided to use his new found freedom to make up for lost time!  He shared with us a whole list of substandard dramas from the CW network that he dedicated his freshman year to.  It was downright hilarious and sad all at the same time. Consuming t.v. was the focus of his freshman year at Cornell, and even extended into the summer!

Ironically, it was the Jim Carey movie "Yes Man" that helped usher David to a new place spiritually.  In the movie, Jim Carey's character has his life altered simply by saying "yes" and making himself available to the opportunities that come his way.  David watched it over the summer and felt inspired to do something similar.  He pledged to say "yes" to more invitations in the fall.  Enter Mercy Gbenjo.  Mercy is one of our interns now, but back when she was a student she was also on the track team.  At the beginning of Dave's sophomore year she invited him to come out to our Fall Getaway, and he said 'yes.'  It was a half-hearted and reluctant 'yes', but by showing up to the getaway, the course of his college life changed.  

Dave encouraged everyone to remember what matters and to help each other to see and savor Jesus.  I am so grateful for both Hannah and David and really glad that by grace, Dave was rescued from wasting his life at Cornell!  Both of these guys were very dedicated leaders in Cru! 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Jesus-Centered Driveway Party

Last night we hosted our second "International Cafe" here at the Wildwood Summer Project. I call it a Jesus-centered driveway party!   It's all hands on deck every Thursday evening as we light Tiki torches, set out extra tables, brew coffee, set up snacks and get a fire going in the backyard fire bowl.  Come 9:00pm we cue the music and people start showing up for a night of talking and hanging out.
Throughout the week we pass out flyers to any of the international students who we meet and just before the party begins, we walk up and down the surrounding streets inviting people over to hang out.  As the evening progresses, pretty much every person that passes by drops in for at least a few minutes and sometimes a few hours.

We host the cafe at the Project house where most of our students live.  The purpose of this event is to create a space where we can spend time with our new friends (mostly international students) who live and work in Wildwood.   We eat S'mores, sometimes play games, but mostly we talk about life and spiritual beliefs.

Our first week kicked off with way more people than we expected! We met students from Malaysia, Thailand, China, Ireland, Romania.....and a really fun pack of dudes from Poughkeepsie.....New York.   At one point I looked around and noticed that there were easily twice as many students I didn't know as those that I did.  Certainly more than 60 students came including a girl from Thailand named "Mint".

Mint walked up to one of our staff named Lauren and immediately asked her "Are you on staff with Cru?"  It was actually a pretty odd question since most of these students don't know anything about our ministry and really haven't ever heard of it before!  When Lauren explained that in fact she was on staff, Mint told her about how she had become a follower of Jesus recently after hearing the gospel from a student on a Cru missions trip to her campus in Thailand!  She said "I love Jesus Christ too.  I know the Gospel of God!"

As Lauren and Mint continued to talk, Mint expressed her heart to communicate the good news to the friends she is living and working with this summer.  Apparently Dunkin Donuts has 20 Thai students working for them here in Wildwood this summer!  (Between two locations)  That was an awesome meeting!

I agree with Lauren, who said later "What I felt while talking to Mint was inexpressible joy!  What an incredible gift to get to see the fruit of a ministry thousands of miles away!  And what an amazing reminder that wherever we are, God is at work, whether on a campus in Asia or on the Jersey Shore!

So not only are we ministering to and among international students, but we are literally co-laboring beside International students here in Wildwood!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Class quotes 2

Here are some more excerpts from our senior leaders.  The class of 2014. 

I've mentioned before, that Brian Green is notorious for helping people understand God's unconditional grace. One thing that enables him to convey the hugeness of God's love is his willingness to talk about his own sin and shortcomings. He definitely did that on senior share night -confessing sin and talking about the transforming benefits of life lived honestly before God and others. He ended with this.  

I'll sum up my call to vulnerability with my personal testimony. I grew up felt very sure that I was not good enough to be worthy of anyone's love, especially not God's love. "There is so much wrong with me, how could anyone love me for who I really am?" So I hid who I really was from everyone and never opened up. The most beautiful moment of my life was realizing that even though God knew exactly who I was, He loved me anyway and was willing to die for me so I could know Him, be fully known, and experience His love. So I go to God vulnerably, with all of my failings, knowing that He loves me completely. And I do the same with friends, family, coworkers -- everybody, knowing that God loves me for who I am right now and hoping that we can love each other the same way.

