Sunday, January 10, 2021

He Deserves Our Trust

With another winter break in the books, I've been reflecting a lot both on how worthy of our utmost trust God is, as well as where else we might be tempted to place our trust if we don't take time to remember what he's done.

We rounded the Fall semester off remembering how God worked in our ministry over the past few months, and I couldn't help but be overwhelmed with gratitude for how God has been at work. In spite of the crazy year 2020 was, and the unknowns that came with doing ministry during a pandemic, God showed us time and time again that he is the one sustaining us, not our ministry events, nor our talent as ministers, nor favorable circumstances for ministry. 


Our staff met for a Secret Santa gift exchange (^look at how cute we are^) before going on break and it was so meaningful to reflect together on how this year God gave us our most successful fundraising season ever, brought UTA students into brand new relationships with him, brought community-less Christians into our FOCUS family, gave students a desire to explore what they think about Jesus for the first time, and matured spiritual leaders in our community as he has year in and year out. My hope is that in future seasons of uncertainty, our staff can remember this most recent semester and turn to God with confidence in his sovereignty over our ministry.


Our winter break just concluded with a four-day staff retreat outside of Austin where our staff came together to worship with one another (above) and discuss with one another a book by the name of Money and Power (below). Speaking earlier of how worthy God is of our trust, this book really challenged some subtle ways we put our hope in the false god of money. It was such a helpful read as our staff goes on campus and ministers to students who already come from some of the richest families in the world and who are on the cusp of accumulating wealth of their own once they graduate. My hope is that our community would be a generous people that holds our wealth with open hands, ready to do whatever it is God wants us to do with it as we put our trust in him.


I would like to close by asking you for prayer -- prayer that our staff and students would continue to be faithful to God during another semester of COVID-affected college ministry, prayer that God would use our time of reflection over the break to help us put our trust in him as opposed to any other false god (especially money), and prayer that God would be glorified this semester as we see his work around us.

Thank you so much for making this all possible with your own generous use of God's money. I am so so grateful for a community of supporters like you guys who are committed to using your resources to see hearts turned to God.

With love and gratitude,
Jalen 


Friday, December 4, 2020

Another Semester in the Books!

As another semester comes to a close I am overcome with thankfulness to God for how he's maintained his faithfulness, especially given the circumstances.

First of all, praise God and THANK YOU GUYS for contributing so generously to our annual Keep FOCUS Growing fundraiser! Because of your generosity and, most importantly, God's provision, we raised the most money we've ever raised for KFG in the middle of a pandemic! All $104,748 will go directly to making and maturing disciples of Christ on college campuses for years to come so I can not express how grateful I am to everyone involved!

In other news, cores are still going strong through the end of the semester! I'm so proud of our student leaders who have committed to loving their peers in the midst of sickness, zoom call fatigue, inconsistency, feelings of apathy, and anxiety. These guys (see below) have been eager, excited, and determined in their love of others this semester and I couldn't be prouder.


As we head into the longest winter break of these students' college careers, we're wanting to focus on being with Jesus and being like Jesus -- spending time with him in prayer and in Scripture in order to know him and better represent him in our relationships back home (and at school come next semester). We hope our students will engage in silence and solitude as well as in the zoom call activities we have planned for winter break! After all, disciples making disciples isn't a call that ends when the semester ends.

I want to leave you with our usual monthly testimony, but I also want to include some more testimonies we were able to get some of our students to write in advance of KFG. I hope in reading them you will be encouraged that God is moving on our campuses and will continue to do so for years to come!

With love and gratitude,
Jalen
 






 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

November Update!

Wow I have so much to tell you guys in so little space! God has absolutely blown my mind this month and I can't wait to tell you about it.

To start off, I'd like to tell you about two places where I've seen hearts turned to God in crazy ways this month, one at UTA and one at DBU. So the first involves my friend Konner (below). This man has an accent that would make you think he's from Brooklyn despite being from Louisiana and his name is uncommonly spelled, but those are by no means the craziest things about him! Konner has been going to a core (small group) led by two of the students I've been mentoring this year and let me tell you -- God is changing his life!! 

It feels like just yesterday that school was starting and I saw him sitting by himself on campus so I invited him to toss a frisbee with me and some of our student leaders. It also feels like just yesterday that Konner came to my house to play ping pong with my roommate and I overheard their conversation in which Konner said (like a miniature Robert De Niro) "I like you guys but this whole religion thing just ain't for me. It just don't make no sense." My roommate (who has been growing a ton as a disciple in his own right) responded by acknowledging that asking questions is a good thing and that he wanted to be his friend regardless fo where he stood with God.

