For this Inside GFM, we wanted to highlight campus stories from four GFM staff. They might spark fresh ideas for your ministry, if you are on campus; they will certainly energize all of us about the ways that God is at work. Rod Pauls’ patient work to plant at UTEP has a mustard seed quality to it, showing what can begin to grow from just one contact. Mickey Sanchez’s story at Northwestern evokes the feeding of the 5000: who could have guessed at the multiplying effect of Zoom for Faculty Roundtables! David Heckendorn bears witness from his work with internationals at Harvard to how God patiently finds one lost sheep. And I am amazed by Paula & Blake Puckett’s dream of a Christian Study Center at William & Mary that has come to pass, embodiment of a Jeremiah 29 willingness to seek the welfare of the place to which God has sent them.
It Only Takes One
Rod Pauls, Senior Campus Staff Minister – GFM Western
After 20 years with InterVarsity, Rod Pauls knows you only need one person to start something. Rod served in the Southwest as an undergraduate area director before taking his new role as a Senior CSM with GFM in May 2020. Working for GFM felt like a natural transition for Rod, as he had often engaged with faculty while serving on campus. In addition, the uniqueness of the Southwest is a draw for Rod as he loves the people and culture of the region.
In his new role, Rod hit the ground running as the only GFM staff worker across New Mexico and the far western tip of Texas. His goal was planting at the University of Texas at El Paso. The challenge: he only had one contact, a faculty member at the university. What started as a simple conversation led Rod to so much more.
That single contact turned into two when Rod noticed some posts on Facebook. A former undergrad student had posted about heading back to school for a graduate degree. Rod reached out and was encouraged by the conversation. Not only was this student a resource for an additional faculty contact, but the student was also interested in participating in a bible study.
A few ONSO contact cards later, Rod was working with two potential groups: A small grad student bible study and a faculty group. In May 2021, Rod and his two faculty contacts hosted a Faculty Meet & Greet with four additional faculty members. There was hunger on campus for faculty to gather, and this group of six quickly turned into a group of eight and then twelve by their first official kick-off this fall. These faculty have continued to meet monthly, and their gatherings focus on intentional sharing around relevant topics. Rod found it helpful to send a quick survey to the participating faculty, helping him identify the greatest needs of the group.
What has been amazing is that there have been faculty willing to share at each gathering. These meetings are not content-heavy but rather present honest questions to spur dialog around how faculty might meet the needs of their students. It was so encouraging to hear that faculty were asking for help identifying the stresses and pressures students face. They wanted to know how to help. That meeting was followed by faculty wishing to understand how to identify yourself as a Christian to your students, including a conversation on sharing the gospel. They are approaching challenging topics in today’s educational context.
The entire process has been somewhat unexpected and serves as a reminder not to be afraid to start small and that “You only need one person to get something started.” Rod isn’t entirely sure where the groups are heading at the moment. The grad students are busier than ever, and finding time to gather has been a real challenge. The faculty group will likely meet more often, but Rod is waiting for the group’s leadership to take shape. Regardless of either group’s direction, it has been an encouragement to see God at work, as Rod awaits his next move.
In the Face of Uncertainty, Creativity and Partnership are Key
Mickey Sanchez, Campus Staff Minister – GFM Midwest, Chicago
During a season of isolation and uncertainty, Mickey Sanchez found a way to involve over 2000 faculty in a relational experience and grow in partnership all at the same time. How, you might ask? With a little bit of creativity and a lot of technology!
Mickey set a goal to grow participation in faculty ministry at Northwestern University, but he didn’t expect how challenging that would be in the face of a pandemic. His initial idea was to hold roundtable discussions with faculty on various scholarly topics. The model for these discussions comes from the Cambridge Roundtable on Science and Religion, which began in 2002. Since then, the model has been used to host thousands of discussions on campuses like Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Brown. But with so many restrictions now in place, it felt impossible to begin hosting these faculty roundtables at Northwestern. In-person meetings weren’t possible but coming together virtually through Zoom was.
I don’t think anyone could have predicted the impact that pivoting to Zoom would make. Once the limitation of physical space was removed, attendance skyrocketed. Faculty members that generally couldn’t carve time out of their schedules to attend an in-person gathering now had the freedom to connect virtually from their own homes. Since the program started in July 2020, Northwestern alone has had over 277 faculty members participate, with 90% not identifiably Christian. Of those, 111 faculty are asking to continue these conversations in small discussion groups.
Faculty Roundtables at Northwestern have continued to be a success, now with some in-person and some virtually. The largest attended Faculty Roundtable had over 900 faculty from around the U.S. Mickey has partnered with GFM staff and partner organizations to spread the reach of these Faculty Roundtables. Casting the net far and wide with personal invitations can feel daunting at first, but it has proven to be fruitful. The goal is to invite as many faculty as possible, even those you don’t think will come. Then wait and see God work.
The best part about this program is the growth opportunity. Mickey has been able to pilot Grad Roundtables at Northwestern University, including 11 other peer universities, with great success. Of course, the pandemic hasn’t made this easy, but with 117 grad students engaged in the pilot, Mickey is very encouraged. He also shared an opportunity to have similar programs at every university.
Roundtables are replicable both in-person and online. If you want to know more, check out the website at https://www.northwesternroundtable.org or email Mickey at Mickey.Sanchez@intervarsity.org.
From Contact Card to Christian Commitment
David Heckendorn, Campus Staff Minister – GFM Northeast
Shuai came to America to study genetics at a Midwestern graduate school. She met Mary, a witness to international students, and they became fast friends. When Shuai transferred to Boston to follow her academic mentor, Mary kept in touch by phone and video calls, eventually leading Shuai to commit her life to Christ. Along the way, Shuai married Bao, a classmate who did not share her faith.
