Monday, January 25, 2016

Senior Maggie Wong

Comforted by Grades GRACE!

Maggie Wong sat stressed and anxious pouring over Powerpoint presentations that seemed completely foreign.  How did she get so behind? These "review" notes sure didn’t feel like anything familiar!  She was trying to cram for an upcoming test and it was not working!  Failure loomed inevitable and each click of the mouse felt like a bucket of bricks coming down, crushing and burying her deeper under the pile.   And then there was a phone call!  Could it?.....what?..... oh wow; bad news!  Nothing was going as planned; stress fueled negativity consumed her.  Sadness and hopelessness clouded her already stressed out mind!  
Maggie Wong graduated a semester early and is now interning with the International Justice Mission (IJM).   I am excited for her, but we are definitely going to miss her here on campus this spring!  Maggie served as a Community Group leader and she also helped emcee our Friday night meetings.  

Maggie grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. (A fellow south-westerner!)  God blessed Maggie with both a wonderful family and a good home church.  Like many adolescent's 'Mags' had a knowledge of God and some interest in spiritual things.  But it was here in college that Jesus really got a grip on her heart!   This year during our Christmas party, Maggie got the chance to share some of her story with over 250 of her fellow students.

It was during her sophomore year that Maggie began to struggle with the academic intensity of Cornell.  Her grades were slipping.  This was basically a new experience for Maggie.  She said "All throughout middle and high school, I was on top of my work, but somehow I fell totally behind in everything and felt like I was constantly catching up in all my classes.....Cornell is a rigorous academic institution, and the classes are hard, the professors are tough. There’s such a pressure to succeed and to be ambitious, and all of this leads to a huge emphasis on GRADES."
Maggie (right) with Rachel Chuang
It may be hard for outsiders to understand why even a slight dip in GPA can function as such a life altering crisis for some students.  Suffice it to say that "Making the grade"  here at Cornell is about actually getting good grades.   Every sub-culture has it's metrics; for some it's how healthy, "organic" and fit you are, for other's it's about how you dress or what you drive.   But the Ivy league success markers revolve around being academically excellent (and then vocationally good after that).   And most of the students who study at places like Cornell have had their eyes fixed on their report cards for many many years.  

But the reason it can be so dramatic is even deeper; it's about the heart!  Maggie explained: "My identity and my worth and sense of purpose were all tied very closely to my grades, so when this sense of security was suddenly threatened, I was absolutely terrified and had no idea what to do.  It was very unsettling."
Maggie speaking at the Cru Christmas party! 
I'm pretty sure every single student sitting there in the Physical Science Atrium that night could relate to Maggie's feelings.  The question everyone answers with their life choices is this: "What will you look to for peace and stability?  Where will you run for hope?"  

Sitting there freaking out about everything Maggie recalls "I felt like was going to fail this prelim and mess up my GPA, my life was not figured out, everything was going wrong, my mind quickly spiraled down down down, and I was just like, “God, why is this all happening?!” I was getting really worked up about all of this. But then I kind of paused and, -it wasn’t an audible voice, but I just had this thought in my head: “Hey. Stop worrying. God’s got you, everything’s gonna work out, it’s gonna be okay” And in the same way that stress was overwhelming me, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the most powerful comfort and peace I have ever felt.

That moment was a turning point.  God literally blessed Maggie with clarity and perspective. She couldn't stop thinking about it!   Before it had been hard to study because she was preoccupied by stress, and now she was simply overwhelmed with the presence of God!   The next day she feverishly wrote down her thoughts "reflecting on God and what he was doing in my life, and I realized that God was continually giving me opportunities that tested and challenged my trust and my faith in him. I realized that I had never fully placed my trust in God, but I had really put a lot of faith in other things like my grades and in my friends. Yet even when I had the best of those things—incredible friends who really cared about me and spent time with me, top-notch grades and perfect academic record—I wasn’t satisfied. I still felt empty, I still felt lost. I still wanted more. And the first time I ever felt fulfilled and satisfied, the first time I truly felt the peace and comfort I had always desired, was that moment the night before—when I was messy and broken, raw and real, humbled before God.

Maggie's experience was powerfully humbling.  In the face of failure, she was confronted with her humanness!  The main thing hindering most of us from putting real trust in God is the fact that we put so much trust in ourselves!  But in the face of failure, the illusion that we are completely strong and capable and trustworthy begins to fade away.  In and through her struggle, Maggie was able to evaluate more adequately.  And God graciously allowed her to see his incredible strength and her own undeniable weakness.   God took Maggie to the end or herself in order that she might understand her own smallness and comprehend God's bigness.  Through this, God graciously gave her an opportunity to stop trusting in her own efforts and live a life of trust in God.  

