Friday, September 1, 2017

Matt's September Update!

We're at the end of the first week of classes now and the second week of "welcome week" on our Denton campuses. 

One of the guys I met this week is named Justin. Several of the students have also befriended him this week. I discovered very quickly that he is a rock climber and has a membership at the climbing gym in Denton that I also visit regularly. It's allowed me to get to spend some more personal and casual time with him this week. What's most encouraging about Justin is that he's come from a background of going to church but didn't really feel like he was ever really serious about his belief in God and doesn't really know what he believes. He is, however, interested in learning about what it would look like to take Christianity more seriously. David, one of the guys that's been spending time with Justin and me, invited him to come to his core (small group) and one of our apprentices, Rhett, has had a few conversations with him around talking more about who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. Who knows what will happen, but it's exciting to think of the possibilities of what the Spirit might do in Justin's life through these new friendships!

And there are other stories like this from the past two weeks. Stories of new friendships, but really for each of these students it's the start of a new chapter and the direction of the overarching plot has yet to be revealed. What an exciting time! Please be praying for Justin and students like him to seek God wholeheartedly so they can see Him for who He really is.

I wish I had more pictures to share with you of things that happened this week but it's not really the best idea to snap photos of people when you've just met them so you can post it on your blog! Anyway, I wanted to give you a snapshot of what it sort of looked like this week. Essentially, our community (staff, student leaders, other members, etc.) all tried to be on campus as much as possible to meet new people. One example as seen below was a game that attracts attention while people are walking by and is easy and fun to pick up if you've never done it before. Even for the people who didn't stop to play with us, at least we gave them something interesting to look at between classes!

A few of the guys I mentor and me up on campus playing "fowling"
(football bowling) to meet new people during the first week of classes.
As I've reflected this week on the significance of engaging with people around me, no matter how small the interaction seems, I've wanted to encourage you to be bold in the same way. Over the last two years, I've challenged myself to always interact with at least one person when I go to the climbing gym. Usually, this is really easy but there are days when I feel tired and antisocial. However, in keeping with this challenge I have developed several meaningful friendships there. It's given me opportunities to talk about the real aspects of my life and learn about the real aspects of other people's lives. Two of the guys asked me about coming to church with me and one of them studied the Bible with me. It was a slow progression but when I look back at two years of consistency, it's very clear that there's a huge impact from those small interactions. If I hadn't challenged myself in that way, I would have easily set a precedent of keeping to myself because that's my natural tendency. But as a man of God's Kingdom, I don't want to allow my natural tendencies to prevent me from striving to obey the Great Commission. My challenge to you is to ask God how you could engage the people in your various social circles more. Then see how He works when you do it!

First Friday Night Fellowship of the school year!

Please continue to pray for us as our students are meeting people in their classes and starting their core groups next week. You can also reuse the "7 Days of Prayer" card I posted last month to give you some structure. We're hosting an all-day leadership training for our student leaders tomorrow to further prepare them for facilitating core and being leaders in our community this year. Please pray over that day as well.

Thank you for all of your prayers and support! You are a true blessing from the Lord.

Yours for the Campus,





"When I came to UTD, I felt really lost. I didn't have many friends, and it seemed as if my life had no direction at the time. I had known for years that I wanted to study computer science but in the fall of 2016, I was doing little else and it felt painfully meaningless at times. I decided to come to Friday Night Fellowship one night and met Mark Merola. Even though we were complete strangers, Mark took a particular interest in me. After sitting with me during the service, he invited me to come to more FOCUS events and to join his Core. I started coming to Core regularly and became friends with everyone in the Core. With Mark and the rest of my Core, I gained a group of supportive peers that I could live life with and learn from. I grew significantly in my faith and also as a person. Through studying the Bible and discussing it with members of my Core, I learned more about who Jesus is and my relationship with him deepened. My relationship with Jesus also led me to examine who I was as a person and make changes to how I act. FOCUS added a lot of meaning into my life and helped me see who I want to be. I have become a Core facilitator for the 2017-2018 school year, and I now know that the path toward God is the path that I want to take my entire life."

Michael Murphey
University of Texas at Dallas
Computer Science
Sophomore

Friday, August 18, 2017

7 Days of Prayer

UNT students moved in yesterday and today! TWU students move in Thursday and Friday! School starts a week from Monday. These next few weeks are the most important in reaching out to new freshmen and transfer students.

Will you join me and my team in prayer over the next 7 days for our campuses?


