Monday, June 22, 2015

From the Campus to the World!

Gospel transformation in and through family connections!  

For someone like me who received an atheist education since I was very young, the Bible was no different than any other collection of ancient myths. Many people have tried to share the Gospel with me... but I could not understand or agree with it.....

A couple of weeks ago Nick Biebel married Ronkui Han (class of '15) I got to be a part of their wedding ceremony which was definitely an honor.  I've known Nick since he was a freshman; he was part of a Community Group (Bible study) that I lead with Edgar Lei.  
The story of how God has worked in and through Nick and Ronkui is so good, I just wanted to share some of the high points here!  It's a story of how God works on campus and how that reverberates out into the world!

As I mentioned, Nick plugged in with us here in Cru pretty much right away.  He'd become a follower of Christ towards the end of high school though a youth group that a friend invited him to attend.   The youth program at Valley Bible Church helped Nick to understand and believe the gospel.   In the fall of 2010 Nick came to Cornell to study Plant Science.

It was in the Plant Science department that Nick met Ronkui Han.  Ronkui is actually from China and she came out here to the U.S. specifically for school.  Nick and Ronkui had some classes together and they were also part of a plant breeding club.  As they spent time together they started becoming pretty good friends.  They talked about a lot of stuff, including faith, God and "religion."  Nick is a passionate follower of Jesus Christ and so the topic came up pretty often.  God used those conversations to provoke interest and curiosity in Ronkui.

Somewhere during Ronkui's sophomore year, one of our student leaders named Kaytlin (Kimball) was out on campus with some of the girls in her Community Group.  They were initiating spiritual conversations with people.  In a divine appointment Katylin met Ronkui! Some would say "randomly" but we can see God's providence too clearly to use that word!   Ronkui didn't know Katylin, but that day they started a friendship with Jesus at the center.  Ronkui started attending Kaytlin's Community group from time to time and reading the Bible and interacting with the truths of Christianity.

Nick was praying for his friend Ronkui.  Kaytlin and her girls were praying for Ronkui and God was at work all the way through!  Eventually Nick and Kaytlin found out that they were both friends with Ronkui and they were able to help her explore the gospel together!

Within a few month, Ronkui put her faith in Jesus!   And also, Ronkui and Nick started dating.


Two summer's ago Ronkui's mom came out to visit from China.  She found herself a little bit bored during the day and so Ronkui suggested she go over to the First Ithaca Chinese Christian Church (FICCC) to make some friends and speak some mandarin.  The people at FICCC were incredibly welcoming and Ronkui's mom ended up spending a good amount of time over there.  She began to explore the Bible earnestly.  Here is a part of her reflection:  

Ten years before the summer I spent in Ithaca, I met a couple from Hong Kong.  They gave me a Bible.  Occasionally I would read it, for conversational purposes.  To be honest, I did not understand most of the material, nor did I believe any of it.  For someone like me who received an atheist education since I was very young, the Bible was no different than any other collection of ancient myths.  Many people have tried to share the gospel with me since then, but I could not understand or agree with it.  During my first Sunday Worship at First Ithaca Chinese Christian Church (FICCC), I fell aslee -as I thought I would_ when the pastor was explaining some Bible verses.  At that moment, the lady sitting next to me gently nudged me and spoke to me quietly: "That's okay.  It takes time."  Ashamed, I started listening to the sermon, and surprisingly, i could focus and understand what the pastor was talking about.  I came to Sunday worship every weekend in the following two months, and understood most of the content delivered at the services.  I began to believe that in this massive universe there is an almighty God, and his being is very relevant to my life!  
Nick and his now monther-in-law

In just a few short months, she also put her faith in Jesus Christ!  This past May, she came back to the states to attend Ronkui's graduation and wedding.  While here, she also got baptized!  She has been able to connect with a family of believers in Asia, but she wanted to get baptized at the church -and among the people who helped her to know Christ.  A number of people gathered to hear here incredible testimony and rejoice with her. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

New Interns for Next Year!

As we look towards next year we are extremely encouraged by the number of interns that will hopefully be serving with us here at Cornell!  Each of us is laboring to raise our funds this summer, but if all goes well there will be 7 of us (including Stephanie and I) working as a team here on campus next fall.  I'd like to introduce our three newest interns so that you can be praying for them asap! We've got three new interns and two returners; all of whom are Cornell alum.