Caroline Emberton gave a well worded encouragement to get involved in various organizations on campus.  She pointed out how good it is for Christ following leaders to serve within campus organizations and not just sequester themselves.  

Being a leader in the community can help you grow in your faith because you can be challenged to really wrestle with and understand other people’s viewpoints and you get out of your comfort zone. One of the best lessons that I learned was that God does not expect you to be perfect, he just wants you to have the faith inspired courage to stand. Be willing to be that person to stand, and be a servant leader in communities that are completely out of your comfort zone.  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Class quotes 1

Here are some more quotes from our Seniors of 2014.

Robin Ying "So I leave you with these final words which, even while living in the promise of grace and the hope of holiness, remind me daily of why we are here. We have all eternity to sing praise to God. We have all eternity to fellowship with one another. But we only have this lifetime to preach the Gospel! Let the Gospel transform you, that you may be made holy, set apart from the world so that this campus, too may be transformed."

(Robin will actually be staying at Cornell for another few years getting his PhD. I'm really glad that he'll be around!)

Lauren Lee We’ve talked a lot this year about the importance of community, and I’m not disputing the fact that having a strong Christian network is important,  but it doesn’t replace a real, sincere personal relationship with Jesus.

Nick Biebel If we graduate from Cornell but have not given God our all and loved those He’s placed in our life here, we missed out.  Don’t miss out.  Do Cornell differently.  It takes sacrifice and acknowledging our limits.  But it’s worth it.

Nick will be sticking around next year as an intern with us.

Kaytlin Fischer - "I think an important question to ask ourselves is, Am I content with my weaknesses? Not my sin or foolishness – we need to fight against those! But God shows us in 2 Corinthians 12 that He has given us these weaknesses for our joy.  The more aware we are of God’s grace, the more humble, prayerful, joyful, etc. we will be. And we are more aware of God’s grace when we are weak. So we can thank God for the weaknesses He has blessed us with!! Because He gives them to us so we can more fully experience the joy He has for us. When we are weak, God’s strength is more displayed in our lives."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Class of 2014

This past weekend, another class of seniors walked across the stage and received their diplomas from Cornell.  We had a great group of seniors this year and of course they will be greatly missed.  Nick Biebel will be sticking around as an intern next fall and Robin Ying will be here for grad school.  Other than that, the students are headed all over the place!

At our last weekly meeting we had 13 of our grads share a few minutes worth of parting wisdom.  Over the next few days, I'll include some quotes from each student. 

Joana Choe talked openly about the difficulties she encountered throughout college related to finances, family, academics and future career.  She was involved as a leader and connected to our ministry through all 4 years at Cornell. I personally appreciated the great insights that she shared about how hard it can be to lean on God when struggles last a lot longer than you would ever imagine they would!  

"Don’t let the bad situations and people who hurt you shape your view of God. Don’t allow you’re your heart harden towards God because of it.  Be aware of when this is happening, because it happens slowly and without you realizing it.
Remember why you first decided to give your life to God.  Remember his goodness and how he has worked in your life.  And if you feel that you have become distant to God, he is waiting for you, and you can come before his throne, confident of his grace and love towards you.  Persevere, pray, endure, and love.  Trust in the Lord, and hold fast to his promises."  

Hanny Chrysolite has a real missionary heart. We were hoping that she could go and serve with Cru overseas next year, but it didn't work out because she isn't an American citizen at this point. Bummer. She had some excellent encouragement to share. "Praying with someone else regularly. I can’t stress enough how praying with my roommate twice a week has been really a huge blessing and a highlight of my time at Cornell. To have someone praying for me regularly and checking up on me serves as a reminder that I am not alone in my spiritual journey."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My First Wedding!

This past weekend, I got to officiate the wedding of my very good friends, Larry and Van-Kim.

This is the first wedding that I've ever officiated!  (Although I'm not ordained by a church, the laws in certain states allow campus ministers like us to "solemnize")  This is the first of three weddings that I  will be a part of this summer!  It's gonna be good!  

