One early September evening at the University of Northern Iowa, freshman Ethan Stoen was invited by his dorm neighbor Joel to join a few others for dinner. Ethan went along, hoping to make some new friends. As he became acquainted with everyone around the table, he found himself in the middle of a group of InterVarsity students.
Ethan was reticent. “I wasn’t sure what they were about,” he said, later. During adolescence, Ethan had occasionally attended church, but being around most Christians made him uncomfortable. He still did not think God would approve of the way he lived his life. When Ana asked if he wanted to study the Bible with them, Ethan declined.
The Past is Forgiven
Yet Ana and Joel were persistent. They invited him to watch movies with them and to go to InterVarsity-related events. And they initiated spiritual conversations with him. Ethan was intrigued by their faith and talked with Ana for over an hour one afternoon about what InterVarsity was about and why she was a Christian, but he still struggled with believing that God would forgive him for things he had done in high school.
When Ethan did attend his first Bible study with Ana and Joel, he remained quiet. The next day, he asked Joel more about God’s forgiveness. Joel explained that God forgives because of Christ’s death and encouraged Ethan to confess his sins. Ethan was not yet ready.
The following Monday, he attended Large Group ,where area director Jon Hietbrink spoke about living transformed lives. Ethan had listened to Ana speak about her faith and had heard Joel share that Christ died for our sins, but a question still lingered, “With all of the bad stuff I’ve done in my life, how could God forgive me?”
When Jon ended his message, he asked, “If anyone would like to accept Jesus’ forgiveness for the first time, please stand.” Ethan wiped moist hands on his jeans. No one stood. He did not think he would be able to stand either.
“Then I felt that God stood me up,” said Ethan. He walked to the front of the room knowing that God wanted his whole life. Privately, while students worshipped, he and Jon prayed for forgiveness. Ethan left the meeting with a newfound sense of joy and freedom in having been forgiven.
A Call to Witness on Campus
The following weekend, Ethan attended Fall Conference with 150 InterVarsity students from Iowa universities. On Sunday morning, speaker Jon Hietbrink invited Ethan, Ana, and Joel to share what God had done in Ethan’s life the past week.
“Each and every day I feel more forgiven,” Ethan told the audience. “Anything I do, God will use that in His story.” Ethan’s thankfulness for Ana and Joel prompted him to encourage the Christian students to be inspirations to their non-Christian friends, as Ana and Joel were to him.
After Ethan spoke, Jon asked if anyone would commit to follow Christ. Over twenty students stood up. Ethan’s encouragement to be inspirations for non-Christians led Jon to also ask if students would become missional Christians. A number of students responded to this second calling.
The Harvest is Ripe
During the past weeks, InterVarsity staff member Rachel Danley has watched Ethan become a joyful follower of Christ and has watched students respond to his testimony. At Fall Conference, many UNI students were mobilized to act on their chapter’s vision to be missional families for the 10,000 unreached students on campus.
One freshman shared with Rachel how she felt alone in her hope to see many classmates come to Christ. After Fall Conference, this desire took root in many InterVarsity students. “The whole atmosphere is one of anticipation, and we want to be part of God’s movement on campus,” said Rachel. The Conference inspired another InterVarsity student to begin a prayer movement. She gathered other freshmen to pray that God will change and transform the campus.
“There’s a sense of the harvest being really ripe,” said Rachel, reflecting on the influence Fall Conference had on UNI students. “There’s an energy within the leadership.” With such energy and the training provided at Fall Conference, InterVarsity students at UNI are prepared to be salt and light for 10,000 unreached students on campus.
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