Monday, July 13, 2020

Blessings in the Midst of Chaos

Hello,

I hope you're all doing well and are staying safe! I don't know if you feel this way, but this year just keeps getting crazier and crazier. Despite all the turmoil and chaos, this has been one of the most encouraging summers. 

I'm not going to lie, finishing the school year was so challenging. Switching to working at home/cancelling all of our events and figuring out a new way to do meaningful ministry virtually was overwhelming. Getting to the summer was both a relief and a stress. It was the former because it allowed for a break and the latter because the summer is when we begin planning for the Fall and building our new leader team. In this chaotic, constantly changing time, how do we plan for the Fall? That question is still a difficult one to answer, but, like I alluded to in the beginning, I have a few encouraging things I'd like to share while I've been in the process of trying to plan. 

1. God has blessed us with abundance


I'm not even sure how to say that the best way. I know lots of people have been really affected by world events lately, so the sentence feels wrong. So excuse me if that comes off inappropriately! 

Like I said previously we use our summers to build our leader team for the upcoming school year. In previous years this has been some discouraging work. Mandy and myself (the two main female pastors at UTD) would go and begin talking to woman about serving on our leader team, and we would consistently get told no. Mostly I believe that stems from fear, but there were definitely people who just couldn't do it. Being a Core Facilitator is a big responsibility. It takes up a lot of time, but more than that, leading people can be messy and challenging. When you step up into a leadership position, you have the capacity to influence people towards God and have a team of people there to help support you in the process of doing it. In so many ways that is good news and can be such encouraging work, but it can also be terrifying news! Students were worried that they wouldn't lead people well and wouldn't know how to help people. Mandy and I would talk through students fears with them, and let them know that they wouldn't be leading alone next year. Not only would they have another facilitator with them, but again, they have a team of people there to help support and train. Some people would change their minds and decide to commit to leading, and some people wouldn't. 

I explain all this because it's hard to see how this year is different without knowing how some other years have been. The past two years, building a leader team has progressively gotten more and more encouraging. We started having more and more people who were excited to bless the community the same way their Core Facilitators had blessed them the previous school year.  This year I was worried that the craziness of how the school year ended and the uncertainty of the next school year would put us back to the years where people wouldn't want to lead...

However we've experienced quite the opposite! I don't think I've had an easier summer trying to build a leader team. Almost every girl I've met with has been excited about the prospect of leading on campus this next year. In fact, this year we'll have the highest number of female corefas than we've ever had before!!! 

I could honestly continue with explaining how God has been abundant with us, but for the sake of brevity I'll just finish with the thought. This year has been riddled with fear and disaster, but I've continually been blown away at seeing God still moving. Maybe that's my unbelief popping out, but there were definitely times where I feared how things would turn out and maybe that's why seeing God has felt even more special. A reminder that in the darkest moments, God has not left:)

2. While some doors are closing, new doors are opening


Part of my job for the last 6 years on staff has been leading outreach on campus, and for the past two years, I've also been teaching the apprentice class on Evangelism. The past few years we've used a lot of events to reach out to people, so I'm sure you can image all the fears that have popped up when trying to plan for the school year. How are we going to meet people on campus? I'm not sure that I have an amazing answer to that question yet. We still don't even really know if people will be coming back to campus yet! And if they do, how will we be able to meet them when there will probably be no events? 

But with all this change of pace and increased ability to just sit and reflect, I think God has been closing a door in order to open a new one. For the past few years I've constantly felt like our outreach approach has been lacking, and every year I attempt to adjust. With more time to reflect, I realized what exactly has been the missing link. Our approach to outreach was event based, but we're not an event based ministry. One of our values is "one-on-one is how it's done." We know lives are changed through real, one-on-one relationships. Events help us meet new people in order to begin building these spiritual friendships, but the goal should always be one on one friendships.  And we don't need events in order to meet people! While we still have work to do in figuring out the details, I feel like God wants to do something awesome on campus this year!

Student Testimony

Hopefully that encouraged you as well! I entered the summer being very apprehensive, and I'm leaving it excited for what God wants to do on campus this year. It will definitely be a challenging year, but it will also be a year with unique opportunities. Thank you for all your support and prayers! I'll leave you with this student testimony.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Reflections and Updates

Hello,

I hope you're all doing well; I've been keeping you all in my prayers and hoping that this pandemic isn't having too big of an impact on you and your families.

