Encouragement for the Exiles

Though Florida should actually be known as the Sauna State, when the sun manages to defeat the clouds it’s no mystery how its nickname stands the test of time. It was spring 2012, I was in my first year with InterVarsity planting at a local community college, and on this particular day I was standing in a parking lot, flagging down any student I saw entering and exiting the off-campus housing facility. It was the only way I was able to invite them to Bible study.

Despite the veneer of caring about student organizations, it often seemed as if this institution purposely set rules in place to prevent them from existing, especially if they were Christian. Because we couldn’t hang posters, hand out flyers, or even have a table at orientation before having ten students as well as a faculty advisor on board, most of my recruitment looked like me walking around campus, finding some kid sitting all by themself, and persuading them to investigate Jesus that semester. Whereas, on any other campus, I’d be able to get anywhere from 40 to 75 students signed up by myself, on this campus I’d be lucky if I got 20. It was hard; and most days it felt like I was getting nowhere, but I secretly loved every minute of it. Partially because something in me likes to subvert authority, but also because I was reminded the coming of the kingdom can’t be stopped.

Acts 8 tells a similar story. In the preceding chapter Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr after getting dragged out of the city and stoned by the Sanhedrin. As if following Jesus while he was on earth wasn’t scary enough, the religious leaders started killing his followers in his absence. But interestingly enough the death of Stephan didn’t mark the death of the church. It marked its expansion. Instead of the church becoming an institution, it became the movement Jesus called it to be (Acts 1). That’s the annoying thing about Christians: you throw them in jail thinking they’ll learn a lesson about sharing the gospel and instead they preach to the inmates. Acts 8 tells us the Samaritans came to faith. And so it’s always been with us: the places where we persecuted most become the places our numbers grow the fastest. You can’t stop us.

Sometimes in our comfort we rely on our tried and true, fancy structures but crisis calls us back to the barebones of ministry and innovate again. It’s these moments that test us as leaders and as movements but we find God is nearer than our very breath. As hard as it is, perseverance is in our blood.

A couple years back the entire California State University system has decided to remove campus access from not just us but all religious groups that refuse to comply with their policy on “tolerance.” While they’ve granted us a grace period, our time is running out. This of course is an absolute travesty. But while I do pray that administration recants their decision, even if they don’t, I am more than confident what was intended for evil, God, in his sovereignty, will use for good. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more students come to faith. It will undoubtedly be hard but I have faith that even in our exile God will do something beautiful. He always does.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5

 

*For more information on what’s going on and how to pray for my brothers and sisters in California.

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