Over the course of the past few months Konner has been consistent to core, our Thursday night Deep Dives into the book of Mark, his 1-1 study with his core facilitator, and has been enjoying the freedom to ask questions and be loved by Jesus' people the entire time. He's also gotten plugged into a few other ministries on campus and has even gotten to the point where he: believes Jesus is God, wants to go home to Louisiana over Thanksgiving break and give a testimony at his church about how Jesus has changed his life, and wants to take some time with his friends back home (whom he convinced of atheism in high school) and share with them too about what Jesus has done. I am literally speechless every time I think about the transformation Konner has experienced in just a few short months. Please join me in praying that this transformation leads to a life of serious discipleship.


Next story is from DBU. Our DBU core (part of which is pictured above) has been such an encouragement this year, especially because despite going to a Christian university, some of our students are experiencing authentic Christian community for the first time. One of our girls recently opened up in core about this being her main group of friends on or off campus, about how much she's grown to trust Christians since coming to core, and how she's starting to make decisions based on what me and my co-minister, Emily, suggest to her Jesus might have her do. She also opened up to me and Emily recently about some struggles she has feared to bring before Christian leaders and told us her mom calls us her "brother" and "sister" in her native tongue.

It's crazy to me how much God has used his servants to point people's hearts toward him in just a few short months, especially considering the threat we thought COVID might pose to ministry at the outset of the year. It's insane what he's capable of!



Next, I need to tell you about Fall Park Day! Due to COVID we had to cancel our annual Fall Camp, which was a bummer because Fall Camp is usually a place where a lot of students who are on the fringes of our community or are not sure about investigating Jesus really buy in for the first time. To make up for this, we decided to have a day at the park to give our students some sort of opportunity to bond and minister to each other, even if it wasn't quite the same. But I'm amazed what God was still able to do with a much shorter event! When I got back from camp I heard story after story of how much students wanted to be part of our community and learn more about Jesus. 


The last thing I want to tell you about is Keep FOCUS Growing, or KFG. KFG is our annual fundraising campaign where we raise the majority of our funds to cover our expenses other than staff salaries, like camp scholarships for students, sound equipment for our large group gatherings, etc. I would like to ask you to consider giving, and here's why: on December 1 we have a team of generous supporters who have pledged to donate up to $42,000 to match whatever we are able to raise elsewhere. That means every dollar you give on December 1 will magically turn into TWO dollars that will go directly to making and maturing disciples on campus. What a steal of a deal worthy of prayerful consideration. 😉 

Thank you for reading this longer blog post. I hope you're as encouraged as I am by God's crazy work on these campuses. And THANK YOU for making my participation in these students' stories possible through your generous donations.

With love and gratitude,
Jalen


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Happy October!

Hey everyone! God has continued to work powerfully in the midst of this unprecedented school year and I can't wait to tell you about it :)

Deep Dive

First, I am so excited to tell you that Deep Dive is still going strong! Not only has it been such a blessing to go through Mark with our students this year and see Jesus for who he really is; we've also been given a room to meet in!! We're still streaming online since the room can only fit half of our ministry in it due to social distancing restrictions, but it's been so cool for half of our ministry at a time to get time together in person! 

Our students have loved getting to safely see each other and have communicated that they've not only learned a lot going through Mark, but have been given a lot to put into practice. You can listen to our most recent teaching here, which was coincidentally given by me :)

We've also been given the awesome opportunity to worship safely together once again! Once a month we meet outside on campus and stand socially distanced while singing praises to God, which was something we were prepared to miss for the foreseeable future. Praise God that he has given us two unexpected places to continue to do ministry!

Pizza Theology

With our culture being in a such a state of unrest right now due to racial tension, an upcoming election, and division over social issues, we wanted to take an opportunity at our semesterly Pizza Theology to teach our students how to think like Christians. Much of Jesus' teaching doesn't directly address the social issues of our day since, in a lot of cases, they weren't the social issues of his. But that doesn't mean he left us without principles to apply to our modern day context. Over the last couple weekends, our staff examined topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement, abortion, immigration, and the upcoming election as case studies, not on what you must think as a Christian, but on how to think like a Christian. Despite offering few specific courses of action to take with regard to these issues, we received so much positive feedback from students who, after attending Pizza Theology on our stream, were reassured of the grace, sovereignty, and character of Christ. If you're looking for insight into how to think through these issues as a disciple (or if you want to see my brief talk on the upcoming election 😉), you can do so here (pt1) or here (pt2, this one has me in it!).