A quick update: we officially ended this school year, and we've started up our summer activities, like Summer FOCUS and support raising. I'm honestly surprised by how well we've been able to keep going despite the craziness. But I would like to ask for some prayers. We're also beginning to plan what next school year looks like and build our leader teams, and I'd really like to ask you be in prayer for that. Especially since next school year is going to require a lot of adjustments. We always start out the school year with a big Welcome Week, which essentially is just us attending or putting on events in order to meet people and invite them to join core. Obviously events are most likely not going to be happening, so we're really trying to think through how to still caste our nets wide and meet people. Just be praying that God gives us wisdom on how to move forward and still be faithful to these people God has stepping onto campus in the Fall!

Ecclesiastes

I'm not really sure exactly how to talk about what God has been stirring in my heart, but this pandemic has really made me realize how little control we have. Over the years I've read the passage in James that says:

 "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it it is sin for them." 

I always thought that I understood that passage, but it wasn't until my whole life being turned upside down, slowed down, and reordered, that God really showed me how much I do boast in my plans. This passage reminds me of Ecclesiastes where the author is trying to get the reader to understand that life is fleeting; it's a vapor, here today, and gone tomorrow. The author ends with: 

"Now all has been heard; 
here is the conclusion of the matter: 
Fear God and keep his commandments, 
for this is the duty of all mankind. 
For God will bring every deed into judgement, 
including every hidden thing, 
whether it is good or evil."

This past semester I've just been thinking a lot about the question 'what is it I rely on? What does my life show is the most important thing?' Over the course of this pandemic, I've realized that I've begun finding... I'm not sure what the right word is, maybe peace or satisfaction or security... in busyness and what I can accomplish. I run around doing all these things for the Lord, but I haven't spent enough time slowing down and enjoying the little things, enjoying my time with the Lord. This life is fleeting. Our worries and troubles right now will seem so small as the years pass. If we're not careful, we'll be consumed by those worries or how fast life can fly by, and we'll miss the truly important things. 

Again, I don't know how this pandemic has affected you, but I would encourage you to take this time to slow down and spend sometime with God reflecting. It could be on the questions I've been pondering, but God may have some other things he wants to do in your time with him. 

If you want to reflect more on these ideas, there is a great youtube video that speaks more on this: Vapor Meditation.



Student Testimony

I just want to end by saying thank you for all your prayers and your support. I'm continuing to pray for you and your families. If you have anything specific you'd like me to be praying for, just let me know. Here is our student testimony for this month, and I hope you find it encouraging!

Monday, March 23, 2020

The World Turned Upside Down

Hello,

I hope you're all doing well and keeping safe. I've been spending a lot of time in prayer for you all and just what is going on right now.

I mainly just wanted to update you with how FOCUS is moving forward. We're still working and meeting with students; we've just moved everything to online until further notice. We're trying to figure out a way to do our weekly large group meetings on a virtual platform, but the rest of our events for the semester have been cancelled or we're trying to think of adequate replacement options. If you have any questions or want more information, just let me know.

Prayer

One of our alumnus wrote a prayer, and his sister, who is one of our UTD corefas this year, posted it to our corefa group chat for people who want to pray about what is going on, but don't know what to say or how to say it. I think it was really helpful, and I wanted to share it with you all. 
_________________________________________________________________________________

Father, in this country we enjoy an abnormal degree of prosperity and stability. We confess we often idolize it. Mandy of us are unsettled to see the systems that afford us this comfort bend under the wight of the present situation. Many of us have not seen them bear this much strain in our short lives. We are used to hearing about tsunamis abroad and seeing mere ripples at our shores. But now we are seeing somewhat more than mere ripples, and this is a new learning experience for many of us. 

In some ways it is disillusioning, but it is good to be relieved of an illusion. Behind the illusion, the truth is that any day could be the day that our worlds are upended by a disaster, be it private or public. Teach us to live each day with an honest awareness of that reality, and peace from your Spirit in the face of it. Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

This is not new to you. Teach us to put our hope in you rather than stbility and comfort. To you the nations are like a drop in the bucket; they are like dust on the scales. Everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain we rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be. But now, Lord, what do we look for? Our hope is in you. You are our light and our salvation. What shall we fear?

