Saturday, December 2, 2017

Coming to a Close

Guys. I can't believe the semester is already coming to a close! As I was reflecting over Thanksgiving break on what God has done in our ministry this semester, I couldn't help but be filled with gratitude not only for His working powerfully through and in such imperfect people like us, but also for each one of you who has helped make it happen through your investment of time, energy, and prayers in our community. Thank you for being part of what God is doing at UTA!

I've seen God's hand move in our ministry in so many encouraging ways this semester, and this month, there are two that I'd like to focus on.

Pizza Theology

Each semester, students across our various campuses gather for a pizza dinner and four hours of intense biblical teaching on a particular issue that we wouldn't get to explore as in-depth as we'd like to at an average Thursday Night Fellowship. In that past, we've covered controversial books of the Bible, like Genesis and Exodus, controversial topics in theology, like eschatology (theology of the end), and hot-button issues in our culture today, like race and sexuality. This semester, we invited Bill Watson, professor of Greek and New Testament at Criswell College, to speak on the Sermon on the Mount, and it was a huge success. Besides the simultaneously convicting and worship-inspiring talk (which you can listen to here), we had such an amazing turnout!

Every single one of these students took 5 hours out of their weekend to hear about Jesus' teaching with one another! How cool is that?!

We certainly don't view numbers as our sole metric of ministry success, but when this many students show up to an event like this, with passion for God and hunger for his word, one can't help but celebrate! I've gotten to hear from both believers and nonbelievers in our ministry since Pizza Theology, and God is certainly working as they chew on what they were taught in order to help them better understand His character and bring them closer to Him.

Keep FOCUS Growing



Keep FOCUS Growing (KFG) is our annual year-end fundraiser aimed at setting us up to participate in what God might be calling us to in the next year. Last year, we were able to raise $40,000 to help plant a ministry at SMU, hire a full-time administrator, and print the Focus on Jesus booklets that help our students engage with Scripture together, one-on-one. This year, we're aiming to raise $50,000, and this Tuesday alone, we raised over $30,000 on Facebook for Giving Tuesday! Plus, Facebook is matching a chunk of that donation, which we haven't even factored in yet. I'm absolutely blown away by the mind-boggling things a community of generous people who are yielded to God's call can do in less than 24 hours. If you haven't yet given to KFG, I invite you to prayerfully consider if God is leading you to give. And if He is, you can do so right here. :)

Thank you guys so much for caring about God's children on college campuses. Your investment is going to yield eternal dividends!

With love and gratitude,
Jalen


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Send Me

These are some of my favorite people. We get to meet every week to love each other and grow together, and it's been a blast!

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’
And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” - Isaiah 6:8

Our theme at FOCUS this year is Send Me, and this month, I’ve seen God use broken but submitted people in our community who are willing to be sent for Him to do some really cool things.

For one, our first outreach display of the year was a huge success. We set up a display inviting people to ask a spiritual question in exchange for a piece of candy, and in just a few hours of us being there, we had so many cool conversations. Not only was it encouraging to see our students step outside of their comfort zones to make an impact on our campus; it was also very illuminating to see just how hungry for truth college students are. I can’t wait to see what God does with the relationships we were able to form through these conversations.

This was taken about halfway through our outreach time. Look at how many questions our campus had already asked (and conversations we were already able to have!) by that point!

In addition, we have been asking our students to share with the community each week at Thursday Night Fellowship (“TNF”, our large group gathering) how they have said “Send me!” to God that week, and it has been some of the most impactful time spent at TNF this year. From going to another campus to get a student plugged into FOCUS there, to venturing into the potentially awkward territory of spiritual conversation with classmates, to initiating Bible studies at work, our students have clearly bought into the mission and are even taking Jesus beyond the college campus. How cool is that?

Our most recent TNF! Each of these students took time out of their busy weeks to worship with and serve our community. God is working in people's hearts!

