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Reflecting on Another Year

Just about a month ago I got to attend, along with our students, a ministry training opportunity in Bellingham, Washington. That week of ministry training is called Student Institute of Campus Ministry or SICM for short. This was my third time having been able to attend SICM. Once 5 years ago as a student, once last year as an intern, and once this year after having completed my first year on staff. I would say that each time I've gone I've come away with something different, each lesson important in its own right. When I was a student my biggest takeaway was that I was no longer going to be a passive Christian. I wanted to take part in bringing God's kingdom to earth. I was going to bring Christ to my peers and be a visible light to the world around me. That really was such a trans-formative time in my faith, and I hope and pray that the same was true for some of the students that we got to send this year. My year as an intern one of my biggest takeaways was just the sheer abundance of all of the helpful tools in practically doing ministry on the day to day. How to initiate conversations in evangelism. How to build deep relationships. How to lead a bible study. What a treasure trove of information there was available! It was incredibly useful for me to be refreshed on as I continued to teach and guide new student leaders. But reflecting on this last year I think I swung too far in relying on those skills alone to do ministry. I really am pretty good at asking good questions, at following up with people, at getting people to engage in a group setting. But all of these are skills that can be learned, but they may or may not point people to life. What I learned (or rather, was reminded of) at this year's SICM was just this... If I rely too heavily on my own skills and the things I've learned without first asking for God's guidance and assistance, the fruit that will come as a result of my efforts will be limited at best. In other words, my ministry has to first and foremost come out of my own relationship with God.

A couple of verses come to mind.

John 15:5-8 5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Acts 1:3-8 3After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5For John baptized witha water, but in a few days you will be baptized withb the Holy Spirit.”
6Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

It's pretty clear to me that Jesus entirely expects us to depend on Him for our power to do ministry. I personally am so so thankful for this reminder. I can hardly wait to see what God will do as I personally continue to seek His wisdom above my own when it comes to ministering to these college students. That's not to say that in this last year I haven't been praying or asking God for help! I certainly have and The Lord has been faithful to move. But there have been too many times when I head into a situation or make a decision all on my own without first consulting Him for guidance. Which is absurd when I am reminded that it is His children that I am dealing with. I find myself in these last few weeks far more often in prayer about where to lead this ministry. What sort of conversations to have with the guys I'm meeting with. So on and so on. And I fully expect God to show up in powerful ways. 

So I did want to share that will all of you but I also just wanted to take this time and reflect on this last year in praise of what God has been doing even perhaps despite my self dependence. One of my earliest prayers for this year was that God would bring a group of young men into our ministry who could lead others to Christ and teach other young men about discipleship. We had enough student leaders for a couple of guys cores at the beginning of this year but the girls were outnumbering us 3 to 1. So I just want to thank God for answered prayers through the bringing about of just a few guys that I believe are faithful, available to serve, take initiative in their ministry, are teachable, and most importantly love God and His people. 

There were a lot of other young men who God was definitely moving in the heart of this year and there is most certainly fruit in their lives that I've yet to even become aware of just yet. But these here are a few guys who are visibly rising up as leaders and disciples in our community because of how God has impacted them through college ministry.

But before I do that here is a picture of our whole group from SICM this year :)

To start off the list we have Colton Benge
I have gotten to have the pleasure of studying scripture with this goofball. Over the last year, Cole and I have met up together almost every week to dive in to the word and get to speak to one another about a wide array of topics from discipleship, to grace, to sin, to renewal, all the way to evangelism and being sent into the world. Cole is only a freshman but its often easy for me to forget that because of how often he ministers to me! Cole is one of the most inviting people that I have ever met. He is passionate about Jesus, he has been positively impacted by Christ centered community and he is consistently reaching out to his peers in his classes. Inviting them to focus, asking if they want to study the bible, even simply being their friend in a competitive major. If I had to describe Cole in one word it would be a "light". Cole got to come along with the rest of our crew to SICM this year and I was continually encouraged by the friendships I saw him developing and the ways that he would be engaged in the content. Cole for the last year has been commuting from Rockwall to Arlington every week for school but in the next year he will be moving down here to live with some of the other guys in our community and I can not wait to see what else God wants to do through such a kind and genuine young man. It is because of you that I have been able to meet with Cole consistently so thank you!