During the pandemic, Shuai and her husband completed their PhDs and began postdocs at Harvard. In Summer 2021, Mary encouraged Shuai to seek local Christian fellowship. Mary’s regard for InterVarsity led Shuai to go online and request a connection with nearby Campus Staff. I happened to be the one to receive her online contact card.
My wife, Roselle, and I reached out promptly and met Shuai for coffee the following week. Shuai has a vibrant personality, and we all hit it off immediately. During our time, we discussed possible fellowship opportunities and how she might share her faith with her husband, Bao.
Soon after our first meeting, Shuai enthusiastically joined two of our weekly online summer fellowships. I later suggested she invite her husband to join the Alpha course, a thoughtful presentation of Christian basics to those who are curious, open, or seeking.
Shuai and Bao agreed to attend the Alpha Kickoff, which offers a meal, a talk, and a discussion as a taste of the program. They loved all that the Alpha course provided. Then, Shuai and Bao attended our regional summer retreat at Toah Nipi. On the Saturday of our weekend retreat, Bao was visibly moved to tears by all he had experienced. When I asked him if he would like to follow Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit, he embraced Christ for himself.
Since the retreat, Bao has prayed with leaders for freedom from respiratory issues and has asked about joining a post-Alpha small group. Shuai has courageously shared her faith with colleagues in the lab and has sought advice about coping with persecution. Our next conversation will address baptism as an essential public declaration of their faith. My wife and I continue to be personally available to Shuai and Bao as they become devoted disciples of Christ.
What can we learn from Shuai’s and Bao’s story?
- We serve a movement with great integrity and a premium reputation.
- Following up promptly on contact cards and other introductions is so important
- Hearing people’s stories is a vital part of ministry. Listen well. Help people to feel understood.
- Invite students and scholars to take steps of faith.
- Alpha is a valuable tool for both outreach and disciple-making.
- At the right time, invite students (in love) to follow Christ with us.
- Continue to love and invest in students, even (especially) after they make Christian commitments.
Cambridge House Christian Study Center at William & Mary
Paula Puckett, Associate Regional Director – GFM South Central
Several streams of God’s masterful activity, spanning time and continents, appear to have come together for such a time as this. One stream was a movement of believers praying for decades to establish a Christian Study Center (CSC) at William & Mary (W&M). The second stream began with God giving my husband, Blake, the idea of starting a CSC during his Ph.D. years at Indiana. But it was during our six years in Cambridge, England (2013-2019) when the idea began to grow as we regularly interacted with believers deeply impacted by Swiss L’Abri, the original “Christian Study Center.” We also met a spectacularly gifted philosopher whose dream was to direct a CSC.
“I found a house!”
Blake visited Williamsburg in 2018 to begin searching for a family home. A passing comment about our interest in starting a CSC to longtime InterVarsity staff resulted in, “Get your coat, we have a house to show you!” Astonishingly, W&M InterVarsity alumni had their large home next to campus FOR SALE but wanted buyers who would turn it into a Christian Study Center! Are you kidding? We bought that house.
The House “Rejects” the Vision
Although we have yet to experience ANY resistance to the vision from actual people, the house, on the other hand, has vehemently resisted the vision! Soon after closing, the water “fun” began! Pipes all over the house burst or leaked over the next year, wreaking nearly $100,000 in damage. Hardwoods and ceilings sagged, newly-laid replacement floors rotted, and the gazebo roof caved in, to name a few. Some of these issues are still outstanding.
House woes aside, in summer 2020, after a year of committed prayer, we held a Vision Launch under a tent and on zoom announcing Cambridge House to the Williamsburg community. Over 80 people attended. From those responses, we formed our founding Board of Directors. Month by month, we have laid the Cambridge House “foundation,” ticking off countless requirements for becoming a non-profit.
Over the past year, I have often had the joyful but unusual feeling of “scurrying” to keep up with God. Mission and Vision Statement—check! Logo and tagline--check! A volunteer to design our website! People asking when they could start sending money (“Please be patient, we’re working as fast as we can!”) 501c3 official status! New member of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers!
Opening Our Doors!
Now here we are. As of December 2021, the Cambridge House Christian Study Center at William & Mary has just completed its first full semester of events! In addition to our Fall Kickoff Open House, when 60 faculty, staff, and family members joined us for a joyful celebration, 14 people gathered in the front yard for our Fall Faculty Fellowship event in late October. Two W&M professors shared how their faith and academic work impact each other. The rich discussion which followed left us hungry for more.
Then on November 3rd, Cambridge House opened its doors for the first-ever Undergraduate Student Pizza Dinner & Lecture, with that same Cambridge philosopher speaking on Learning in the Light of Christ: What Can a Christian Study Center Contribute to the University? Two of the moments I treasure most: The energy and excitement as a wave of students entered the House, and students CHEERING when 2 W&M faculty introduced themselves as both “faculty” and “Christian.” I sat on the stairs to the basement during the lecture, completely overwhelmed with gratitude. “God, look at what you have done!”
The gentleman who sold us this house volunteered to chair our Fundraising Campaign. He formed, trained, and led the Committee. Then, this autumn, we sat gobsmacked as more than $260,000 was pledged in support of Cambridge House in less than two months. Soon our philosopher friend will interview to be the first-ever Executive Director. Our Board’s new favorite motto? “This is really happening!”
They were all amazed and glorified God, saying,
“We have never seen anything like this!”
– Mark 2:12