Student Testimony

This month's student testimony is dear to my heart. You can read about Ulises' testimony below, but I want to personally add that it has been so cool seeing Ulises be transformed while following Jesus as a student in our UTA ministry. He was in my core (small group) three years ago and at the time he was a quiet, shy young man who was just starting to leave the world behind. One baptism later and after two years of leading cores of his own, Ulises has become a staple disciple-maker in our community. Praise God for how he uses normal people like you, me, and Ulises to do great work for his kingdom!



THANK YOU for making Deep Dive, Pizza Theology, and the life-change of students like Ulises possible through your generous support. I pray that as you read about the kingdom fruit being borne in this ministry your hearts are encouraged and turned to a posture of worship to God!

With love and gratitude,
Jalen


Friday, September 11, 2020

He is Faithful!

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." 
- Romans 8:28 NIV

The past few months in ministry have just been one long testament to the faithfulness of God. I already told you guys just how much God provided in our season of financial support-raising this summer, and he hasn't stopped providing just because that season is behind us. Going into this school year, there was understandable trepidation among some of our students and staff concerning what ministry would look like in the midst of a pandemic. After all, how could we meet students to invest in this year if our campuses are neither hosting welcome week events nor allowing us to host our own? I am so excited to tell you that despite this obstacles, our year has been off to a great start!

Welcome Week!

Like I said, UTA didn't allow us to gather in large groups, so we had to get creative with how to meet students. Over the first two weeks of school, our student leaders and staff split into small groups and went to various areas on campus with frisbees, balls, cards, and board games to invite passersby if they wanted to join. And join they did! Because friendship has been so hard to come by in the age of social distancing, students have been hungry to connect with anyone who would invite them to connect, whether or not they have a Christian background, and so in some ways, God has used social distancing to make even more students open to Christian community than otherwise would be! As a result, many of our student leaders have hit the ten-student maximum capacity on their small groups and are trying to figure out how to accommodate people who are eager for friendship and eager to learn about Jesus. What a cool problem to have :)

Some of our guys played giant kickball on campus in order to make new friends!

Deep Dive

This year, since social distancing regulations have prevented us from meeting for Thursday Night Fellowship and worshipping together, we've decided to stream an extended teaching every week that we are calling Deep Dive, and it has been so cool! We decided to teach through the book of Mark and students have been loving it. My friend and co-minister, Austin, has been taking us through the first couple of chapters and if you have the time, I'd invite you to give it a listen. I hope it encourages and challenges you as it has me and our students. 

Encouraging Stories

I'd like to leave you with some encouraging stories from our staff and student leaders that I think illustrate well just how clearly God has been moving during these first few weeks of school!

"So I met a girl while [a student leader] and I were passing out water bottles Sunday morning on campus. We told her that if she wanted to make some new friends she could join us later that night for some socially distanced games. She ended up sitting down at a bench next to us and talked to us the entire time we were handing out the water. She shared a lot about herself and how, even though she’s a junior, she hadn’t experienced friendship on campus before. She even asked, 'is it sad that I’m a junior and I haven’t made any friends yet?' She has been coming to our hangouts every night and says this is the most she’s gone to events since she started college. She’s even watching the stream tonight, which is super cool given she doesn’t have a Christian background (she grew up Jewish). Anyways, God is so good and doing some great things in people’s lives, and I’m so thankful He has given us the ability to care for those who are lonely and need friends!"

"I was just sitting on a bench by a campus map with the strategy of meeting people looking for instructions, but also just talking to God and telling him how I'm discouraged by my lack of belief in the strategies I have available to me. I was asking God for a lot of his help, and specifically for some sort of divine appointment. As soon as I finished praying, two dudes asked me if I knew where the library was. I walked with them for a bit and found out that they're both transfer students from Waxahachie that are new to UTA and that they were actively involved in a ministry there. They wanted to join a ministry here and were looking to try to get a game of ultimate frisbee going tonight with people they were trying to meet. God is good."

"I had a really neat convo with a girl last night who sort of happened upon one of our 'informal hangs.' She was very candid with me about wanting friends and struggling with mental health. She said she planned on joining a sorority because that’s the only way she knew she could make friends. But then she asked what I was a part of and said it never occurred to her to join anything religious to make friends. She said that she didn’t grow up in church but in light of depression and anxiety she experienced for the first time a few months ago, she has been contemplating spirituality and her purpose. I hope she will decide to get connected!"

