InterVarsity campus staff member Ben Emerson stood outside McNary Hall dormitory on the Oregon State University campus. The text message he read on his Blackberry brought a smile to his face.
A half hour earlier Ben had led a dialogue about Christian values and sexuality in the dorm lounge, an event billed as Sexy Pizza. “It’s a provocative title that’s meant to raise questions,” Ben said.
Ben gave three invitations at the end of the talk. He invited Christians who were present to rededicate their lives to Christ. Non-Christians were invited to consider becoming followers of Christ. And non-Christians were also given the option of joining a GIG (Group Investigating God, a short-term Bible study).
“No one responded at the actual time I made the invitation but a couple of people said something to me afterwards, or something to their friends,” he said. “It got the ball rolling for more personal evangelism for students.”
But then his phone buzzed with the text message from one of the students in the InterVarsity chapter. The student, who had brought his roommate, was writing to say that his roommate liked the meeting and now was asking a lot of questions about Jesus.
“This is a guy the student had prayed for. Now he is taking some steps toward faith because he is curious about Jesus,” Ben said.
Ben acknowledged that it was not unusual after an invitation like this, for responses to come dribbling in over a period of days or even weeks. He also acknowledged that this was the first time he had given an invitation like this after Sexy Pizza, even though he had given the presentation a half dozen times before.
InterVarsity staff in Oregon and Washington have committed themselves to offering students more opportunities to commit to following Jesus Christ, despite the Pacific Northwest’s reputation as one of the most unchurched areas of the country.
At a staff retreat a year ago, staff members confronted the insecurity that they felt because of the Northwest’s reputation. They concluded that there was more spiritual fruit ready to be harvested, because God was at work on campus and in the lives of students.
Making a New Start
Last summer staff members on each campus in the region prepared their annual fall semester welcome events for new students on campus with a new sense of expectation, anticipating that God was ready to act.
The first school to welcome students in August was Willamette University. Campus staff member Daniel Esqueda gave the same three invitations to follow Jesus. Every student in the room but one stood in response to one of the invitations, and that student was a visitor who was already a Christian.
Similar successes were reported in following weeks from almost every campus in the region.
“For five weeks I was regularly forwarding reports of these happenings,” recalled regional director Kim Porter. “Typically our region averages about a dozen conversions each fall, all GIG related. Last fall we had over 28 conversions from public invitations.”
Harvest Time on Campus
Jason Jensen, a national field director who oversees the northwest, called this harvest focus a huge change which involved some risk for the staff. But it is bearing fruit. And the timing seems to be right.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been a bad time to be in university ministry but this is a fantastic time to be working with students on campus,” he said. “God is powerfully at work.”
Jason Jensen talked about developments in the Pacific Northwest in a chapel service at InterVarsity’s National Service Center. Click here to listen to his talk.