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Matt's August Update

Last week we had our summer staff retreat - we spent a few days with our entire staff communing together and centering ourselves on the Lord before the new school year begins. That time with my dear friends and coworkers is invaluable, especially as preparation to go out on our various campuses and spread the Good News.



Leader team finalized!

We've confirmed our student leader team for the year and assigned staff mentors to groups of them. One of the things I'm most excited about with the new school year is getting to spend time with my guys! I'll try to get a photo of them in the next few weeks to include in my next update.

One of the guys I'm especially excited about is Tony. He's an Indian international student who grew up in Zambia. His passion for the Lord and servant's heart consistently blow me away - I can confidently say that I believe God will do amazing things through Tony this year.
Danielle, me, and Tony in Bellingham, WA during our SICM trip in May
And there are 5 other guys I'll get to meet with weekly this year. Their names are Israel, Ernesto, Mateo, Alex, and Justin. Please be praying for each of these guys! My prayer is that God will develop them into men devoted to Him and to leading His Church, not just while they're in college, but for the rest of their lives.


Please pray for...


  • Outreach during the first couple weeks of school. This two-week time frame is critical for meeting people and welcoming them into meaningful friendships. The friends people make during this time typically determines who they spend their time with during the rest of the year. Also, many students end up not making any good friends during their first year of college. Our goal is to offer deep friendship to as many people as possible and see what God does. This requires boldness for many of our students as they meet new people. Please pray for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit, "for the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline."
  • Our leader team.
    • Pray for them to be given strength and endurance for the work the Lord has prepared for them this year.
    • Pray for them to be given direction through the Spirit, that they wouldn't simply follow their own desires or try to please the staff, but God alone.
    • Pray also that our team, community, and other believers on campus would be unified in Christ so that all who see us will know we belong to Jesus by our love for one another.
  • Incoming students & students who don't have community. Pray for these students to be connected with a Christian friend who can reveal God's goodness to them. Pray big: that God would bring about revival in His people on the college campuses so that all would have the opportunity to know Him more this year.



THANK YOU for your prayers and continued support of the ministry we do on DFW college campuses! It is encouraging to know many of my friends and family are praying as my team and I step foot onto UNT, TWU, and NCTC in the next few weeks to reach students for the sake of God's Kingdom. Your part in this partnership is vital. I hope that you are encouraged in knowing that! Please continue praying and let me know when I can pray for you as well.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Matt's July Update

This past Saturday the Denton staff team went out to my parents' house in Azle, TX to spend some meaningful time together and develop our team relationships before the new school year starts. Each year we tend to have new teammates, especially when we take on new apprentices, so we want to do all we can to welcome them into the Denton staff community.

Left to Right: Rhett, Aaron, Kristen, Miriam, Brittany, Kevin, me, Danielle

I've learned over the last few years how foundational it is for my staff team to develop deep relationships in order for our larger community to follow the example. When the staff strives for the example that Christ set, our student leaders have a greater potential to follow, and consequently, so will our larger ministry. So I can't imagine skipping such an opportunity during the summer to bring my staff team together to share their stories and build up an excitement in one another to do God's mission this year on the college campuses!

One of the questions I had each person share this weekend was how God brought them into the FOCUS ministry at their campus. As I was reflecting on the retreat and thinking about what to share with you, this is what came to mind. Consider how powerful it is to hear stories about students' lives changed by God and his Church. Each one of the people on my team was a student who went through our ministry, each with a unique story of how God changed them in big ways during their years in college. That's one of the reasons why we are all so passionate about college ministry!

Then I think about stories like Ismael's below and it blows me away. He had so many obstacles and reasons not to believe in God or even see his goodness. At the beginning of this last school year he tended to isolate himself even when many of the people around him were reaching out to him. By the second semester God had revealed himself more and more through some of the other guys in our leader team as we would pray for him and walk through tough times with him. The amount that he has grown in vulnerability this year is nothing but a mighty deed of God. Praise the Lord!

And this is just one story among many that God is writing in our world. Plus many stories are just in the introductory chapters. The blessing of college ministry is that we so often get to come alongside people when God starts the bigger plot line and major character development in their lives. It's incredibly exciting!


Please be praying for our leadership selection process as we try to finalize our student leader team this week. We are praying that the Lord gives us discernment for each individual person we are considering. Being a core facilitator is not for everyone every year. We ultimately want to do what's best for the students. Also, continue praying for our staff as we try to finish fundraising this summer and prepare for the start of the coming school year.

