Friday, January 12, 2018

Matt's January Update

There's a lot on the horizon as we enter a new semester (please be praying for our students as they come back from the break and new students who may join our community). I look forward to sharing about all of that soon! The most imminent thing to mention is Winter Camp this weekend. All of our students from our various campuses across the DFW metroplex will be heading out to Sky Ranch today (Friday) through Monday. Please be praying over our time there, that the students will be blessed through their experience. I'll have more to tell you about that in my next update!

I also wanted to update you on the results of our Keep FOCUS Growing fundraiser. It was a huge success and we raised more than we ever have, more than we had imagined even, at nearly $65,000. THANK YOU so much if you participated in that! I'm very thankful for all of our generous donors who are passionate about college ministry!

Aside from the KFG fundraiser, thank you for your consistent support of my ministry here in Denton. I'm very blessed to have ministry partners like you who believe in what we are trying to do for the Kingdom. Your partnership creates a multitude of opportunities!

Student Testimony

Something neat about Graham, the student below, is that he'll likely be at UNT next school year. I've spent a little time with him this semester when he would come up to Denton to visit the campus and I'm really excited to potentially have him as a part of our community!

"FOCUS showed me what a real relationship with God is. Coming from a Christian private school, I thought I understood God pretty well but I didn't have a relationship with him at all. Through the example of my Corefas, staff members, and just so many other students, I saw what it means to earnestly seek God. One of my favorite moments from freshman year was a talk with my friend, Pedro. We were good friends at this point in the year, and I had become pretty vulnerable with him. We got into a serious conversation about our current walks with God, what that looks like, and why. After poorly answering how my relationship with God was "pretty good", Pedro really pushed my ideas of why I was Christian. I ended up realizing most of my faith was blindly following the laws God had given us, and not really seeking him out. Pedro then opened up to me that he had struggled with the same problem early on in his faith. I'm beyond thankful for Pedro and so many other friends like him who have spurred me on in love. Before FOCUS, this community, I was living half the life I am now. Now, I am living life with God, not just for him."

Graham Spencer
Collin College, Spring Creek

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Matt's December Update

There are three things I want to update you on as we close out this semester:

1) Pizza Theology

We had an incredible pizza theology this semester focused on the Sermon on the Mount. In case you aren't familiar, we do a "pizza theology" each semester with all of our campus communities combined. It's a 4-hour lecture taking our students deeper on a particular theological subject with an hour break in the middle for pizza! Our guest speaker, Bill Watson, is a professor at Criswell College in Dallas. His message was especially challenging and encouraging as he gave insight into what Jesus was saying in the greatest sermon ever preached. Our students were very engaged and Bill even told us he enjoyed the experience of speaking to our group because of how attentive they were. I would encourage you to listen to the recording if you want to explore the Sermon on the Mount - I guarantee you it's worth your time.

2) Prayer for the community

This semester has been especially hard for many of our students, staff, and church community due to various reasons. Some are dealing with ill family members, others anxiety, depression, fear, or even their own health. Personally, I've been experiencing high stress and feeling overwhelmed. Please pray for me as I try to lean into God's strength and find balance in the amount of effort I put into my ministry and home life. Please pray for those who are ill and their families as they walk through that with them. Please pray for students and staff facing mental/emotional battles. Please pray for our community as a whole that the Lord will guide us individually and collectively through our various struggles and that through it all, he would strengthen and grow our faith in Him.

Please also be praying for our students as they go into Christmas break. This time can easily be a way to check out and actually backtrack in their spiritual growth. My hope and prayer is that each student will continue to deepen in their relationship with God, coming out of the break in a better place, more refreshed, and ready to start a new semester of ministry on campus!

3) KFG

Giving Tuesday last week was a big success! In a single day, we raised $30,000 of our $50,000 goal! Thank you if you gave that day!

Right now we have about $16,000 left to go, and we have great momentum. Please pray for God to give us exactly what we need so we will continue to rely on Him every step of the way.

If you'd like to join in, you can go to right now!

I'd like to say a special thank you to all of you who give financially to me, to another staff member, to support one of our campuses or the general fund, and/or to our special Keep FOCUS Growing Fund. We are truly blessed by your support.

And lastly, I'd like to share a testimony from a UNT alumna!

"I always dreamed of being a missionary. My plan was to go to college to please my parents, graduate as quickly as possible, and then leave the country. As I got more involved in FOCUS, I began to see how purposefully the people around me shared their lives and faith. The Lord began to show me that ‘missions’ is not what happens in other countries but in our everyday lives. Through the example of dear friends, I learned how to love like Jesus even when it is not fun or easy. After graduation, the Lord opened doors for me to move to Bolivia as a missionary. Looking back on my time in college, I believe that the Lord prepared me through the friendships, community, and study in FOCUS far more than through my degree program. I am so thankful that the Lord, in His mercy, did not let me rush through college to please my parents, but used the ministry of FOCUS to lay a foundation for years to come."