Sam Rabkin
Sam graduated with a degree in Engineering Physics.  By faith he turned down at least one lucrative job offer with IBM in order to stay here with us for a year ministering to college students.  Sam became a follower of Jesus while he was a student.  The community of Cru was instrumental in enabling Sam to understand the gospel and his desire is to help others experience that same blessing.  

Sam is an incredibly loving guy who is known for serving and helping others.  As a student leader he was instrumental in (consistently) mobilizing our movement to help serve the homeless in our city.
 On campus he was on the Taekwondo team where he not only excelled athletically, but he also facilitated an incredible community group where both Christians and others were able to explore the Bible and the Christian worldview.
Sam has an incredible heart for kids and last year he and I got to serve together in Haiti.  Although engineering internships are important for career prospects, Sam spent a couple of his summer's serving kids in both the U.S. and Bolivia.

Kelechi Umoga
Kelechi Umoga is an inspirational man!  Specifically because our ministry here is so international, I am really excited to have a team member who is from Africa; Kelechi hails from Nigeria.  Kelechi is a man of conviction and faith and sticking around to intern with Cru is just one more demonstration of that.  Usually, when a student comes from another country to study in the States, it is so that they can get on sort of "fast track" to success, wealth and even power.  Slowing that momentum down in order to humbly ask others for financial support  so that you can hang out on campus talking about Jesus and hosting Bible studies is not normal!  And in fact, according to common opinion*, it's considered stupid!  When people ask Kelechi why he is doing this, the tone tends towards concern, confusion and even pity.  It's a "what happened?   Or "where is your focus?  Did something happen to you?  Don't you remember what's really important?"  haha!  The answer to all of  those questions is Jesus!    Kelechi has a powerful and personal relationship with God and that certainly affects everything!

As an international student it's scary to even attempt the fund raising endeavor because he doesn't have as many relationships here in the states!  I'm grateful for Kelechi's courage!  

He's not afraid to walk a different path even if it seems completely "out of the box."

Kelechi and Sam are actually really good friends and so it's going to be awesome to have them both on campus for another year.

I wrote a blog post on Kelechi back in January.  Link to it here. 

Anna Thompson
I often tell prospective students that THE BEST REASON to come to school at Cornell is to be a part of the awesome things God is doing here on campusAnna whole-heartedly agrees!  She first plugged in with us when she was attending the local community college in our area.  After getting her associates and working for a couple of years in another city she felt lead to pursue more education  -specifically at Cornell.  One of the driving motivations for her applying to come here was the chance to spend  more time serving and being  involved with our ministry!  

She told me; “Cru was truly instrumental in my life  – it made a huge difference while I was a local community college student and [was again when I transferred back!]  Because of the way that God used Cru in my life, when people ask me how I came to Cornell, I have a natural avenue to tell them about God and invite them to Cru
Anna and her brother doing the "Tough Mudder" adventure race!
Believe me, God has been using Anna to make a huge difference in the lives as others as well!   She's very social and extremely friendly and it seems every single week she has the chance to talk with somebody about her faith and how the gospel brings life and joy.  

Anna has a lot of energy and it's going to be good to have her spending time with younger students; mentoring and helping them to walk by faith.  She has an adventurous spirit and I know that our female leaders age gonna be so blessed! 

Nick Biebel will be returning as an intern.  His new wife Ronkui will also be here of course! 

Mercy Gbenjo is also going be here serving as part time field staff! 

* depending who you are talking to it is very common to hear negative perspective towards the idea of graduates raising funds and serving for a year in ministry.  Why?  Many think it poses too great a risk to one's career advancement opportunities.    Even some Christian parents consider the Cru intern option a foolish decision that can have an adverse affect on a person's educational or professional and economic future.  This despite the fact that every single one of our former interns has in fact gone on to pursue/obtain a graduate degree and/or a job.  