In some of us this reveals idolatry, in some if reveals apathy towards other nations, in some it reveals a lack of trust in you, in some it reveals impatience and condescension towards others. Whatever it reveals in us, let us accept the revelation humbly and ask your forgiveness and cleansing.

Cultivate in our inner beings a new depth of quietness and peace. Help us not to get frazzles. Help us not to check our phones obsessively. Help us to distinguish meaningful developments from mere noise. Help us to think about it an appropriate amount and no more. Help us to determine the right precautions and take them not out of worry but out of love for our neighbors. May our peace be a true sign of your presence and care to the world around us. 

We remain confident of this: we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Amen

Further reading: Isaiah 40, Psalms 27, 39, 90

Student Testimony


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Updates!

Hello,

I hope you're having a great February! February is usually a pretty fun, eventful month for me because my wedding anniversary is on the 11th, we have Pizza Theology, and we are starting to find out who will say yes to going to SICM. This year, though, we moved Pizza Theology to April, and we're doing our Annual Spring Showcase in February which is even better. That is definitely one of my favorite events we do. If you've never been you should seriously consider going!
If you don't know what the showcase is, it is a fundraiser we put on every year to help send students to SICM. 100% of the proceeds goes to SICM! There is a live show where talented artists from our community sing, dance, and even some improve. And we'll also have an art sale in between the two shows. People sell candles, home decor, coffee, artisan treats, and so much more! This is definitely an event, you don't want to miss! You can buy your ticket at anyfocus.org/showcase

Also please keep this in your prayers. SICM costs a lot of money, and we really try to make sure that money is not an issue for our students. Pray that we raise what we need, and this event blesses everyone who has been so incredibly supportive of what we're doing.



Spring Welcome Week Update


In my last blog I asked you guys to pray for our Spring Welcome week events, and I just wanted to tell you guys they went so well (praise God). I've heard lots of stories of students we met from those events getting plugged in, and I'd have to say this has been the most "successful" spring welcome week in terms of just meeting people. I have some pictures of two of our events:

Coffee House

We had live music and free coffee and snacks, and we had a lot of people come out. 
We had corn hole
Some of our students started a game of signs

and invited new people to play














Bad Tattoos & Lawn Games

So we just invited people to play lawn games with us like corn hole or Montana golf. And we also offered to give them some fake tattoos with face paint crayons (the bad part was because none of us giving the tattoos could draw very well). It was pretty funny watching people play games and seeing what fake tattoos people chose.  



Winter Camp


My last update before ended is just that Winter Camp went so well. This year we talked about the Psalms, and I have to say it was really neat. I don't think I've spent much time thinking about the Psalms or how to use them in my relationship with God. Taking the time to talk about them gave me a new appreciation for them. If you'd like to give any of the talks a listen, you can go to the resource page on our website. 

Our UTD students

Our whole ministry as well as alumni and some of their children


And lastly I just want to give you a huge thank you! Your prayers and support are so instrumental in what we're doing on campus. We seriously couldn't do any of these neat things without you.

Student Testimony



Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Spring Semester Welcome Week!

Hello friends!

I just wanted to give you all an update on how KFG did! We raised $92,269!!!!! Thank you so much for all your prayers and for your overwhelming generosity! We are definitely so blessed, and I'm so excited to see how God continues to use FOCUS for His mission.

Spring Welcome Week

Monday was UTD'S first day back for the Spring Semester. I seriously can't believe the break went by that fast! We are ready and excited to be back, though. There are alway transfer students, new international students, and a lot of students who may have needed a semester to become ready to hear the gospel and encounter community, so we're putting on 5 events this week to try and meet new people! 

  • 1/14 : Game Night @ 7p
  • 1/15 : Coffee House @ 7p
  • 1/23: Bad Tattoos & Lawn Games @11a
  • 1/24: FNF Kickoff @ 7p
  • 1/24: Zombie Tag @ 9:30
I just wanted to ask for your prayers! We hope that God really works in the students hearts on campus who are far from Him, so they're ready to receive him. And we hope that our students are ready and excited to meet those people!!!

Student Testimony




Thursday, November 21, 2019

Good News

Hello,

I hope you're doing well! I can't believe it's almost Thanksgiving. This semester has felt a bit of a whirlwind. A small update on myself, Laurence and I finally moved into our house a few weeks ago. We had spent a lot of time working on it and trying to get it move in ready. That made the first part of this semester really exhausting, but now that we're moved in, our lives have normalized. We're feeling less exhausted and ready to finish out this semester strong!

