By Nathan Peterson

Perfect Timing—A Decision Five Years in the Making

Hey man, could we talk soon? Jimmy read Matt’s message several times.

As a campus minister with Greek InterVarsity at Indiana University (IU) for six years, Jimmy had received texts like this before. But never one from someone like Matt, who’d been gone from IU for five years.

A little unsure what to expect, Jimmy agreed. Soon memories of Matt began to surface in Jimmy’s mind, like the first time they met.

It happened on a windy January afternoon in 2015 as Jimmy and a couple InterVarsity students set up an outreach outside one of the sorority houses along Greek Row.

Even with a cooler full of free hot chocolate, many people went out of their way to avoid Jimmy and his students. And most who did stop for the hot chocolate weren’t interested in hearing about InterVarsity.

Though it was cold, though it was  discouraging getting so many no’s, Jimmy knew it was worth it. He lived for those moments when Greek students began moving past their misconceptions about Jesus and encountered him through Scripture, when they discovered just how good, relatable, and compassionate Jesus really is.

Halfway through the outreach, Matt, a sophomore at the time, walked straight up to the table. “Oh, sick, free hot chocolate!” he grinned.

He and Jimmy introduced themselves and started talking about Greek InterVarsity. Jimmy walked with Matt to his class and asked if he’d like to talk more about the ministry sometime. Matt agreed.

Campus minister and student talking on balcony overlooking campusThey started meeting weekly to study the Gospel of John, and Matt began sharing more about his background. “God’s got my back” was his mantra as a 10-year-old. But as he got older, Matt really questioned if God existed at all. By the time he met Jimmy, he was deeply struggling with anxiety and stress, wondering, Am I just a speck in the grand scheme of things?

Jimmy also had the chance to share how he’d first met Jesus as a Greek student, hitting rock bottom after chasing everything but God. As they kept studying Scripture, Matt’s skepticism began to surface. During their last meeting before summer break, Matt asked, “But what if I just believe in God?”

“That’s a start,” Jimmy said. “But until you choose to follow Jesus and make him the leader of your life, it’s just not enough.”

Matt nodded. Jimmy could almost see the thoughts running through his mind.

A few days later, Jimmy found out that Matt wasn’t going to return to IU in the fall. “I was really bummed,” Jimmy recalled. “In the last meeting we had, I knew he was close to deciding [to follow Jesus]. . . . We kept in touch through texts over the next five years, but we never got to meet intentionally like before.”

But as the pandemic struck the US in the spring of 2020, forcing campuses and businesses to shut down, Matt reached out to Jimmy, asking if they could talk.

Assuming the call would just be a casual check-in, Jimmy set up a time to talk while grabbing some groceries—parenting and full-time ministry didn’t leave much downtime.

But as soon as Jimmy heard Matt’s voice, he knew something was wrong. Matt had lost his job. “I’m an extremely Type-A person and very driven, so the uncertainty was soul crushing,” Matt reflected on those two months following the loss of his job. “I worked out every day to try to get my endorphins up, drank every night, and the only thing that I looked forward to was my roommate coming home from work that night to watch movies with me and let me talk about things with him. . . . I completely lost my identity.”

Grocery store parking lotAs Matt continued sharing during the phone call, memories of Jimmy’s own rock-bottom moments as a student flashed through his mind. He did his best to encourage Matt, drawing from his own experiences, but was quick to point out that he wasn’t a licensed counselor or an expert in this area.

“But,” Jimmy added, “I am an expert in helping people figure out if they want to follow Jesus. Matt, I’d love to pick back up and start meeting with you if that’s something you’d like to look into. Or if you’d want to decide to let him lead your life today, you can do that too.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone and then a quiet yes.

Jimmy’s heart started to pound. He dropped his basket of groceries on a shelf and took off for his car, so he could focus on the conversation more.

“So you’re saying yes to what exactly?” Jimmy asked.

“Both those things,” Matt didn’t hesitate this time.

“Awesome!” Jimmy fist pumped. While sitting in his car in the grocery store parking lot, he led Matt in a prayer to start following Jesus.

As they began meeting up again virtually, Matt started to see how much Scripture related to his own life, especially all the suffering, self-doubt, and obstacles that King David had to overcome.

“What Jimmy did for me was he provided comfort,” Matt said. “[He] assured me that, in the grand scheme of things, it was all going to be okay. That God was protecting me, had a plan, that things would end up better, and to trust in Jesus. He actually coached me through trying to believe these things when I was in a really dark place and didn’t believe in myself. It took lots of repetition to overcome my limiting beliefs, but with resilience, Jimmy helped calm my nerves and bring me peace through God, one step at a time.

“This isn’t always the case, but when adversity comes my way [now], I just smile at it with confidence,” Matt added. “I think I have Jimmy to thank for a lot of that.”

Reflecting on how God moved, Jimmy said, “This has helped me have a better perspective of time. I tend to want things faster than what is going to happen in God’s timing. If you told me five years ago that this would have happened, I would have been shocked. . . . It’s also been a great story to share with our students who have friends who are wrestling with the weight of the decision to follow Jesus.”

Jimmy and Matt continue regularly checking in with each other, discussing what it means to pursue God through day-to-day life and transitions and trials.

 

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Nathan Peterson is a writer on InterVarsity's Communications Team in Madison, Wisconsin. He formerly was the Urbana 18 writer. You can support his ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#21293. 

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