Finally, we’ve begun engaging our students in “campus conversations,” which is what we call our contact evangelism. In recent weeks, I’ve walked about the campus with either a staff person or student in our ministry and asked students whether they would be interested in discussing their spiritual beliefs with us. As simple as this sounds, it has yielded some pretty exciting fruit. For example, one student shared with us how family issues associated with church involvement had driven her away from spiritual community, but how she still attributes much of the healing in her life to God’s intervention and how she felt like God set up our conversation. She now has a spiritual friend in one of our staff people who is purposing to represent Jesus’ love to her in a personal and authentic relationship. We also talked to a young man who conveyed to us his need for friends and desire for a closer relationship with God. We brought him to TNF that night and he explained that he had prayed earlier that day for Christian friends and that God answered that prayer by introducing him to our community. He is now friends with several of our staff people and student leaders. I cannot wait to see what God does with these two children of His.

I hope these stories can serve as encouragements to you as you reflect on what God can do with the little that we give him. Whether you have contributed to this work financially, through prayer, through investing relationally in me or any of our students, THANK YOU for being faithful with what you’ve been given. God is doing big work here and it’s so exciting!

With love and gratitude,
Jalen


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hitting Our Stride



We had over 70 students attend Fall Camp (which you'll read about below). It was awesome!
After the madness that was Mav Stampede, this past month has been a season of settling into the groove of the school year and seeing God do beautiful work in our weekly routines.

Core and Focus on Jesus

We're six weeks into core (our weekly small group), and we've recently been in a series called "What's Jesus Really Like?" As we've dissected and analyzed different aspects and interactions that marked Jesus' life and ministry each week, it has been so cool to see our believers and non-believers alike begin to rethink their perceptions of Jesus and ponder the implications of his life for theirs.

In addition to our weekly small group, I've gotten the chance to dive into the Bible one-on-one with four of our guys each week using a study called Focus on Jesus. This ten-week study is taking us through what it looks like to be a follower of Christ by examining such biblical topics as discipleship, sin, grace, faith, and rebirth. After only a few weeks, I already see God beginning to shift these students' paradigms and touch their hearts. Let's praise him for that!

Fall Camp!

This is an actual picture of the camp lake taken by one of our students. Camp was beautiful!

In the midst of our weekly groove, we did have one unique and really cool ministry experience that I wanted to tell you guys about! Just this weekend, we brought our students to Camp Copass in Denton, TX for Fall Camp, and my goodness was it encouraging. We had seven students share on how their idea of what it means to be a Christian has changed over the course of their walks with God or how they had come to the decision to ask God to "send me!"


We also had a candlelight devotional night surrounding our time of communion in which our students and staff shared what about Jesus we want our community to remember and what aspects of God's creation moved them to a posture of awe. (Speaking of which, if you want to marvel at God's creativity, check out the video below, which we watched at camp!)


To top it all off, one of our students was baptized in the lake pictured above! After a weekend like that, how can we not go into the rest of this semester fired up to bring the Kingdom of God to our campus?

Student Testimony

This month's student testimony comes from UTA (mav up!). Jocelyn is one of our student leaders and I hope that her story serves as an encouragement that God is using your investment in our small slice of the Kingdom not only to make disciples, but to make disciples who make disciples. Thank you so much for your support!!


With love and gratitude,
Jalen

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

We're Up and Running!

Guys. This past month has been a whirlwind of experiences where God's faithfulness and provision have been on full display in our community!

Maverick Stampede


There is no way I can fully express how many awesome students God brought into our community and how many meaningful conversations and interactions He allowed me and the rest of our leader team to have with them during Maverick Stampede at UT Arlington. Mav Stampede is a two-week series of events hosted by the university in an attempt to connect students to each other and to student organizations, which provided such a great way for us to make friends and invite people into our community.

This was taken at the Big Howdy, where we danced the night away to Hindi music with our new international friends. It was lit.
From university events like the Big Howdy or the Welcome Back Splash pool party, to passing out popsicles on campus, to sitting with random students at lunch, we have gotten so many opportunities to provide spiritual friendship to those who are lonely or depressed, those who are in a new country and don't know anyone, and those who are being called by Jesus into intimacy with Him (even if they don't know it yet).

Thursday Night Fellowship


Our first TNF of the year! Most of these are new people. Are you kidding me?!
Last Thursday we met for our first Thursday Night Fellowship (TNF) of the year. We were kind of bummed about not having a room on campus in which to meet, but God still made it an awesome night where so many connections were made! We worshiped alongside our new friends, discussed the fullness of life that Jesus wants to bring to each one of us, and totally took over our local Whataburger afterward (for the Kingdom!).