Sadly this blog doesn't have any photos. The camera on my phone broke, but I should have photos in the next one! But I do have two good news stories I'd like to share with you.

Storie #1 - Katie


The first one is a little longer and for this girls privacy I'm going to change her name to Katie. Anyway, Katie came to UTD thinking that she was a Christian. She had kind of grown up one, but was living a party life style. When she came to UTD, she continued in the party scene and started rushing for a sorority. A cool part of this story is she actually got plugged in with another ministry on campus called Campus Outreach (CO). In that ministry she learned that she actually hadn't been living as a Christian and decided that she wanted to start living for God. Around this same time, one of our corefas, who was in the same sorority, invited Katie to their core. She came! And that weekend she came to Fall Camp! It was after this that I met Katie. She had agreed to do a one-on-one Bible study. We met up the last week of September, and two things became super clear.

1. I don't think this girl realizes how difficult changing her life is going to turn out to be
2. She needs community!

Let me elaborate. I'm sure all of you have tried to change some big habits, maybe for some of you it was just your diet or something like that. Regardless of what it is, it requires huge changes. You have to stop buying old foods, start buying better ones. I remember in college I actually had to change grocery stores because it was just too hard to not impulsively buy junk food at the one I was currently going to. Anyway, Katie had said she wanted to follow Jesus, but thought that God would just take away all her desires for alcohol or some of the other bad activities she used to do. She thought she could still go to all the parties and wouldn't have those struggles.

As you may have guessed, that didn't work. I mean it did for a few weeks, but after a while she started drinking with all her friends. Which leads me to my second realization. While Katie was participating in a lot of Christian activities, she wasn't really building a Christian community. Really she didn't feel like she had any friends at all. She was sad, and the first time I met her she was talking about how she just wanted friends who really cared about her. She was going to all these things, but didn't feel like she was really finding friends to hang out with at any of them. Now I do want to say I think her corefas did a great job trying to invite her in. But corefas only have so much time! Leading core is basically a part time job, and they're in school full time, plus some of them have jobs as well. So the corefas were inviting her in, but couldn't really be her only people. And the core this girl in doesn't really have other people who are already plugged into FOCUS and could help connect this girl to our larger ministry. Their core was filled with newer people who were trying to figure out what it means to really live for God.

Anyway, when Katie realized that God wasn't going to magically take away all her feelings, she started backsliding. She believed "Well I'm always going to be a sinner. I just take the super slow path to trying to change. And God must be ok with that because he knows I'm a sinner." She started getting more plugged in with her sorority, and her and her boyfriend started spending the night together. This was actually a super scary time. She was such a new Christian, and I thought she was about to reject God because things were just too hard. And I realized her problem. Again, if you've ever tried to make a huge change, you know that you can't just stop doing things. You have to replace old habits with new ones. She had tried to change, but she was still continuing to do all these old habits. And when she didn't go to those parties or hangout with those friends, she would just feel sad and alone in her room. She hadn't found new friends or new activities to replace those old ones.

Since then I've been trying to get her plugged in with more people in our community. And the good news is I think it's working! She's been coming to more things, and I'm really hoping that this helps her make some good Christian friends. The other day she told me that she isn't sure she wants to do her sorority next semester because she isn't having fun. Please, please keep this girl in your prayers. I can see God moving in her life, and I just pray that she chooses him and chooses to leave her past self behind!

Storie #2 - Allison

This story is a lot shorter. Darby Cleveland, another staff person, had been doing a one-on-one Bible study with Allison over the summer. Darby moved to Denton, though, so she couldn't finish. It took a bit of time to get the study picked back up again. Our corefas didn't have time, so I started meeting with her. This girl has a similar story to Katie, where she also has a party background, but she wants to change it; and she's been making active steps to try to change that! I started meeting up with her, and we just went over a lesson on baptism. She wants to get baptized!!!! We're currently working on when this is going to happen, but I'm really excited. She specifically wants to make a commitment to live for God and wants other people to know she's made that commitment. God has just been doing some neat things in our community this year, and I'm really excited about it. 

Thank You's and KFG

Thank you so much for all your prayers and for being passionate about campus ministry! I really have seen this impact so many lives, including my own, and FOCUS couldn't exist without such generous people supporting in and helping it to continue. 