Thank you for partnering with us on this exciting mission to make God known in our world! I'm looking forward to entering another school year alongside you!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt





"Growing up, I knew there was a God, but I viewed church as a place for people who were “good”, and I did not fit the bill. As a result, I was guarded in my friendships and viewed vulnerability with people as a weakness. Entering college, I suffered from severe depression because of the college drinking culture and a very unhealthy relationship, which ultimately led me to taking a year off of school. During that year I decided to work at a penitentiary to make ends meet. In prison, you fight for respect daily and often look behind your back in case you had stepped on someone's toes and forgot. This is true for both the inmates and the officers. As an officer, I learned a lot about the harsh reality of life but I also learned about the consistent presence of God. Once I went into a dorm full of inmates and had to settle down an altercation. One of the inmates said to me, “This is our home, and you only leave at the end of the day because we let you.” At nineteen years old I had seen and felt pain that most people my age would not experience for a long time, if ever. Those experiences only brought me closer to God. During that year one of my peers and friends from FOCUS, Kurt Doty, never lost touch with me and checked up on me regularly. I find it funny that when I had real questions to ask about faith and religion, God provided me a friend who could help me. God has always met me where I was, and although I could not see it until I started searching, I think the patience of the people God has blessed me with has truly exhibited what the Church is meant to be."

Ismael Garza (Senior, University of North Texas, Music Education)


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Matt's June Update!

Now that SICM and my trip to Regent College have passed it seems like summer just snuck up on me! Spending this time up in the Northwest region of the continent was amazingly refreshing, though. I loved getting to spend a week with a few of my colleagues and friends learning more about how to interpret and apply God's Word. If you want to hear more about that class, I'd love to chat with you!

Me, Laurence, Sarah, and Brandon in Canada, celebrating the end of our week-long course!

Student Institute of Campus Ministry

SICM was really good this year. The group of students that we brought (nearly 90) was engaging and eager to learn. Throughout the week I was constantly hearing them talk about what they were learning and how excited they are to go home and reach out on their campus. The excitement of these fresh leaders keeps me grounded in the truth of why we're doing all of this: to make disciples of Jesus to the glory of God. And that is awesome! SICM is always an encouraging time for the staff as well as the students. I am so thankful to have that precious time with them to develop a sense of community so we start the school year with a sense of unity and shared purpose.

In the below picture is my host family and the guys that we stayed with during the week of SICM. The Sims family is amazing and has blessed our ministry tremendously by opening their home to 6 staff or students each year during this trip. Each year they feed, entertain, and get to know each of us - to me they have become another family I have in this world and I know that this experience has been even more meaningful to some of the guys who don't have healthy relationships in their own families. The Sims try to keep in touch with all of the past students who have stayed with them, which is somewhere around 30 different guys! They even came down for Danielle and my wedding last year!
From left to right: Jason (host), Alex, Israel, Caleb (host son),
Kyle, me, Danielle, Pedro, Jordon (host daughter), and Toni (host).

I asked each of these guys (Alex, Israel, Kyle, and Pedro) to share their main takeaway from SICM so you could get a sense of what their experience was. It's interesting how much their experiences outside of the classes impacted them! That's part of why SICM is such a powerful trip - it's a holistic experience of lecture, discussion, hands-on-training, various levels of community, and worship. All of that creates an atmosphere for these kids to be moved powerfully by God's spirit.


"The biggest lesson that I learned at SICM was on the first day; it was about purposefulness as opposed to spontaneity. It really helped me think about how to be intentional with others in conversations. This lesson brought to my attention that most of my conversations are usually meaningless and are about things that don’t matter at all. But now I have a better understanding at how to approach conversations to have a more meaningful relationship. Although, the hardest thing from my SICM experience was trying to play the bagpipes."
- Alex


"My SICM experience is the Highlight of my year so far. Of everything that I learned, here is what impacted me the most:

Being a person who connects with God more easily in private settings, Usually spending time in my room or taking a walk by myself or with at most 2 other people, I went to SICM with the idea that It would be hard for me to connect to God with that many people next to me. I had two choices in hand, try to Isolate myself and experience God but miss the opportunity to create new friendships or Jump in the crowd, enjoy people make friends but not connect with God; I chose the latter. To my big surprise, I experienced God in ways that I have never before. Through the friendship that I developed, the time spent with my host family and roommates, God responded to my deeper needs for friendship, community and love. I have learned to seek and connect with God in a different way, through community and by talking to people."
- Israel