THANK YOU for making it possible for us to be on campus ready to respond when God shows up as he has!!

With love and gratitude,
Jalen


Friday, August 7, 2020

Uncharted Territory

The school year is nigh upon us! Next time you hear from me, we will have already been on campus meeting students and beginning another year of ministry, and I will hopefully have many stories of God bringing people into our community to hear about Jesus and experience his love through his people. Until then, let me share with you some exciting developments as we prepare for the fall!


Large Group Ministry


"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." 
- Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

As you may remember from my previous blog posts, our ministry has been meeting virtually this summer so as to keep each other safe from COVID-19. But as time progresses and we seek to find a model of doing ministry that is both safe and sustainable, we are prayerfully considering how we might begin to meet in person, whether it be every so often or in small groups of people. This week, we had our first in-person service of the summer to cap off Summer FOCUS for the year, and it was so encouraging! Getting to worship together for the first time in months was so life-giving to our students and staff, and we heard an awesome sermon from one of our directors, Sarah, about pushing past fear to follow Jesus this school year (this was a very challenging and timely message to our students as well as our staff, and I think it will be for all of you as well, so I'd encourage you to read some of it here!). With our outdoor location and mask/social distancing measures in place, this is looking like a viable way to do ministry going into the school year!


Student Leaders


I am so excited to report that we have SIXTEEN men's small group leaders ("corefas") committed to serving at UTA this year. SIX. TEEN. That is insane to me given that during my first year on staff, we only had six. Even then, the fact that we had six young men willing to give up much of their free time to make and mature disciples on the college campus was astounding to me, and God certainly used a leader team of that size in big ways. But that fact that God is using this ministry to light a fire in people's hearts to reach their lost peers is so, so encouraging to me. I'm beyond excited to see not only how God uses this year to transform the hearts of our student leaders, but to reach many more people for Christ through them, especially in this season of isolation in which college students are going to be longing for community and connection.

Along with my ministry at DBU, I'll have the privilege of mentoring six of these student leaders this year, and I am so excited about each of them individually. I can't wait to tell you all about them next month :)


A Final Word


THANK YOU for making it possible to be on campus bringing Jesus to students this year. We don't know what this year holds, but we know who is in control! Our staff was concerned that raising financial support this summer would be more challenging than ever given the circumstances, and this has been our most successful summer ever. If God can do that despite the obstacles we face, he can use this uncertain year to do some amazing things! I would like to leave you with a letter to our student leaders, which I helped compose, prompting them to think about how they want to approach this year in hopes that it might be an encouragement to you as well.


With love and gratitude,
Jalen


Friday, July 10, 2020

Leadership Selection and Preparing for Fall!

Hey guys! With only a month or so left in the summer, our staff is hard at work preparing for the fall!

We are right in the middle of selecting our student leaders for this next year. At UTA we have a little over 40 students with whom we are in conversation about leading our ministry to reach the campus this year. With UTA doing a mix of in-person and online classes, we're looking into how we can responsibly and safely meet students on campus and still use our methods of small group and one-on-one discipleship to point them to Jesus. So yes, it does look like we will be limited in what we can do, but we still need all hands on deck if we are going to bring the Kingdom to the campus! Even if only half of our leadership prospects say yes to this call, that's still 20 young men and women who will be sent by God to the plentiful harvest that is the college campus this year. If you could be praying for these future leaders as well as the students they'll meet this year, that would be so appreciated!


Our staff is also hard at work preparing our own hearts for the fall, as the state of our hearts as pastors is going to have just as much of an impact (if not more) on our fruitfulness this year as our ministry methods. This summer our staff has been reading the above book to examine our roles and identities as the pastors of our ministry. So far we've looked at the roles of leading hearts to God in worship, interpreting and teaching God's word, counseling, and evangelizing in our mission field. Reading this book has been a constant reminder of the weight of what I've been called to do and who I've been called to be on the college campus. I'm thankful to God for his equipping and training to fulfill this calling well and I praise him for his grace as our team grows into these roles.


Lastly, while much of our effort is currently focused on ministering well in our next season, there is still much work to be done now! We are still meeting every week for a digital service and discussion groups, as well as for weekly PACCS, where students are spending time reading scripture together and having real, personal conversations about how their walks with God are doing during the summer. We are making preparations for a socially distant, mask-covered in-person service next week, so please be praying for our diligence and safety as we seek to serve our students well.

Thank you for your continued support in this confusing and different season. God is still very much at work in the lives of our students and your support makes it possible for us to join him in that work. So thank you!!

With love and gratitude,
Jalen