Your quest is for justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11)
Greetings from Kent! How are you managing the winter up to this point? We’re doing well. Kent State University’s Winter Break made the town quiet and quaint, which was pleasurable for awhile — but now that the students are back on campus and classes are in session, it feels like the “real Kent” has returned. We love life in this college town!
This is the time of the year for special reports. Our kids just brought home report cards from their second term in Kent City Schools. We’re all getting a bunch of tax documents in the mail these days. And of course, the President of the United States recently delivered his State of the Union address, sharing his perspective on the broader picture of everything happening in the country at this point in time. In a similar way, I like to use the first prayer letter of a new year to provide our own sort of special report, a “state of the ministry address,” if you will. As you may remember from years past, these letters tend to be longer than usual — so please feel free to read at length or to skim and dial in on the areas of greatest interest to you. The goal is simply to ensure that you’re well-informed and well-equipped to continue praying with us and for us.
This has been a banner year for our ministry at Kent State University. Our Sunday Worship Gatherings have averaged more than 220 people in attendance each week (a 20 percent increase from last year). One week, we had a record-breaking crowd of 272! Our Life Groups have averaged about 170 people in attendance each week. In the Fall Semester, we celebrated our largest class we’ve ever graduated from The Well, with at least 62 students getting connected directly into the thick of the H2O discipleship experience (that’s the largest class ever, by almost 50 percent!). The Internship Program, which I’ve been privileged to oversee, has provided opportunities for six interns to serve in highly-strategic areas of ministry.
We’re pretty excited (and maybe a little bit exhausted) by all that God is doing in our church. But the area of ministry that excites me the most is what we call “the Outward Journey” (a.k.a. The Great Commission). We’ve continued many of the aspects of outreach our church has been cultivating for the last few years, such as our work with underprivileged children and single mothers at a government housing complex called Cherry Estates and maintaining a campus chapter of International Justice Mission. But with our English Conversation Corners (another area of existing influence) we’ve doubled the number of sessions for which H2O is taking ownership… doubled the number of volunteers from H2O who are helping to practice conversational English with international students… and doubled the number of international students who are coming around! We’ve also pioneered several new outreach initiatives: connecting with students by giving out free coffee on campus every Thursday morning… Offering prayer and pancakes downtown on “Thirsty Thursdays,” when the night-life is at its peak… a Soccer Tournament designed to engage international students with our community…
It’s been exciting to see the way our people have rallied around these events. Yet even more than the organized group activities, we’ve been encouraged to hear stories of students sharing the love and hope of Jesus with their roommates and classmates. We’ve been energized to hear direct testimony from those who used to be far from God and have now chosen to live as disciples of Christ. And we’ve been desperate in prayer for those who don’t yet know Jesus, asking God for continued expansion of our and His influence at Kent State University.
In addition to everything happening in Kent, we feel God is giving us bigger hopes, dreams, and visions for reaching other college campuses here in Northeast Ohio. Now that our newest H2O has been established at the University of Akron, we’re just starting to wonder about the possibilities for getting new works established at Youngstown State University, Cleveland State University, John Carroll University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Mount Union, Hiram College, and beyond. Please pray with us for God’s guidance and direction.
Even though it’s been almost four years since our move back to the United States, our family continues to think of, talk about, interact with, and pray for our European friends on a regular basis. This past September, I was given an opportunity to travel back to the Continent for one week. I spent a few days in Poland at Great Commission Europe’s Pastors Conference, reconnecting with spiritual leaders on the ground there and refreshing my heart for God’s work on the Continent. Then at the conclusion of the conference, I traveled with a small contingent of GCE leaders to scope out some unique missions opportunities in Stockholm (Sweden), particularly among university students in the city.
Since the visit to Stockholm, I’ve been sharing the opportunities with others in Kent and across our Collegiate Church Network. As a result, I’ve started coaching a small team of H2O staff and students who plan to travel to Stockholm in May in order to deliberately and extensively seek God for church-planting possibilities in the city. Please pray for this group: Aidan, Chelsea, Michelle, AJ, Janelle, and Bennett! There’s a part of me that wishes our family was going to Stockholm along with the rest of the team from Kent, but I can’t be too disappointed because we’ve got plans to travel the opposite direction: out west to Colorado (see below).
One of the most exciting ministry prospects for 2016 involves our family’s participation in a summer-long program for college students called Leadership Training (LT), right at the edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Over 170 college students from campuses across the country will participate in the summer-long discipleship and training program while working full-time jobs at the YMCA of the Rockies. Our family will be staying in a cabin on the YMCA grounds, and I will be serving as one of the leaders for the program. We are especially excited that 10-20 Kent State students are planning to attend! It’s exciting to think of how this summer will prepare these students for greater influence on campus in their remaining years at KSU. While living away from home in a small cabin for a few months will bring challenges, we are thrilled that God has opened the door to help lead a program that consistently impacts students in powerful ways!
However, to make this trip possible, we need to raise an additional $3500 for the coming year. Will you please pray about helping us reach this goal so that our family can help lead this high-impact event? If you feel that God may be leading you to help out, you can just visit www.reliant.org/asp.eric to contribute on-line.
Our Personal Lives
You may remember that I took a sabbatical in the first part of 2015. I feel like God is still bearing considerable fruit in and through my life, from that extended season of abiding in Him. During the course of the sabbatical, I felt especially compelled to reject self-centered ways of thinking, embrace opportunities to serve others, and share the Gospel as much as possible. Basic things, really, but such a joy to implement and watch God inhabit.
It seems crazy to think that Elliot (now almost 14 years old) will be headed to high school in 2016! We’re proud of the way he has developed friendships, maintained a high level of performance in academics, and branched out in a number of different extracurriculars (starting for his school’s undefeated soccer team, playing trombone in the school band, and serving as co-president of the Student Council). Olivia (now age 11) is in her first year of middle school! We really admire the way she has cultivated a nurturing heart, especially evidenced in the way she loves on the other staff kids at H2O and cares for all sorts of animals. She also displays considerable talent in the arts, participating in a Van Gogh painting class over the summer and preparing to start writing for her school newspaper this spring. Cor (now age 8) is discovering a love of reading these days (we were worried he would never get past the “Captain Underpants” phase). But his greatest passion remains physical activity — this year most noticeably in an obsession with “American Ninja Warrior” (jumping, climbing, and hanging) through the summer and fall, as well as a late-year surge of interest in Star Wars and light sabers. All three of our children have proclaimed faith in Jesus and are bearing varying levels of spiritual fruit in their lives. Marci and I are so proud of what they’re doing and who they’re becoming.
Marci has continued as a member of the faculty for Kent State University’s English Department, teaching English as a Second Language to international students from around the world. She’s also just started part-time graduate school, to eventually earn her Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL)… As for me, one big development from the last year has been helping my parents move from Shelby to Kent, where we’ll be better positioned to help my father and mother as they manage the effects of Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, respectively. One unexpected benefit of the move is that I’m getting to learn New Testament Greek from my Dad! In addition, one of my highlights from the last year was running the Philadelphia Half-Marathon with Marci, my brother Alex, and my sister Anna.
Just like the ministry stuff, our family life is constantly in process. It’s always an adventure, and we’re just glad that you’re a part of it with us. Thank you so much, for the blessing that you are in our lives. We love you dearly — and we’ll be in touch…