Danyelle Graves de MorĂ³n
University of North Texas, Social Work, Graduated 2013

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Denton Fall Camp

Two weekends ago we had our annual fall camp with the three Denton campuses: UNT, TWU, and NCTC. It's only 24 hours long, 12pm Saturday to 12pm Sunday. The goal for this event is to help our newer members make more friends within the larger community. By this time in the year they will have made some friends in their cores (small groups), but often those are the only people they know well. At camp we spent some time worshiping God and hearing students/guest speakers share about how God sent them to a specific place or person. It was really encouraging to hear and connected to our theme this year of "Send Me!" which aims to move our community to be more outreaching. A large portion of the time was free time so the students could play games or do activities together. Everything was geared toward people building relationships and our student leaders were on top of facilitating these relational developments. I wanted to share the reflection of one new member who went to fall camp this year:

"I came to Denton without a single friend here. At my very first campus activity, which was a transfer meet up, I met Nate Dolores who later invited me to FOCUS. I came to FOCUS and enjoyed it so I joined Nate and Trent's core and have been attending it for the past few weeks. The only people that I had really talked to though, outside of introducing myself, were my core brothers. So at any kind of event, I was kinda attached to them at the hip trying to kind of converse with some others. Unfortunately, I'm not as social as Nate and can’t really just walk up to people and start talking. So I saw fall camp as a really good opportunity to become more integrated into the community and it was even better than I could have hoped."
- Chris Young, UNT student
Chris' story is really encouraging to me and I've really enjoyed getting to know him too. It brings so much joy to my heart to see this happen to many other new students who are just looking for a place to belong, where the people there care about them. One disappointing thing this year was that our camp fell on the same day as parent weekend at UNT so a lot of our new freshmen weren't able to come to camp because their parents were in town. It's a little frustrating since we have to book the camp over a year in advance and generally have no concept of the university's schedule but God still worked in the lives of those students who did come. Please be praying that we can still succeed in integrating the other new members in our community who weren't able to come to camp! Fall camp certainly isn't the only way to do that.

Another encouraging thing I wanted to share with you are a couple snapshots of our community after our weekly Friday night fellowship meeting. These two pictures were taken at two different Friday night meetings earlier in September this year. The neat thing is this is what our community looks like about half an hour after we ended for the night. It's typical to have to kick a bunch of people out of the room an hour later at 10pm! It brings a lot of joy to me to see how much our community likes to be together and how well they do at including new people into their conversations.

Now that we're past fall camp, we'll be able to find a more consistent rhythm. However, there are still some things you could be praying for!
Cores: please pray that our core groups will be places where God works mightily in developing deep spiritual friendships and community. Some of the cores have struggled this year with finding new students to come - please pray for them to find creative ways to reach out to the people in their classes, at work, etc. and invite them into meaningful relationships. Pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance in the lives of these core leaders as they navigate the difficulties of mentoring their peers in discipleship.
International Students: something we have had difficulty in as well is consistently reaching out to students at UNT or TWU from other countries. Pray for us to find effective opportunities to extend real friendship to them and make them feel welcomed in our country. So many of them feel lonely and miss home. And a large majority of international students are never invited into the home of an American the entire time they are here. We want to do whatever we can to change that!
TWU ministry: our group at TWU has faced some difficulties in simply having a lot of staff turnover the entire time it's existed and that campus is overall a lot less social. Additionally, it's roughly only 10% men so we've struggled to develop a mens ministry. Generally, we're barely able to put together a single guy's core. My consistent prayer over the years is that God would bring us some solid young men who we can build our TWU mens ministry upon. Will you join me in this? This year we actually had only one male TWU student leader so we asked one of our UNT guys to help lead the TWU guy's core. Bekwele is our TWU guy this year, so please be praying for him (and his co-leader, Ivan!). Pray that the Lord will give them both strength and courage as they face many of these obstacles. They are both brave young men for answering the call to leadership this year.

Me and Bekwele wearing our TWU shirts! He's a weirdo for getting a TWU Dad shirt :)

I thank God for you as often as I think about it. Thank you for all that you do to support the work He is doing here in Denton. It's amazing to be the one who witnesses firsthand the lives being changed. I hope that I'm sufficiently conveying that to you! Thank you!

Yours for the Campus,


"I grew up Catholic but never consistently went to church. I always admired the concept of community and was really saddened by the idea of not experiencing that within my faith because of my lack of involvement. When I came to UTA this desire to be involved in a Christian community only grew. After being greeted kindly at the FOCUS information table at orientation, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow. God is really working here and I want to be a part of it.” As classes started in the Fall, I was contacted by a girl named Kaylee who consistently invited me to events and had a deep-rooted desire to get to know me. Through people like Kaylee, I was really able to see how those in FOCUS loved the Lord which directly translated into how they interacted with and loved people. As the semester began I was asked to go deeper in my faith and study scripture in a one-on-one study, Focus on Jesus (FOJ) with Alexis. Alexis really encouraged me and wanted to walk with me in my journey of building a relationship with God. Through this community, I was challenged to give love like I had received it. Although I didn’t know it, God had been working and was faithful to answer a prayer I hadn’t even thought to ask for. He blessed me with this community and an opportunity to share that with others. "

Jocelyn Payan
University of Texas at Arlington, Nursing, Sophomore

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

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,


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,


"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)