Next up we have Bryan Bass.
The man on the right of this near perfect recreation of Abbey Road is Bryan. Bryan is the younger brother of one of my dearest friends, Nathan. But over the last two years Bryan has become a dear friend to me in his own right. You will meet very few young men who are as serious about their faith than Bryan. Bryan is consistently thinking about how he can be a friend to people who need Jesus in their life. I would have given Bryan the official title of "Leader" in our community two years ago, but Bryan really sensed and believed that his mission field was to the students in band at UT Arlington. I don't know the official term for his role in band as I was never a band kid myself but I know that he has gotten to be a leader for the last two years in that field and that he has been able to be a light to so many as a result. Bryan consistently encourages me with his humility and wisdom. And he consistently challenges me when I hear about his devotion to God. And he challenges me when I see his passion for sharing the love of God with those around Him, particularly to those who don't yet know Jesus. Something about the way that band works has led to Bryan having done so much band that he isn't allowed to be in band anymore. Which means that for his last year of college Bryan will be available to be a leader in our community and hopefully instill in younger men that he will disciple his heart for the world.

Up next we have Jared Huang.
 Jared is the man with the donut as large as he is. Jared is an incredibly sweet and thoughtful young man. Who also happens to be a very talented storyteller and filmmaker. Jared came into this year a Christian with a lot of questions. But he got to meet every week with one of our corefas JB who just loved him as a friend and consistently pointed Jared to the truth of Jesus. Jared has been and will continue to be in some ways a blessing to our community. Jared will be transferring to UT Austin in the fall for a degree in Film. We don't have a branch of Focus at UT Austin, if you're aware of a great student ministry over there let me know and I'll direct Jared that way! But even though we don't have a ministry down there, Jared has been so deeply impacted by how God has used college ministry and the friendships that he has made here to affect his life that not only is Jared set on finding another ministry to get involved in, but he also, after touring UT Austins campus, came back and reported to JB that he had seen a lot of locations on campus that would be great spots to study the bible with someone! Jared may not be a leader in OUR community in the year to come, but he will always be someone who uses his gifts and talents to lead other people to Jesus. Because of that I can't thank you enough for the impact that you've had on Jared's life!

Lastly we have Cody Allsman!
Cody is the stud standing in this field of flowers.
Cody has been one of the guys who most quickly became a visible part of our community. What I mean by that is that early in the year there wasn't an event that was held that Cody wasn't present for. It wasn't long before Cody was the one initiating most of the student hang out events. Cody has learned the importance of community. How willing people are to have truth spoken into into their lives if they first know that the person speaking to them first and foremost, loves them, and cares for them as a friend in Jesus. I believe that Cody will be that person for so many as he continues to grow in his confidence in the Lord. Cody is one of the most fun people to be around, because you can tell that he is genuine and that he cares about you. I got to have a phone call with Cody this week just to hear about his experience with SICM and what some of his biggest takeaways were. And he just shared with me his renewed desire to be in the word. He purchased a book entitled how to read the bible for all it's worth. And even though there is no one in his hometown to disciple him or help him think through what hes reading he is using his summer to read through scripture, starting in Acts. I was just so encouraged by our conversation. To hear how God is continuing to work in Cody's life even apart from community as he is home for the summer. But I would believe even Cody would tell you that his strong desire to be in the word is a result of people who have reflected the word to him in their lives and have shared with him what they know, and have learned in Jesus. I can hardly wait for Cody to come back to Arlington and be able to do the same for others.

Like I said that is just a few guys in our ministry whom God has brought to our community. I plan on being faithful on investing in as many as is possible for me to do so. In this next year our Arlington branch is getting a new apprentice whose name is Jalen.
Jalen is the guy made uncomfortable by his fan club.
As a student at UTD had an amazing impact in the lives of the guys that he invested in and I could not be more excited to have him as a partner in this mission of raising up disciples on this campus in the year to come. Once again, it is only because of you that either Jalen or myself are even able to meet with some of these guys and share with them about our Lord and what he has for their life. But those meetings that we get to have with them every week, which seem so small, add up. And every year more and more students are calling Christ the lord of their life because of what you have offered in your generosity! I just praise God for that! I am so so so incredibly thankful for each one of you. Simply reflecting on the love that I have for each one of these guys and how I've gotten to see God change them through community because of you makes me forever grateful. So thank you.


Some things that you can be praying for.
I am currently raising support for this next season of ministry. I am attempting to raise my financial support by $500 a month for this next year. As I'm sure most of you know I am getting married soon to a beautiful woman named Hayli Boren who I am incredibly grateful for. As a result I am moving from having 4 roommates to just one, which just overall will up the cost of living by just a little bit. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do college ministry full time. I am so deeply indebted for your generosity from this last year so it is with a humble heart that I ask if you know anyone who might be interested in supporting college ministry could you please inform them of what God is doing over here and then possibly connect me to them? That would just be so deeply appreciated, but I know that there are people out there praying about where God wants them to give and I just so fully believe in the mission of college ministry and I would love an opportunity to share with them why!

Thank you again! I love you all and I hope to see you or hear from you again soon!

In Christ,
Austin


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