Stop doubting and believe. (John 20:27)
Greetings from Kent! We’ve had our steamiest weather of the summer over these last couple of weeks — but there have been surprisingly-strategic cool-downs at key moments, like when Kent State freshmen were first moving into their residence halls on campus, or when we sent students running around campus on a Scavenger Hunt to meet new people and have memorable experiences. Even this past Friday, our annual H2O Dodgeball Tournament happened to fall on the nicest evening of the week! We’re grateful for all of the opportunities that have been provided for establishing a positive first impression with the thousands of new students streaming into our college town.
There are always a lot of large-scale, high-energy, fun moments throughout the time period we call “Welcome Week” at Kent State University. Our table at the University’s Blast-Off event was probably one of the most popular tables in all of the massive organizational carnival atmosphere. We formed a fun, frolicking, “Glowing Chain of Humanity” with dozens of students wearing and carrying glow-sticks to help guide freshmen to one of our first events in a less-familiar part of campus. We had record crowds for our Kick-Off event (at the end of the first day of classes) and our first Sunday Worship Gathering of the year. God has been moving in powerful, dramatic ways here in Kent.
But it’s not all high-visibility, high-drama stuff.
Some of it is quite mundane, in fact. One of the upshots of the high traffic we experienced during Blast-Off was that we had to organize a team of staff and students to process the data from almost 2000 completed surveys. This information needed to be transmitted into a readily-accessible form that could be used to send follow-up text messages within 24 hours. Each of our Life Groups received the contact information for about 150 students who expressed at least some level of interest in H2O, and we took the time to send personal text messages to each and every one of these students: inviting them to our first round of H2O events and initiating a conversation that could ultimately result in meaningful relationships.
I didn’t grow up with text messaging as a primary form of communication. Even after years of practice, here in Kent, I still feel like I’m “all thumbs” a lot of the time when I’m working on a smartphone touchscreen. We’ll often have a group of Life Group leaders gather together to send out the text messages, to make it more fun, and it amazes me how much faster than me the students are in their text communication. Even so, this part of Welcome Week is a chore.
Response rates are low (though I haven’t done the math to tell you exactly how low). Every now and then, however, someone writes back with an enthusiastic response or a follow-up question. For one attempt at contacting a student named Sam, I wrote:
“Hey Sam! This is Eric Asp, with H2O Church. I want to invite you to our Off-Campus Life Group that starts meeting tonight at 9PM! The location is 1511 Whitehall Blvd (East Townhomes apartments). Let me know if you have any questions; we’d love to have you join us!”
Honestly, I expected things to end there. But about twenty minutes later, Sam texted me back: “Thank you so much! I will be able to make it!” I smiled, sent a quick response, and prayed briefly for Sam’s introduction to the Life Group that evening.
Later that evening, I met Sam for the first time: a young woman who eventually told me that she’s been taking an “Introductions to World Religions” class at Kent State and finding it a far more challenging environment than she had imagined it might be. She said the professor does little to hide his disdain for Christians and aggressively tries to pick arguments with those who would adhere to any elements of dogma. She said she felt like her faith was already starting to slowly erode after just the first three lectures.
At Life Group that night, however, we talked about faith and doubt. We explained how we’d be studying the Gospel of John for most of the semester, and we turned together to the end of the book to read a section from John 20:24-31 (in which John himself explains the purpose for his writing). When we got to verse 27 and read Jesus’ exhortation to Thomas — “Stop doubting and believe” — one of the student-leaders for the group asked, “How might your expectations change if you were to hear Jesus say to you, ‘Stop doubting and believe’?”
With great enthusiasm, Sam shared that the Life Group was an answer to prayer. Her expectations for the semester were being revised — right there, on the spot — as she realized God was calling her to use the challenges of her antagonistic professor to dig deeper into her beliefs. She recognized opportunities for gospel proclamation, within the lecture halls of Kent State University, and she rejoiced in the support of Christian community.
Isn’t that encouraging?!? Stories like Sam’s make all the sweating and late-night activities and text-messaging worthwhile, to me. And I hope you find similar encouragement regarding your role on our ministry team! Please keep praying for us during this strategic season of planting and watering seeds of faith. We’ll be in touch…