Ben Hutton M-Div (Westminster)
John Sullivan M-Div  (Westminster)
Edgar Lei  Currently in Med School at Tufts
Charlene Chan  Currently in Med School at Loyola
Larry Lin (interned in D.C.) Currently in Seminary pursuing M-Div at Southern 
William Poon  Currently in business in NYC  Still has plans to pursue an MBA

Monday, June 15, 2015

Senior 2015: Esther Koo

"I grew up in a Gospel church, where half the congregation was black, the other half was white, and there were four Asians: my dad, my mom, my sister, and I. It was fun, and I thought all churches looked like that!"

Esther Koo is one of those people who really "gets" what we are trying to do as a ministry.   She is an extremely dependable and faithful servant who has contributed a lot to our movement here at Cornell.  There is no actual way of tabulating how many girls are  plugged into Cru and growing in Christ  because of Esther's leadership and example.  She is a real shepherd of women, she's an encourager and she has a lot of spirit!  We call it "Cantonese Fire!"   

Esther has an inquisitive mind.  She asks great questions and is commited to thinking about things critically.  
A few weeks ago at Church, Esther Shared about a particularly pivotal moment that occurred during her sophomore year. She said "I was meeting with my mentor, who was an upperclassman in Cru, and she posed the question to me, “Why are you a Christian?”  I responded that I enjoyed having the knowledge that God had a plan for me, and I could trust in Him for the future.  My mentor acknowledged that, but then proceeded to share the Gospel.  I was about to write it off, because I had heard it many times, but I realized that the Gospel should have been the answer to her question.  And for the first time, I was convicted by it.  I realized that up to that point, my “faith” consisted of Christian values and [knowledge of] Bible stories.

She continued: "Applying the Gospel to my life meant confronting sin.  I did not know the destructive effect that sin had on my thoughts, thinking about people in an unedifying manner and projecting my desire for affection physically and emotionally on the way I perceive others.  What’s more, sin is a barrier to an intimate relationship with God.  However, the power of the Gospel shatters that barrier and when I recognized sin and laid it at the foot of the cross, I felt freedom."

A couple of years ago on the Haiti spring break trip. 
Esther's zeal for Jesus is pretty overt.  She's served as a Community Group leader for the past several years and she's been a big part of our Spring Break mission trips every year!  Thankfully Esther will not be leaving Cornell next year.  She'll stick around to get her masters degree so we get at least one more year with her!
Esther also lived in the 10 girl Cru house.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Seniors: Katie & Anna Johnson

It is so fun when siblings get to attend Cornell together!  

Katie and Anna Johnson are twin sisters who served faithfully in our ministry here at Cornell.  Right up til the last minute Katie was on campus helping me to interview and equip next year's Community group leaders.  Her dedication to shepherding and encouraging the younger women in our ministry was just awesome!  The Johnson twins are both literature buffs and Katie studied English here at Cornell.  She is hoping to teach high school in California while Anna is pursuing a job with the International Justice Mission.

 In her Senior exhortation Katie introduced us to a painting by the Belgian surrealist painter named RenĂ© Magritte, called the Treachery of Images.  It's a painting of a pipe and underneath it it says "This is not a pipe."  The sentiment is simple and yet extremely profound.  
It says “this is not a pipe,” because it’s not a pipe; it’s just a painting of a pipe.  It is an image of a pipe and although it can provoke us to think about a pipe, in the end it cannot do what a pipe does.  A person would be foolish to live as though the image is all that there is!   Katie explained:  In the same way, much of what we see is only a representation of God, not itself god.  We are materialist and sensual beings who think that what we perceive with sight and touch in the physical world is what is most real.  But Romans 8:25 says that we hope for what is not seen, because we already have what we can see, and someday that will go away.  The world will fade away, but God is eternal.  C.S. Lewis said going to Heaven will be “the real wakening; the dream is ended, the morning is beginning.”   It is so easy to live our life consuming and consumed with all kinds of "images" and idols.  
Katie at one of our women's times

Katie is very good at helping others to see Christ through our favorite heroes from the past or from fiction.  They can function as echoes of the real Hero, like the drawing representing the real pipe.  She pointed out that Jean Valjean’s (Les Miserables) generosity to the poor reflects how gracious God is to us; Captain America’s purity reflects how Jesus lived the perfect life for us; Mulan is fearless in the same way that Jesus courageously came down from his throne in Heaven for us; Sydney Carton laid down his life as nobly for Charles Darnay as Jesus did for us. (A Tale of two cities.)  I know that many high schoolers will be blessed to have Katie as a teacher!  