"Attending SICM was an unforgettable experience filled with great instruction, frequent laughter, and spiritual reflection. This trip impacted me in that I feel not only encouraged but equipped to spend this summer and the coming school year being intentional about moving forward the Kingdom of God on campus and in other friendships that I make.
One of the most impactful experiences that I had while on the trip was getting to know more about a friend who grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Learning about other cultures of the world has always been intriguing to me, but talking to my friend about his personal experience of witnessing the Holy Spirit work in the Congo was truly amazing. We talked for a while about the ways which the Spirit works in different places. My friend spoke about growing up and seeing people in Africa be miraculously healed and how God often meets other serious physical needs. This concept really made me think about specifically how God provides in different places.
Campus Christian Fellowship was the hosting organization in Washington and, after talking with my friend from the Congo, I gained more insight into how God provides here in the United States. Campus Christian Fellowship, or CCF, and other ministries similar to FOCUS actually are miraculous and God uses them to meet the needs of his people. God provides a way for college students to seek him on campuses that might not otherwise have the welcoming environment that FOCUS or CCF have, and I think that remembering to acknowledge God’s incredible orchestration through these campus organizations is often forgotten yet vital.
Seeing more of how God provides played a large role in SICM for me and it was a huge part of the encouragement that I felt from attending the conference. SICM will continue to influence my efforts of discipleship and my personal walk of following Christ for years to come."
- Kyle


"One of the biggest things I learned while at SICM was the fact that it's not all about me. I sometimes forget that this community is bigger than just the TWU and UNT campuses but it's also Collin, UTD, UTA, etc. Helping me realize that I need to focus more into serving others and not just think about what God has for me next but what he has for this whole community. It is amazing to see that this community is growing and growing everyday and having to go to SICM is something that I can never thank God enough times for."
- Pedro

Other pictures from SICM:

Some of our UNT and TWU students being goofy!

Students worshiping God one of the mornings before class

At the SICM closing ceremony we prayed for the missionaries from each school as they went back to their campuses


This is our whole group that we brought from Texas!

Summer FOCUS and School of Ministry

We've kicked off our Summer FOCUS meetings on Thursday nights. All ten of our campuses across the DFW metroplex come together for our fellowship and worship between school years. We do this partly because the students love seeing their friends from other campuses and it gives the staff an easier workload over the summer so we can work on our support raising. Our theme for the summer is relating to God. Each of the staff who are preaching will talk about the various ways people related to God through the Scripture and share personal stories of how this has played out in their lives.

We would love to have you visit at some point this summer if you're able! We've been tremendously blessed to be able to meet for free in the Watermark Plano church building near Hwy 75 and Spring Creek Parkway. Let me know if you'd like to come and I can help you get there! We meet on Thursday evenings at 7:30pm.

In addition to these big group meetings, we also have planned several smaller classes across the metroplex for students to participate in. Covering various topics, the aim of these classes is to give opportunity to further educate our students about theology, Scripture, Christian history and disciplines, practical application, etc. Since a majority of them attend secular colleges we want to provide some ways for them to be growing at a more academic level in their thinking and relating to God while they aren't as burdened with classes and small group responsibilities.



Please be praying for our upcoming student leaders as we build the team for next school year. A lot of our SICM students will be a part of this group. It would also be greatly appreciated if you could be praying for our staff and apprentice fundraising efforts this summer. Also be praying over our staff team as we plan and prepare for starting school in August. There is a lot to do for planning our big group meetings, sermons, leader prep events, welcome week events, etc. We want to do everything we can to invite incoming students into our communities and smaller friend groups so, through those individual relationships, they might come to know Jesus more and more!

Thank you so much for your investment in the lives of young Christian leaders. I'm incredibly excited to see another group of new student leaders rising up to continue building God's Kingdom on the Denton campuses in August!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt




Click on image to enlarge and see other staff blogs

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Matt's May Update

As the school year closes, there's always a lot going on. The last few weeks were especially packed full of events to celebrate and remember the year, raise funds for summer ministry efforts (like SICM), and prepare the students for using their time off effectively. In addition to all of that my Grandmother passed away. It's sad to know that she's gone, but my family was very encouraged by everyone who came to celebrate her life with us this past weekend.

