Looking back now, Liz and Jesse North see one glaring omission at the beginning of their marriage. “Our whole married lives have been about ministry with InterVarsity but there was nobody from InterVarsity at our wedding,” Liz said.
Married just four months before leaving Pennsylvania for Orientation of New Staff (ONS) in Wisconsin, Liz and Jesse hardly knew any InterVarsity students or staff. They had met at Shippensburg University, which does not have an InterVarsity chapter.
What Shippensburg University did have was an independent Christian fellowship that used InterVarsity chapter camp for leadership development. Liz attended chapter camp for three out of her four years at Shippensburg. “It was at camp where I really fell in love with Scripture for the first time,” she said.
Upon graduation Liz and Jesse both concluded that the degrees they received weren’t really in fields that they wanted to spend their lives on. “As we were having these conversations I realized that the thing that I most enjoyed was leading Scripture studies and discipling younger students on campus,” Liz said.
They contacted Dan Siewert, who was the InterVarsity Area Director they knew from chapter camp, to learn about campus ministry. "We came back from our honeymoon and started meeting with Dan to talk about coming on staff with InterVarsity,” Liz said.
“I already knew they had been effective as student leaders,” Dan recalled. “They were passionate about the mission and were ready to be sent. The fact that an opportunity to plant at Bucknell University opened up through the initiative of students, just as we needed to place the Norths, was God’s timing.”
Dan’s advice to Liz and Jesse was to do what they knew: start a small group at Bucknell and lead a Bible study. “As the ministry grows your ability to lead that ministry will grow along with it,” he told them.
Growing the Fellowship
From that small beginning God blessed their chapter plant with vigorous growth, like the mustard seed Jesus talked about. They started with two students at the beginning of the first year; by the year’s end they took five students to chapter camp. The next year they had two Bible studies going on, and 18-20 students in their large group meetings.
Nakhia Grays, now InterVarsity’s Black Campus Ministries Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Region, was one of the first students that Liz and Jesse worked with. She remembered how deeply Liz cared for her, despite their different backgrounds.
“I have fond memories of her teaching me and others how to cook soups and casseroles for gatherings at their home,” she recalled. “We would talk about the Bible, outreach, and leadership all while cooking together. A lot of my discipleship happened while we were doing things together. She was always hopeful about what God was doing and what he could do.”
Gretchen Greenawalt, now on staff at Ohio State University, remembers hanging on every word when Liz would speak to the Bucknell fellowship. “Liz has the ability to take the love of Jesus and make it concrete, relatable, and compelling to students,” she recalled. “She empowered me as a woman, as a student, and as a staff. I want to follow Jesus boldly like Liz.”
Seeing the Fruits of Ministry
Within five years the chapter had grown to over 150, and more than a dozen students had become InterVarsity staff members. Then Jesse and Liz were promoted to Area Directors and saw further growth in the number of chapters in northern Pennsylvania.
This summer Liz and Jesse moved back to Liz’s hometown of Lancaster to be more centrally located for their new responsibilities. Liz is now a Division Director and Jesse an Area Director. Just before the move they were treated to an alumni reunion covering their 15 years of campus ministry. And unlike their wedding, it was almost all InterVarsity people there.
Liz and Jesse reveled in the opportunity to see so many old friends and meet their growing families. They were able to hear about the places they’re going, the work that they’re doing, and the way their faith is impacting the decisions they’re making, from stay-at-home moms to medical doctors, engineers, church planters, and campus ministers.
“The longer I’ve been doing this the more I've gotten to see the lasting impact of our ministry beyond the four years,” Liz said. “It's been so encouraging and defined for me why I want to keep doing this.”
Read more about Jesse’s ministry in this article from the local Lancaster newspaper.