Core


Finally, I wanted to take some time to tell you about our first core. Core is our weekly small group where we seek truth (read: Jesus) and genuine love (read again: Jesus) alongside brothers who may or may not be believers yet. My cofa (co-facillitator), Cole, and I hosted core at my house this week and it blew my expectations out of the water.

You may need to turn up the brightness on your device for this one. We had to take a panorama shot to fit everyone in the picture!
After all these years of core, I am still blown away by God's faithfulness every year. We had over twenty guys show up and we all hit it off so fast! For this first week, we discussed what true friendship looks like and compared the model we are fed by the world to the model we are given in Jesus. It got so vulnerable so fast. We had Christians, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, and agnostics opening up to each other on day one and finding truth in the words of Jesus, some of them encountering Him for the first time. I am SO excited about a great year with these guys.

Thank you!!


Thank you so so much for your direct investment in the fruit being borne in our community. God has taken our prayers and finances and done exponentially more with them than we could ever do on our own. Please continue to pray that our students would be brought face to face with Jesus in huge ways this year and that our leaders and staff would be faithful in pursuing these students with God's wisdom and love.


With love and gratitude,
Jalen

Sunday, August 6, 2017

And so it begins...

Guys. I am so beyond excited right now. I am excited to FINALLY begin my campus ministry apprenticeship after knowing I've wanted to do this for several years. I am excited to move to Arlington in a week and begin investing in the relationships God is going to use this year to change me and my friends to look more like Him. I am excited to dive headfirst into welcome week at UT Arlington and reach out to students hungry for friends and a place to call home. I am excited to continue studying the Old Testament, as well as other biblical and ministerial topics, with my fellow apprentices in order to know God better. And I am excited to continue building upon my relationships with the FOCUS staff and my fellow apprentices, especially after staff retreat.

2017-2018 FOCUS Staff (love these guys!)
This is Sarah, my pastoral supervisor (and sorority sister, apparently)

Speaking of staff retreat, the senior FOCUS staff and we apprentices just got back from spending three days together worshiping our Lord, sharing about what He's done in our lives, and setting our hearts on Him before being sent out to our campuses. As I reflect on my experience at staff retreat, two moments stand out to me as especially impactful:

1) On our first day together, we sang one of my favorite worship songs, Oh You Bring by Hillsong United. God has used this song to minister to me greatly in the past, as the repeated lyrics "oh You bring..." and "all honor, all glory, all praise to You" serve as constant reminders to me that God is the source of hope, light, life, peace, joy, and love to whom I as His campus missionary must point students, rather than to myself. Singing this in solidarity with my brothers and sisters on staff seemed like a small taste of what Heaven is going to be like.


2) One of our times of worship contained space for each of us to share about how God has called us into ministry, whether as a long-term or seasonal vocation. Hearing about how God has been faithful a) to pursue relationships with all us when we don't deserve Him and b) to use us to accomplish His purposes despite our weaknesses in character and in skill moved my heart into a posture of worship and reminded me why I want to devote these next ten months, if not my life, to serving Him as a campus missionary.

After an encouraging staff retreat, my prayer is that God would continue to knit us tightly together as a staff, and that our love for one another would overflow into our campus communities. If you would join me in prayer over our team, as well as the following events and people, I would be so thankful:

1) Please pray for our new and returning student leaders, that they would be bold to love students in the name of Jesus without fear or shame. Pray also that they would be filled with a spirit of endurance and zeal to get through the craziness that is welcome week.
2) Please pray for the students we will encounter this year, that God would prepare the soil of their hearts to receive the good news of Jesus, and that God would bring us to those who are ready to encounter Him.
3) Please pray for our apprentice studies, that we would be brought face to face with a good God and that we would translate our knowledge into a deep love for Him and His image-bearers.

These are my fellow apprentices! I love them a lot and their names are (from left to right): Jalen, Dawn, Kristen, Rhett, and Eddie (not pictured: Caitlin)
Thank you so much to all who are supporting me with your prayers and finances. I would not get to do what I am doing if it weren't for your answers to God's call to invest in me and the UTA ministry. God is doing real ministry on our campuses and transforming real lives with His goodness. I hope the student testimony below encourages you as it does me.



With love and gratitude,
Jalen