Last night was our final big group meeting of the year. Since we aren't able to meet on campus during finals, we moved over to a nearby park for acoustic songs, encouragements, and fellowship together. I was deeply touched to see all of these young men and women out there praising God on a Friday evening, especially the last day before finals week begins. It was a beautiful way to end the year:



Spring Formal

This past Sunday we had our last big event of the year - Spring Formal. It's essentially a party to reflect on what God has done in our community and celebrate how good He is.


Alex & Mitchell, two students I mentored this year.

Danielle and me with several of our TWU student leaders.

Here's a video that one of our students made to help the community reflect on the year:





Leaving for SICM!

Next week on Thursday we will be leaving for Washington state to go to the SICM conference (we'll be gone May 11-20th). To refresh your memory, this is designed to equip leaders to effectively minister on college campuses. CCF, the ministry hosting this conference, has been doing college ministry for nearly 50 years now! We are honored to be able to learn from their experience. Please keep us in your prayers for safe travel and especially for tons of growth for our potential student leaders. Pray also that the Spirit gives us discernment on who we need to invite into leadership next school year. I'll be posting some pictures from the trip in my next update!

I'll be staying up in the Northwest another week to attend a theology class at Regent College right after SICM. Please pray that God uses that to reveal truth and wisdom to me and blesses my ministry through it.


Also here's another picture of some guys I mentored this year. Bradley, on the left, is graduating this year and going off to medical school in Lubbock. I'm going to miss him so much!

Bradley & Ben after our last 1-on-2 meeting

Thank you so much for your support this year! God has done a lot through your faithfulness to invest in His Kingdom. Please continue to pray for our community over the summer as many of the students are away from their only spiritual community now. Also please pray for our staff and incoming apprentices as we use this time to raise funds for another year of ministry as well as plan for the following year.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt



Click for larger image

Monday, April 3, 2017

Matt's April Update!

Spring just began but it's hard to believe that it isn't Summer already. Soon enough school will be out for the Summer break, though. The last day of classes at UNT this semester is on May 4th, with finals happening over the following week. The last big group meeting we'll have with the Denton ministry is on April 30th. In one month we'll have wrapped up another school year.

Spring Student Impact (SSI) week


These are the students (with my staff) from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA who visited us last week during their Spring Break to do outreach on the college campuses in Denton.


Each day during SSI week we took the Washington students up to our Denton campuses to reach out with our students to whoever was willing to talk. Some questions we discussed with people throughout the week (see photo above) were, "Christian's, how can we best represent Jesus to our world?" and, "What would you like to see Christians do differently?" The goal was to engage people with humility in discussing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences regarding Christianity. But we didn't want to neglect having meaningful conversation with Christians so we had a question each day that was geared toward helping our brothers and sisters in Jesus reflect on their own portrayal of Him to those around them. Below you can see a snapshot of what this looked like. There were many times that we had so many little conversations going on that we had to move people off of the walkway so others could still pass through to get to class!


SICM

SICM stands for the Student Institute of Campus Ministry. I've talked about it many times before, but if you haven't heard of it, I just want to say that it's the most impactful trip that we take students on. SICM is a week-long conference for training college students how to minister to their peers. Much of what we do in FOCUS has been learned from Campus Christian Fellowship at Western Washington University (yep, that's the same ministry that our SSI students visited from!), who hosts the conference. They have been doing college ministry for over 40 years now.

We have just over 90 students from all of our campuses registered to attend SICM this year. That is so exciting to think about this many students showing potential to lead in our communities. Please be in prayer for them as they raise the money to cover their trip costs, prepare mentally and spiritually for the intense week of learning, and that God will use that week to reveal to them His vision of our world being made new.

Students in a class at SICM last year


Spring Showcase

The Showcase, in case you haven't heard before, is a fundraiser we put on annually to help our potential new leaders go to SICM. I'm sure you can imagine sending 90 students plus staff to Washington state isn't cheap. We believe the cost is worth every penny so we host a big concert showcasing many of the talented performers from our community. Even just as a concert, it's an amazing experience because of how many talented people perform! I'm not sure how much money we raised, but take a look at how many people we had in attendance!


Audience at the 2017 Spring Showcase



Thank you for everything you do to support the good work that God is doing here on college campuses in the Dallas - Fort Worth metroplex. Your prayers, money, and time are making a tremendous difference in countless lives by reconciling young men and women to our Lord. Thank you!

Yours for the Campus,
- Matt


Monthly Student Testimony

Click on the image to make it larger.