Anna running Cross Country 
Throughout her time here at Cornell, Anna was involved with the on-campus chapter of the International Justice Mission (IJM).  IJM is an incredible organization that works primarily to end human trafficking and rescue modern day slaves.  IJM is a Christian non-profit that expends a lot of energy working to restore rule of law, protect the vulnerable and thwart oppression all around the world!   Anna's heart beats for the poor and those in need. While she was a student, Anna was constantly working to help Cornellians become more aware of important issues in our world.  Whether Anna ends up working full time with IJM or not, we know that she will continue to mobilize others to fight for enduring peace.  
Anna and Katie lived in a house with 8 other women leaders in Cru.  I called it "the girl house" but they called it Alpha Omega house.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Senior: Isaias Munoz

It was Freshman move in day back in the fall of 2011 and I got a call from the father of Isaias Munoz. We'd had some email interaction and I had told him to give me a call when they arrived on campus so I could meet them.  As soon as they pulled onto the grass in front of Dickson Hall I was there on my bicycle and Isaias and I have been bro's ever since!   Isaias' dad is a pastor in New Jersey and I remember hanging out in the hallway along with his uncle talking about reformed theology  while Isaias unpacked his boxes and set up his room.

That night I took Isaias with me to Walmart to pick up food supplies for one of our welcome events the next day.  The guy was serving in Cru from his first hours on campus, and he's been faithfully at it ever since.
Isaias and Dani at our Fall Getaway

That first day in the hallway, even though I had only known Isaias for 20 or 30 minutes, my main concern for him was that he would be taken out of the race by a romantic relationship.  So many college students -even those who grow up in stout Christian families are derailed by the lure of sexual sin and the party life.  I had known a number of guys like Isaias, and I told his dad specifically that of all the potential pitfalls at Cornell, the one I thought he needed to be most guarded against was hooking up with a girl who couldn't care less about Jesus!

Praise God, Isaias never got tangled up with that stuff here at Cornell.  Walking with Jesus in fellowship with a tight knit group of brothers, Isaias actually ended up dating an incredible woman of God named Dani Corona!  Today they are engaged and will be married on my birthday next fall. (October 11.)  Isaias and Dani were both leaders in Cru before they started dating and they have certainly continued to serve together this year.
Isaias and some of the sophomore guys he got to serve with.
I was talking to one of the sophomore guys yesterday and he was lamenting about how much he is going to miss Isaias.   I could never fully capture in a blog post how much this guy has contributed to our ministry and to the lives of so many of his fellow students.   Everybody who knows him knows that he loves the Word of God.  He is a man who can be counted on to speak truth in line with the scriptures.  But he's also a lot of fun!  He's got a fantastic sense of humor and he's able to ham it up and bring a lot of joy wherever he goes.  Isaias was so good at connecting with new students and helping them to feel at home in Cru.   He's outgoing and very social.
Gabe Casillo, Isaias Munoz and Sean Salmon; best friends.  
I still remember meeting up with Isaias and his best friend Gabe Casillo at the end of their freshman year; we have an interview process where we assess our future Community Group leaders.  I had no reservations whatsoever with these guys!  I remember talking with Isaias and Gabe about how grateful I was for their understanding of our mission on campus and their enthusiasm for our small group methodology.  (Certainly they had benefited from being mentored by Kyle Yost!)  Throughout his time here, Isaias has helped lead effective missional Community groups.  We will miss his capable leadership in that arena next year, but he will leave many holes to be filled.
I ask each of our praise bands to ensure that they always have a strong male vocalist in the mix. Certainly a strong female lead to accompany them is good, but I always want a strong male singer up front.  This is specifically so that when new guys come -especially someone who is "unchurched" and not a Christian, they can see that singing praise to Jesus is something men do.  It is a fact that many men who did not grow up in Church think that group singing is kind of odd.   We want a masculine role model to exemplify a heart of worship.   Isaias is certainly one of those guys!   His voice is strong and powerful and I know that next year when we are singing praise at our first weekly meeting I will miss his example and his leadership in worship.
Back in the summer of 2012 we went out to visit the Munoz Family in Jersey
I will also miss hanging out with Isaias on Friday nights.  This year we began heading out to Taco Bell after everything was wrapped up on Fridays after our main meeting.  We'd eat burritos and then hang out talking til 1:00 AM about life and mission and anything else that came up.  As the year wore on, more people began joining us and we moved the party to Denny's!  Hopefully we can keep that fellowship going as we head into next fall!