Maggie looked out at her classmates and declared: Do you know that God is near to you? He desires for you to know him and believe in him and trust in him. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) God cares for you and he wants you to lift up your troubles to him, he wants us to tell him what we’re doing and feeling, and he wants to give us peace and rest.

I want to encourage all of you to seek him, reach out to Him, and find him. I want to challenge you to rely fully on God and entrust your future to him. Find hope, peace, comfort, security, and meaning to life in God alone.
I dig this shot of Mags on our team in Haiti. 

Of course, Maggie continued to work hard at school.  But she was able to apply herself here at Cornell with a new found confidence.  She actually ended up passing that Astronomy test, and graduating early to boot! But she did a lot more than study during her time here as a student.

Maggie is an ambassador for Jesus.   She was a very helpful and committed servant leader in Cru!   Her life here as a student was a living testimony to the satisfying and life giving power of Jesus!  Walking in close fellowship with some of the other ladies, Maggie labored to walk by faith and help others to encounter the grace of God.   Right now, she is working with the International Justice Mission to rescue thousands of slaves, protect millions of vulnerable people and prove that justice for the poor is possible.

*Maggie is the third student from our ministry here at Cornell to intern with the International Justice Mission. If you are not familiar with IJM, please visit their website here:

Friday, January 22, 2016

Honorable Service

Jake graduated from Cornell this past May and enlisted in the U.S. Army.  I met Jake providentially in a north campus dining hall during the first weeks of his freshman year. Throughout his time at Cornell  I had the joy filled privilege of mentoring and serving beside him on campus.  Jake was more than a student leader in our ministry, he is truly a brother.  
Two days after he got out of basic training, Jake sent me a very encouraging Facebook message telling me about the ways that God had worked throughout his time in "boot camp." When Jake's time in basic training was over, 17 people in his unit had professed faith in Jesus and been baptized!  
I couldn't believe it! I didn't even know there was enough time to have spiritual discussions during boot camp! But Jake told me that the Basic training environment actually fosters many conversations about life and purpose and meaning and things like that. By being intentional, he said it was relatively easy to talk about Jesus there. He also said:

"Learning how to have those conversations at Cornell and in Cru was crucial....  Especially the stuff we learned on summer project.  [I was] so much more effective at communicating the gospel to these guys and it made a difference."

We truly praise God for the ways that He is already using Jake to bless others in the military. The vision of Cru has always been to train Christ-centered laborers on campus who can continue to share the gospel with the world outside of the campus!  It is very encouraging to know that Jake's time here in Cru at Cornell helped prepare him to live missionally in the Army.  

Between his junior and senior year Jake joined a group of Cornell and Yale students for 6 weeks of outreach on the other side of the globe.  Jake notoriously embraced the difficulty of the cross-cultural environment and expended himself to make friendships and spread the love of Jesus. He wrote: "Summer project was key for that spiritual maturity and missional mindset and development!" Especially because I regard cross-cultural summer mission's so highly, I am thankful for the way that Jake credits his Cru summer experience with helping him to grow as an ambassador for Christ. Jake benefited tremendously from the training and the teaching as well as the community and the brotherhood he experienced here in our movement.

And that leads me to something else I want to point out for our mutual edification. We know that God works through his people in community. Helping people to know and follow Christ during boot camp was certainly not something Jake did on his own and he would definitely not want me to tell this story in a way that made him seem like it was all on him alone. The truth is that Jesus was lifted up, and people were able to put their faith in Christ because a small group of committed Christ followers were working together! God in his sovereign goodness had placed a handful of Christians in Jake's training unit! And as a group, they were able to spread the love of God and point others to Jesus effectively.   

I believe that Jake's boot camp experience was extraordinary in the truest sense of the word -it was not ordinary! It does seem that the basic training environment is a place where people are processing the important questions of life. Therefore it can be a phenomenal place to explain the gospel to people! But at the end of the day I believe that God honored the faith and zeal of Jake and the other Christ followers in his class. I believe that God brought together the small group of Christians, and He united them into the missional community that they became during those weeks.  

Jake joined the army to serve his country and his fellow man, but above all, his desire is to Glorify God. Generally speaking, the U.S. Army doesn't harp a lot "spiritual well being", but through leaders like Jake, I believe many soldiers will be at least exposed to the power of the gospel.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Cru Short Term Trips are Worthy!

