Seeds of Influence

I wanted to share with you good news, and ask for your prayers.
First, news to build our faith!  Three years in to our mission at SFU, it’s become clear to us the work God has planned.  While many Christian communities exist on this campus, the needs of students are still dangerously under met.  23,000 students pass through the halls here not knowing Jesus, and this is largely because no one has invited them!  We became sure of our calling to invite broadly last year when our small groups began to fill up with students from everywhere on campus.  Our scripture studies were filled with believing, non-believing, white, asian, gay, straight, transgender, cisgender, athletic, musical, students who were compelled by an invitation to explore Jesus together.  For us a community it has called us to adopt new ways of leading small groups, with safe space for all people.  I often think of the great banquet that Jesus tells the pharisees of.  There is a place at the table for everyone.  
This year our scripture studies continue to grow.  We spend a lot of time looking at Genesis, Mark, Luke, and Parables.  Every week the Lord is adding to our numbers students who have grown in curiosity.
I want to share a story of a friend of mine. This student’s journey is still incomplete, so I will honour it by not using their name.  
This student used to play trumpet with me in the Orchestra at SFU, but quickly left.  I had invited them to join us on an Urban Dip we did one weekend last semester, a day where we spend time in the Downtown Eastside exploring issues of justice and poverty.  I invited him simply because he was a student.  I invited hundreds of students on Facebook.  I assumed, like most, he would ignore the invitation.  In honesty, I somewhat hoped he would.  I knew him to be slightly unstable and awkward, and had a tendency to de-rail things he was involved in.  But surprisingly he said yes.
He showed up late, over two hours late.  I paired him with a leader who I hoped would be able to help interpret the experience for him well.  He left early, and that was that.  I asked Anika, our leader, how it went.  She had a pretty rough day with him.  He was constantly talking, embarrassing them, and saying extremely ignorant things in a face of a very vulnerable community of addicts and users.  I was a bit frustrated, because I felt like the experience meant nothing to him, since he was a deeply committed atheist, often very disagreeable to our discussions on Jesus.  I prayed to God to help me interpret this.  Should I not have invited him?
God said nothing, as he sometimes does.
Yet two months later, I got a message from him asking to talk.  He said he had a lot of questions about the afterlife.  I asked why since he didn’t much believe in one.  He explained that a lot of things were starting to change for him.  Suddenly he wondered about God or anything out there.  I was intrigued, but sadly it was Christmas, and I was away from Vancouver.
When I got back, we sat down together.  He told me of his journey with mental health, and how he has been on a very good path recently.  I couldn’t help but notice that he was altogether different.  Where once there was cynicism, now there was intrigue.  Where once there was awkwardness, now there was humility.
I invited this student to study parables with me, and see if Jesus had anything to say that may be of help to him.  He’s come faithfully each week, and each week wrestled deeply with the text.
We do lunch together, and now having learned he lives a few blocks away from me, will come over and will have work parties where he studies and I work on preparation.  We drink tea together, talk about life, think about what we’re learning together in scripture, and together we hope for God’s healing.  
Now stop and think about that.  A man who doesn’t believe in God has begun to hope in his healing!  A man who thinks stories of Jesus’ miracles are falsifications or exaggerations has begun to say yes to the deeper meaning behind them.  Can bread magically multiply? Not in his mind.  Could Jesus be more than enough in the face of our complaints that there is never enough?  This he has begun to say yes to.
This story is, happily, not unique.  Every week students are changing their minds about being part of a ‘Christian group’ because every week new students are seeing that the invitation isn’t to be part of a group, it’s to be at the table in God’s Kingdom.
Now for prayer.  As we grow, our leaders, Justin, and I are growing in our concern of how to care for so many students.  The harvest is indeed plentiful, but with so few students willing to invest deeply, we are limited in the number students we can invest deeply in.  I long for students who say yes to loving their friends, and engaging them in scripture.  Many of our leaders are doing this, starting impromptu small groups with their friends, or even just getting together with one friend and reading scripture.  But there are so many students who I know are waiting.  Our table isn’t big enough to seat them all, and this is sad.  We need a bigger table for the banquet God is offering us at SFU.
And of course, as we grow, more and more of our time is asked of us, and many of us are trying to figure out how to best spend our days being faithful to everything God has asked of us.  Everywhere there is distraction.  Even the simplicity of writing to my supporters can often get lost in the business.  We need help repenting of this.  A life defined by ‘busy’ isn’t what God wants for us.  I want a ‘full’ life, for myself, for Justin, and for our students.
Thank you once again for your prayers.

We are not an ignorant humanity that needs to be educated.
We are not a backwards humanity that needs progress.
We are a lost humanity that needs to be found.
We are a dead humanity that needs to be brought back to life.

— Ram Sridharan

Urbana Day 3

I finally got a solid 8 hour sleep! Often things happen so fast, and there is so much to do, see, and learn at Urbana that I find less time to rest my head.