I could write forever about this guy, but one last thing I'll forever be grateful for.  Isaias used to take my son's out to Taco Bell for "man time."  They always had an incredible time together of course!  And true to form, Isaias was always purposeful and edifying in his engagements with my kids!  What a guy.

From Parties to Evangelism

When it comes to communicating the gospel to people who don’t know Christ personally, there is general agreement that the best way to do this is in the context of relationship/friendship.   By and large most people in America -both Christians and non-Christians are decently averse to other modes of evangelism like street preaching, door to door, or random contact etc.   Although I don’t think any of those is unbiblical, I do think that these days it is most effective to communicate the gospel in conversations with people who you know and care about.  We should try and do that as often as possible!
But this doesn’t mean we should only talk about Jesus with the people we already have relationship with.   Certainly not.  Compelled by the love of Christ and commissioned to help the whole world  know and follow HIM, we must endeavor to reach out to others.  Living on mission with Jesus means meeting and connecting with more people.  We must strive to communicate God’s love and grace powerfully and effectively.  

Especially because all ministry is essentially an act of hospitality, one of the best ways to reach out to others involves hosting some form of hospitable gathering.   Here people can be exposed to the grace of God and experience fellowship in community.  This might look like a neighborhood cook-out, a party, maybe an open-mic style event, a bonfire or even something like an informal group of friends going out for burritos or bubble tea!   Whatever it is, it’s a venue for those who know Christ to spend some time mixing it up and building relationships with others who don’t know Christ.  
Below are three basic tips to help you be missional at a simple fellowship/party type of event.  
It is absolutely critical for those who know Christ to introduce themselves and welcome and talk to the people who are new!  This might seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many fellowship/party events I’ve been to where all of the Christians are standing around talking only to other Christians while the non-Christians are out in another circle talking to each other!  MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!  What is happening?  Jesus’ words about  the wrongness of lighting a lamp and putting it under a bushel would apply here!  You need to extend your hand and meet people!  

There is nothing more missionally ineffective than a bunch of Christians hanging out NOT talking to those who do not know Jesus!  

Shaking hands and saying “welcome” is just the first step.   Again, because the idea is “relational evangelism” there needs to be a relationship!   Moving beyond simple greetings, take the time to  pursue conversation.  Think about where you are sitting.  Are you physically positioned in a place where you can connect with new people?   Sure someone needs to make sure that the napkins are stocked and that the ice bowl is full, but are you spending all of your time tending to logistics while ignoring the people?  Calm down Martha!  Take a load off, make yourself available, talk and chat it up.  Get to know things about the other person, and try to find those things that you might have in common.  

What we are doing here is actually caring about people.  The old saying: “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is applicable here.  Not talking to others essentially communicates; “I don’t really care much about you at all.”  

When you are at a large group cook out or dance or coffee shop or whatever kind of event, there is a good chance you are NOT going to be able to share the gospel right there and then.  Hopefully, as you cover ground in conversation, you’ll be able to at least broach the topic of spiritual things in some way.  And as you share a little bit about your life hopefully you’ll get the chance to at least mention the name of Jesus.  But in the crowded environment, you won’t always have the opportunity to really dig in and “talk theology” -especially if you haven’t known the person for more than 5 minutes.  So, you need to make a plan to meet up some other time.  How will you foster the relationship going forward?   It may involve inviting the person to something, or it might mean you going to something they invite you to!  Let’s say for example you learned that your new friend plays a lot of basketball at some gym or playground.  You could offer to meet up there and play some hoops.  Maybe your new friend has a booth at the farmer’s market.  You could make an appointment to go visit them there some Saturday morning.    Now the specifics of the situation might make this more or less conducive, but at the very least you should always try and exchange some sort of contact info. 

Even if you don’t sketch out a plan together, you as the missional-minded ambassador for Jesus Christ should be thinking of a plan!