I've written about my friend Larry on numerous occasions even on this blog.  I regard him a brother and a friend in every way.  Some suggest that I am actually somewhat responsible for Larry and Van-Kim's relationship as it was me who recommended that Larry consider asking her out!  I gladly accept any credit for any part I may have played in bringing such a wonderful couple together! 

I don't have any good pics of the ceremony yet!  But here's someones instagram of the rehearsal!

And here is a cool pic from their engagement party a few months ago. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The World in Wildwood

The main reason that we love the Wildwood Summer Project is because there are so many people from so many places in the world.  Cornell is certainly a place with students from around the Globe, but during June, July and August, Wildwood, NJ is the hot spot for college students from other countries. Morey's Piers - a collection of beach front amusement park attractions and restaurants is largely responsible for the legacy of foreign summer migration.  Supposedly inspired by both the Great Commission and Walt Disney, Morey's sends recruiters to job fairs at foreign universities throughout the year highlighting the employment opportunities and amassing their workforce.  

It's not uncommon when you're walking down the street to see postcards advertising "Bulgarian Parties" or other country specific gatherings.  

In 2011, more than 7,000 came from abroad to the Garden State through Summer Work Travel program and worked a myriad of service industry jobs.  

Below are a couple of links.  The first is "testimonials" page on Morey's Piers website.  You can hear some of the exchange students talking about their experience and get a real feel for where the students are coming from  The second is an article from

Monday, April 28, 2014

Eunice Ko: Blessed in Guatemala

Eunice Ko is known for her exuberance and un-ceasing encouragement.  She actually had some trouble raising the funds to go on the Guatemala trip, and for a few days, I really didn't think she was going to make it!  I was bummed about that, not just for her sake, but because I knew what an encouragement she would be to everyone else on the trip!  (Eunice is in the back)

She wrote an email to friends and supporters and I asked her if I could post some of what she said.  

Psalm 27:13 says "I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living."  That verse really stuck out to Eunice as she was preparing to head to Guatemala.  

She writes: "On our first day in Guatemala our team worked on pouring a concrete roof for the Hope Renewed Bakery. For this project all of the Hope Renewed scholarship students were required to volunteer so I got to make a lot of Guatemalan friends! This was the day I got to meet Jacqueline! She lives in the ghetto but God has allowed her to get into (arguably) the most competitive medical school in Central and South America! When Jacqueline was younger, she had cancer and almost died but her mother. who is an amazing woman of God, believed that God would heal her! Because of all the time she spend in the hospital as a child, Jacqueline decided that she wanted to be a doctor despite the impossibility of her circumstances! She was rejected from medical school twice but when her mom prayed, God showed her a green light and she encouraged Jaqueline to apply one more time. Now she is a third year medical school student with a lot of struggles, but God is ministering to her through all of it!"

Praying and ministering with Jaqueline was a true highlight of the trip for Eunice.  

"We also got to visit the women's prison where we listened to testimonies and we got to pray for the women. It was funny to realize that all prisoners are the same as us. Some of the women are charged with murder and some are charged with laundering, but every woman in the prison was just looking for God and so open to receiving His love. 
There is a separate area in the prison where gang members are isolated so that they don't hurt other people or hurt rival gang members."  

The Guatemala  team was blessed to meet one former gang member who came to know Jesus while she was in prison.  Today she ministers to the other inmates and has been able to see over 100 people put their faith in Christ.   

Our Cru team was able to spend  3 days at a girls orphanage.  

Montezuma's revenge was unyielding and most of the students did get sick at one time or another.  Eunice was grateful for the chance to not only serve the Guatemalans, but to grow closer to the team thru service as the week went on.   

Eunice  wrote "Although our time in Guatemala was brief, it was such a great blessing to love people and watch God moving in the hearts of Guatemalans and my teammates!"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Brian Green is NOT Normal!

Senior Brian Green is very unusual.  The things that he does are not normal; they are not typical, they are supernatural.
James 5:16 says “confess your sins to each other and pray for one another so that you may be healed.”  Brian does that.  A couple of months ago, he felt prompted to pick up the phone and call his dad specifically to confess some sin.  He had talked with his parents about many trials and temptations, but he decided it would be a good idea to call his dad and really let him in; to tell him ‘the whole story’ related to a specific issue in his life.   