Right now we have a team of Cornell students working in South Africa with the Mamalodi Initiative.  The Mamelodi initiative is in my opinion, a model of effective, sustainable, Christian humanitarian aid. Pioneered with Cru students from Harvard, the Mamelodi Initiative is an educational program that serves underprivileged teens and school age children.  Ivy league college students spend time teaching and tutoring kids so that they can pass the matriculation exams that stand between them and a quality education.  It has been rightfully observed; "if there is one thing every Cornell student can do, it’s pass a test!"  

Our team that’s there right now is reading the acclaimed book; When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  Insightful and provocative, the authors of this book (along with their organization The Chalmer’s center) are an asset to Evangelical Christianity in America.  Their organization has played a key role in pointing out the different ways that Christian mission trips can be categorically detrimental even as the participants are trying to be a blessing.  As the title makes clear, it is possible to hurt even when trying to help.  Together, they are enabling all of us to take a more critical look at Christian missions and offering insights about how to do things well.   This is an excellent resource for everyone who wants to minister in and to the world in a way that makes a comprehensively positive impact.  

Certainly they are not the only ones to write about this topic.  In recent years, much has been written on the web questioning the wisdom and overall value of evangelical missions trips -especially short term ventures.   I’ve read many articles and even had conversations with students here on campus who contend that most short-term trips are not worth doing. I disagree!  believe that short term trips are thoroughly Biblical and we must keep sending out teams both to do short-term and long-term work.  But we should help each other to strive after wisdom and move forward with God-centered purposefulness.  

I really believe that it’s possible to do things well, and on the whole, I think the short-term trips that we offer with Cru are very valuable and effective.  Cru has both international and U.S. stateside summer mission trips that college students can participate in.  

I want to point out three things that help enable the Cru trips to be more helpful than hurtful on the whole.  

#1  Gospel Centrality.  One of the things that makes Cru’s projects so valuable is the gospel-centered nature of our missions. Throughout its history Cru has prioritized the communication of the good news of Jesus Christ as our primary objective.  The core of the Great Commission is to make disciples of Him!   We certainly value humanitarian aid and social justice initiatives; we believe in both good words and good deeds!  But no matter what else we do, we press forward with our conviction that the gospel is foundational.  Everyone everywhere needs Jesus, and our first aim is to make him known. Helping others to discover and follow Jesus is categorically helpful and good. Always.

#2  Working in Partnership.   When we take a short-term student team to another country we are typically working on or near a college campus, in conjunction with a long-term team of missionaries in that country.  Often, the long-term teams include local ministers who are native to that area or country.  Yes, sometimes a short-term team goes ahead of a long-term team, but in either case, we strive to connect our short term activities with those who are long term.  This format helps us to work in ways that are truly constructive, and it literally enables our short-term participants to contribute.  We aren’t just taking a group of students to a foreign country on some type of “Christian tourism” adventure, but we are able to involve them as ministers engaged in the long-term work.  

#3  Students working with Students.   A more cynical colleague of mine once asked the question: “Does anyone else think it’s weird that we take unskilled youth group kids to do construction in a country full of men who are skilled construction workers?”  He was scoffing the classic “mission trip to Mexico” phenomenon.  Certainly it’s an over-statement to say that everyone in Mexico is a skilled construction worker, but there is no doubt that most American junior high kids are in way over their heads at a construction site.  That’s not all bad, but what we’ve got going in Cru is different.  The majority of our ministry consists of straight-forward discipleship and evangelism in a context that our students are at least generally familiar with.  We take university students to a university!  It’s a venue where we are considerably experienced.  Sure, some methods need to be tweaked and “contextualized” a bit, but on the whole, our students are engaging in a kind of ministry that makes sense.  They are building relationships with other college students, they are building friendships and they are talking about Jesus.  It’s the same thing they do here at our campus!   

Here are some links: 

Mamalodi Initiative Website

A couple of Articles on this topic:
From Gospel Coalition:

Some Biblical examples of Short-term missional methodology.
Jesus’ whole ministry was a 3 year short-term trip.
The Apostle Paul’s ministry was a series of short-term style mission ventures.
Jesus sends his disciples on some very short-term trips. eg: Luke 9,10.  
Jonah’s mission to the Assyrian’s was quite short.  

Michael Horton talking about the Church’s mission to make disciples.  He talks about needing to be aware of “mission creep”; losing sight of the main mission.  Scrub to the 2:10 mark.