Yesterday as part of the Canadian Student Leaders Track, we examined the Canadian cultural context and began to wonder what might hold us back as the people of God in Canada. Our friend, Al Anderson, offered these issues to ponder:

Comfort. As Canadians, we love to be comfortable, and if our invitation from Jesus seems difficult, or costs us our comfort, we say no. He noted that as we arrive in St. Louis, our first questions are: Where will I sleep? And where will I eat?

Tolerance: While noting that tolerance is better than bigotry or hatred, it’s still a far cry from the Kingdom of God which involves love and reconciliation.

Niceness: Our deep rooted desire to avoid being seen as anything but polite prevents us from stepping out in service of others.

Thank you for your continued prayers. We need every one!

A terribly pixelated image that profoundly moved me: those in the Urbana community with physical disabilities lining up with everyone to build care kits in response to the request from Swaziland. Following Jesus, though hard, is filled with images of hope and reconciliation and a world far better than the one we currently know. View Larger

A terribly pixelated image that profoundly moved me: those in the Urbana community with physical disabilities lining up with everyone to build care kits in response to the request from Swaziland. Following Jesus, though hard, is filled with images of hope and reconciliation and a world far better than the one we currently know.

Urbana, Day (-1)

I was up at 1:00am to be at the airport on time.  Three years ago I spent 78 hours in airports, trains, and planes to get here.  This year I would not suffer delay and cancelation.  I would however suffer waiting.

And waiting…

Nothing is open in Pearson airport that early.  Least of all, customs.  So I would wait.  Being exhausted and seeing no one around, I decided to slip down to the arrivals level and grab a coffee.  I know as a Christian, I must always be waiting, but a few minutes to tend to my sleepy brain wouldn’t hurt, right?  

30 minutes later, a few hundred people had shown up.  Now I was last in line.  Lesson learned Jesus… lesson learned.

Checking in and going through customs was smooth.  I always am fearful talking to border agents, they hold so much of my life in their hands, and I think they know that.  But this lady was surprisingly pleasant for 4:30 in the morning.  After rushing through security, once again, waiting.  This time I thought I’d stick around.

Finally, I was off to America! First stop: Chicago for a brief layover.  

Even though we landed early, I found myself having all but a few minutes to literally run through several terminals and make it to the very end of the B concourse.  I applaud Chicago for inventing the ferris wheel, but apparently their technological marvels ceased there, since there wasn’t a single moving sidewalk to be found.  I practically sprinted this journey with all my luggage in tow, stopping at the only two bathrooms I saw along this seemingly 5km stretch of terminal.  Full.  No time.  

There was no waiting in Chicago, just rushing on to the tarmac and up the stairs onto a miniature plane to be whisked away to St. louis.

41 pleasant minutes later (thanks to JJ, our helpful flight attendant), I was in St. Louis!

And now I wait again, for staff to gather, for dinner to be served, for students to arrive tomorrow.  As the season of advent came to a close yesterday, it seems I must still wait.

And I do.  I wait for you Jesus.  I wonder what you have in store for me and the students you love so deeply.  I wonder what you may say to us.  I wonder how your words will change us.  What invitations await? What feasts will we enjoy? What new ways will you show us a Kingdom already around us, and yet to come to fruition?

I’ll wait.  It’s worth the wait.  I’ll try not to slip away for coffee.  I know when you come, it’s like running through an airport.  So much happens suddenly.

A prayer of waiting I was thinking of today:

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

Following Jesus with Joy

This semester has brought about a lot of repentance in me, and in our community.  Usually when I thnk about repentance, I think of that sinking feeling one gets when we know we’ve messed up.  This semester though repentance has meant joy for us.  

It began many months ago during the Vancouver Urban Partnership. My collegue Christa Smith asked us the question, “What if Jesus we’re done teaching you everything? Would you still follow him?” We began to realize that often, as university students, we follow Jesus for a sense of purpose and progress.  We want to be better people, with better character.  We want to refine ourselves, and make ourselves into the best Christians we can be.  Often our prayers and talks with Jesus are about this.  How can I do better? How am I not doing well already? What can you fix in me Jesus?  
It seems we expect Jesus to tell us what’s wrong with us so we can go and repair it ourselves. 
It’s a system that works on campus: if students long for this sort of relationship with Jesus, then I will find success if I tune my mentorship to play into this.  This is where I was invited to repent.  Instead of mentoring students crap out of them, build love and joy from Jesus into them.  Don’t try to be the voice that convicts a student, be the guide that points them to God’s loving, and convicting voice.

And what a joyful repentance!  If I want the judgement of others, I can go literally anywhere for it.  But what I need is the love and truth of God.  And I can only go to one source for that.  Consequently, why ty to be another voice telling people what’s wrong with them?  Why not remind people that they are image bearers of the sovereign Lord, the covenantal god.  He is very good at transforming hearts and bringing about that refinement that we seem to long for.
This was our invitation from Jesus this semester at SFU, to be a community that helps bring each other into his presence, rather than a community of ‘trying harder’ or ‘fixing people.’