On that note, I wanted to share about a new opportunity coming up. Every year we have a big fundraiser called, Keep FOCUS Growing or KFG. While each of our staff raise support, it takes more than that to keep us doing ministry! We need outreach activities/materials, administrative support, health/retirement benefits, and have visions for planting on new campuses in the DFW area. This fundraiser is about being around for the long haul and meeting needs that aren't just staff salaries. 

This year some of our generous donors have banded together and agreed to match up to $36,00 in total donations during this campaign. So if we receive $36,000 in total contributions, they will kick in a SECOND $36,000! Your first chance to give will be on December 3rd! We're mainly going to be pushing this through Facebook because they don't charge any credit card fees. So if you have Facebook, be looking out for that. If you don't have Facebook, no worries! You can also give via check or through our website at anyfocus.org/KFG.

I know you guys have already been so generous, but I encourage you to think about whether you'd like to give to this at all.

Student Testimony




Thursday, September 12, 2019

Welcome Week Update

Hello friends,

Thank you for all your prayers for the new school year! Welcome week went unbelievably well. Our students met so many people, but the coolest thing was watching people they met continue to return and get plugged in.

I wanted to share some cool new things we tried this year. This welcome week we really wanted to focus on casting our nets wide. God has such an amazing vision of all the nations being included in his kingdom, so we wanted to do some specific events to reach diverse people groups. We had two events that were specific to international students (Big Howdy & Furniture Giveaway), one event trying to reach Latin American students (Latin Xplosion), and one event trying to reach Asian American students (Worship and Boba). I'd like to share about two of those four events!

Big Howdy

 This event was so cool! A bunch of different Christian ministries come together to throw a huge party to welcome international students to UTD. All the different ministries have booths set up for students to learn more about them, there is free food, live music, dancing, and giveaways. There were about 1200 students who attended this outdoor party.

I helped to organize student volunteers to meet people during this event, and I probably had about 40 people come to help work our one booth. At first everyone thought I was a little crazy for having that many people, but by the end of the night, they realized we probably could
have had even more people helping us! 

At the booth, we basically just tell international students who we are, how they can get involved, and invite them to our upcoming welcome week events. As the event got into full swing, we had waves upon waves of students coming to talk to us. At different times I would look around and saw that all my volunteers were talking to people. We got almost 400 core cards from that one event! It was the craziest and coolest welcome week event I've ever had the pleasure to be a part of!

Latin Xplosion

Left to right: Sandra, Adriana, Maria, Josh
 

So myself, Sandra Salvedor, Maria Lefki, Joshua Soto, and Adriana Gonzales helped to put on this event. As a staff we really wanted to make a space to invite people to join in being a part of creating a diverse culture. As someone who really is mostly a part of the majority, it's incredibly difficult for me to understand what it's like to walk into a place and realize that no one looks like me, no one speaks the language I prefer/my family uses, no one understands my culture or how I grew up. When you're the minority, you can crave to be a part of something that feels comfortable and safe when everything around you is so different. Lots of students will just plug into an organization or group who look like themselves, and I totally get it. But we can never achieve diversity if people don't join in with something that is different than what they're used to. 

We weren't really sure how many students would turn up, but that night we had quite a surprising turnout! We probably have 80 students come! We did a Mexican styled bingo game and had some get to know you things sprinkled throughout. This was designed to be a come and go event, but the coolest thing was that the vast majority of students stayed the whole time!

Maria, Sandra, and Josh also shared their experience coming into a ministry that was predominantly white and shared about why they decided to stayed, then they made a case for why these students should join something that was diverse. It was pretty powerful hearing their stories, and I've already seen some pretty neat fruit come from this event. And we received a lot of feedback from students who came that they were so thankful to have an event like this. They said it meant a lot to them. 

Reflections

Over and over again I just realize how good God is. I remember coming to college and God bringing me into community. That was just such a powerful moment that radically changed my life. And it's so cool to get to be a part of creating spaces for God to do the same thing for all these students. I hope through this welcome week we were able to show people that God cares about everyone! It's so easy to go through life and only really reach out to people who look like you or think like you, but Jesus didn't go to people who looked like himself or thought like himself. Instead he asked to dine with sinners. He talked with foreigners and those who were despised. This was just such a great reminder to be more purposeful in reaching out to people who are different from myself. 

Anyway thanks for reading all this. I hope in encouraged you!

Student Testimony