(Newsletter 2011 Annual)
It was in college that I fell in love with the Lord. Deeply and personally. Sure I had known about God all my life, I had invited Jesus into my heart and I had called on Him countless times before since I accepted Christ at the age of 7. But He was just on the sideline, a person I’d pray to in desperate moments. I had certainly felt His love and experienced His touch and warm presence, but I don’t think I knew how to really walk with Him and live in Him.
In my high school years, I stopped going to church because I didn’t feel comfortable there. I didn’t have friends at church and my family was always late, so hearing half a message seemed pointless to me. Then a boy came along my senior year and told me I was beautiful and fascinating and that he wanted to be with me. He made me feel good, and that boy became my boyfriend and God became an afterthought. As many relationships go, puppy love turned into lust and a cycle of sin and confusion. A 17-year-old me lost her heart and nearly her faith. Despite how miserable I was in the relationship, I was also devastated when he ended it.
So there I was, seventeen and depressed and broken. I had nothing left but God, if He would take me back after I had so forsaken Him.
He did. He had never left. I knew now how empty the world’s offerings can be and decided that I wanted to commit myself to Christ before college, a time when there is so much freedom to explore and try new things. I was no longer hesitant to get baptized because I had resolved that only God can fill me. As the beach waters swept over my face, I felt my heart washed over with His love, grace and cleansing blood.
Grace is what I experienced my first year of college. So much grace because after all that I had done that senior year, God still allowed me to feel His love, to feel His presence. He overwhelmed me with His goodness and all I could think over and over is, “Why?” Why does such a terrible sinner like me have the glorious blessedness to experience God’s love for me? What lavish grace!
I started college at UCLA. Everything is vibrant and the campus is bustling with different kinds of people, clubs, and social outings: frat row, house parties, dorm floor hangouts all at my fingertips. I did not want to be tied down by people from church, who had formed a home group on campus. I wanted to make new friends and see more in the world. In fact, when I saw home group members, I’d purposely walk the other way, but they were persistent and intentional in getting to know me and building a relationship with me. They invited me to their meetings, different events and befriended me. Everything in my flesh did not want to attend, but I ended up going to be polite. And in the meetings, the dining hall meals, study groups and walks to class, I saw how much these people, fellow college students, loved the Lord and desired to live for Him. I saw their efforts to love on me and see me grow closer to God.
A particular sister in the group asked me if I wanted to be discipled. Through the discipleship and home group meetings, I was taught how to walk with God and abide in Him. I learned that He is a part of my everyday life and not just that big comforting helper guy when I am down in the dumps.
Throughout this time, I checked out other campus fellowships and they had solid teaching and well-orchestrated events but they were so big that I was drawn to the smaller group from my church. I found it more personal, especially since the home group leader stressed ownership of the group, how this is our group, our mission field, and our commission. I committed myself to the home group and went back every Sunday to my home church in Hacienda Heights.
Church was enjoyable now because I had friends, family even. That is what home group became for me, but it was not always glamorous. It was tough and flawed as all types of ministry can be. With such a small group, everyone was expected to serve and by my junior year, I was a leader. God really grew in me a heart for the people and the vision of the group, which is to save the lost, make disciples and bear everlasting fruit.
My story is rare. More often than not, we hear of Christians falling away in college, and the question often asked is: what does it take to prevent this?
There isn’t a simple formula for how to retain college-age church membership. For me, I stayed at my home church because I was invested in the church’s UCLA home group. I saw that I had a purpose at UCLA for His kingdom and not just for grades or building an impressive resume. Home group also was my family, people that I grew to love.
So I think a lot of the answer comes down to God using people who are willing to obey and intentionally love on others, particularly reaching out to freshmen. It is about becoming their friends and spiritual family, where they are accountable for that brother and sister in teaching them to live out the Word. It is God’s grace to convict that person’s heart to know God is real and His love is strong and relevant even in college. And it also takes a personal realization that you have been called to a mission and kingdom-minded purpose so that you can be faithful to it. More accurately, it is about being faithful to Him because it all comes down to Jesus’ heart and crazy love for His people, for us. And it is when people respond properly to that love that a testimony is birthed.
Now, my testimony is not glorious because I still go to the same church. What is glorious is how God used the home group, an extension of the church, or rather, His people simply being the church at UCLA to teach me how to live a life with God and for Him.