John Owen once said: “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you”   Brian Green is a man who steps out with boldness and exposes sin to the light; where it dies!   Normal people don't confess their sins to their friends. They don't open up to their community group. Normal people don't call their dad and confess sin to their family!  Brian Green is not normal.

Brian can only do this stuff because he really loves Jesus!   He got involved in Cru during his freshman year.  Edgar Lei and I were leading a freshman small group and he came out very early on.  Brian would say that although he had a Christian background, college is where he really came to understand what it means to live in relationship with Christ.

Brian can be very outgoing and funny.  He cracks people up when he speaks in various accents –imitating people from around the world.  Brian is very dependable and smart, but I am certain that when people think of Brian the first thing that comes to their mind is his gracious, compassionate nature.   The way that he treats others is so kind and so helpful that they immediately feel loved. 

When he’s part of a small group, Brian has a real gift of helping others to be more authentic.  He leads others to a place of vulnerability.   He does this by sharing openly about his life and about his sin in a way that helps others to actually feel the safety and warmth of God’s grace. His openness enables others to connect with the truth of the gospel in a way that is quite remarkable.   Brian has grown a lot during college and that has a lot to do with his humility.  He is unassuming when he has a question; he's honest about what he knows or what he doesn't know.

 In our ministry, we talk about the Good News of Jesus Christ transforming Cornell.  We really believe that when the love of Christ is impacting every student, this place will be better!   We are striving to proclaim the gospel and make disciples who live out their faith in a way that really changes and blesses the world!  So how does that look on the ground? 

Recently, Brian brought truth and grace into his engineering project work group.  There was a bunch of “drama” in his group and they had become marked by relational tension, back-biting, and gossip.  Working together was miserable and it was all basically fueled by competition and selfish ambition.   The group was not performing as well as they could have been, but rather than pulling together and encouraging one another, everybody got irritated and started blame-shifting!  Nothing new under the sun.  (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

In a normal group, that would probably just continue until the end of the year.  But as I’ve mentioned already; Brian Green is not normal.  For Brian the idea of bringing sin into the light is not a theory; it has become a life habit.  So one day, he decided to bless his group in a way that only a Jesus follower could.   

It was not easy, but with trademark gentleness buttressed with Spirit empowered conviction Brian spoke into the messiness of his group.  Before they started their homework he said: “Hey guys, I think we should talk about our group here.”  You could have cut the awkward silence with a chainsaw!   He proceeded then, to verbalize that which everybody already knew was true –that there was a lot of tension in their group.  And then he uncovered the sinful root.  He did this by confessing his own faults.  He talked about his own frustration and then apologized for the ways in which he himself had been blaming and condescending towards others –both overtly and in his heart.  He asked for forgiveness.  Then he asked if anyone else wanted to express their feelings.  People were reluctant to open up as boldly, but in the end, the air was clear.  The fire of gossip had been doused.   The group was better!  

That study group stopped being so horrible because of Brian’s faith in Jesus.  He brought redemptive blessing to that work team.  And in short, it was because he understood that God loves him unconditionally that he was able to risk looking like an idiot and being ostracized by his team-mates for making things more awkward!  Additionally, it was by resting in the grace of God and understanding His  power that he was able to be courageous and not shrink back from what needed to be done.    Knowing the compassion of God enabled him to proceed with hopefulness that God would use his actions to make his group better.  Understanding God’s passion for loving reconciliation gave him a vision for how much better his group could be! 

Brian would be the first to tell you that what he did was scary!  But I’ve seen Brian move through his fear with faith many times!   He’s been a strong and stable leadership presence in Cru at Cornell for almost 4 years now.  He’s helped lead small groups and gone on numerous short term mission trips!

We will definitely miss him when he rolls, but I know that Clark Construction will be blessed to have him.  As Christ’s love pours thru him, they will be blessed. 

Brian was with me in Haiti over Spring Break.  He’s actually served with Cru on three separate trips to Haiti –including a Summer Project.