Friday, September 23, 2016

The Twenty Year Celebration

Surprise! An extra, special blog, just for this upcoming event! 

I know a lot of you won't be able to make it out to this event, since most of you all live just about everywhere except the DFW metroplex! But I wanted to take a little bit of time to share this with you and to celebrate some of my favorite stories and the impactful people in my life from when I was a student in FOCUS. 

The beginnings! Spring 2010
I'm super excited for this event, because I've only been part of FOCUS since 2010...barely a dent in the history! But that's where the story starts for the ministry in Denton. In the spring of 2010, Brad Davis (now the pastor of Denton North Church), and a handful of students began a "soft start" for the ministry. They would meet on campus in the union, asking anyone and everyone if they wanted to come hang out and engage in weekly discussions. 

From that soft start, a few more transferring students from Collin College and the FOCUS ministry there, they started the real deal in the fall of 2010. This is when I transferred up to UNT!

God blessed me with the best roommate when I transferred up to UNT. A good ol' Midland girl, Laura (Pharr) Chalk, who had been a mutual friend to all of my friends throughout highschool, but who I'd never met before. 

First football game and pic together! Sweet Laura!
She had gone straight to UNT out of highschool and had gotten involved in a ministry, but didn't feel like that was where she was supposed to be, so we started exploring student ministries together once I moved up! She met Jamiann Valdez in one of her classes pretty early on, and discovered we lived in the same apartment complex, and was invited to the Bible study the girls held there each week. She got plugged in with FOCUS almost right away and started building these really special friendships right off!

I, on the other hand, decided that I wanted to be part of a ministry that was more solidly established and that I was familiar with, so I chose a different one from FOCUS. I tried on my own for almost three months to get connected and to feel at home in this new ministry, but never quite made it. I would come to things and people didn't remember me from the last event I'd gone to (and I went to a lot!). I was so confused and frustrated...I was nice! I showed up! I was friendly! What was wrong!? 

Things went on like that until Laura invited me to go to Fall Camp with her and her Core (the small group Bible study the girls did in the apartment just down from ours).  I hadn't been to any FOCUS events and was hesitant about going to yet another ministry thing where I was sure I would feel just as uncomfortable and out of place as I had the last three months. But she finally convinced me on the promise that I could stick with her the whole weekend.

Fall Camp 2010, Jam Session!
Boy, were things different than I expected! Starting on the car ride down there, the girls in her core engaged me in their conversations and wanted to make me feel included. Then once we arrived, every where I turned, there was somebody wanting to invite me to play a game with them, sit and join the conversation, or just hang out. I felt like I had just walked into a familiar home filled with dear friends. 

I understood some then what had been going on with that other ministry...I had never asked GOD where HE wanted me to be. I had just decided I knew best and went after it! I'm so thankful He intervened and made me so extremely uncomfortable to where I was ready to follow His lead again. How gracious of Him to course correct me after my deliberate choice to do my own thing! 

Halloween with my first core, 2010.
From that one weekend, I started going to Laura's core with her and started building deep friendships that I still invest in and cherish today! I remember talking about the practical aspects of being a disciple, sharing with each other what was hard about being a Christian in college, learning from each other, and being vulnerable about our struggles in core. Their honesty was incredibly refreshing and at times surprising. 

I started studying the Bible one on one with Jamiann and she led me through this curriculum called "Focus on Jesus," or FOJ. This was one of the most impactful things for me! I'd been in church my whole life, but had somehow missed out on one on one discipleship. The fact that Jamiann took time out of her schedule as a senior at UNT really amazed me and I made the most of that time together! I would come with pages of questions about what we were reading together and she would take the time to try to talk through each one. That time together really helped me make practical changes in my walk with the Lord from one that was very personal, but private, to one that was outward focused and intentional in my relationships with others.  
SICM, 2011

That spring, I was invited to attend SICM (the Student Institute of Campus Ministry) in Washington. There were 16 of us from UNT and it was one of the most fun and life-changing trips I've ever been on. We learned such practical ways of being intentional disciples on our campus. It gave me a confidence and a recognition of ownership at UNT. God had placed me on this campus for a reason more than just getting my degree - I had the opportunity to reach my fellow students for Him! 

In the Fall of 2011, I became a "Core-fa" (Core Facilitator) with a Co-fa (Co-Facilitator). Man, what a learning year that was! I went into it thinking it would be all roses and sunshine, but learned pretty quickly that ministry of any kind was actually pretty difficult! Who knew working with human beings was so hard!?

Core, Fall 2011
There were about five girls that came pretty consistently to my core, but I had no idea why! They didn't seem to want to hang out with us, or each other...they didn't like to was incredibly challenging at first! But they kept coming and we kept preparing for core and loving on them. The thing God taught me that year was that any kind of change in a person's life had to come at the pace of the Holy Spirit. There was nothing I could do to hurry that process along, except for following His lead and being faithful to the people He had put in my life. It's been incredible to see how those girls have changed over the course of the last several years!

The next year was night-and-day different! I got to lead with three of my good friends and we had a core of between 15 and 20 girls that came consistently. And they liked each other! And us! And we couldn't get them to stop talking! This core is one of my favorite memories from the year, not because of anything I or my co-fas did, but because it was so obvious that the Lord was doing so many things ahead of us. 

Core 2012

   I graduated in December of that year and my involvement with FOCUS changed some, as I began to explore what the Lord wanted to do with my career path after school. I had caught a vision for how much of an opportunity there was to reach out to internationals on our campus the year before and decided to accept an internship with Bridges International. But I still had close friends in FOCUS and kept in contact!

Not to mention I had started dating Austin that year! It was a really special experience to get to be friends with Austin first, before I was interested in him (he was hooked from the beginning!). We used to ride the bus from our apartment complex to campus and he would try to lead the bus in early morning sing-alongs. Those were the mornings, I would duck down and pretend I didn't know him...
Awkward side hug pic. And that

But for all that, both of us being so heavily involved and having others who know us deeply has been a huge blessing! It was great to have others keeping us accountable and giving us wise advice through our dating, and then to have connections to others who continue to encourage and advise through our marriage. Those relationships are priceless.

After my one year internship with Bridges, I began my internship with FOCUS. I knew that I was still supposed to be on campus as a minister for this time of life, and it made more sense to be working with FOCUS at the time. I was back! 

That year was wonderful, hard, challenging, fun, and growing. There were four other interns in Denton that I had the opportunity to learn how to work and communicate well with. I had a ministry supervisor, Mandy, that spent time with me each week, mentoring and encouraging areas of growth in me. I got to lead a peer team of student leaders and learned how to lead, communicate, challenge, and encourage each of them. I faced family struggles. I got married and began such a joyful and growing journey. Suffice it to say, there were a LOT of new experiences and growth opportunities that year. 

Then of course, there was last year as my first on full-time senior staff. I don't feel the need to write too much about these past few years, since I've kept a pretty regular blog and you've been along for the ride!

 I do wish I had space and time to write about everyone who's been impactful to me over these last six years. It's been so fun to write this and think about each of these people, experiences and memories. I'm so jazzed now to go to the Twenty Year Celebration and to swap stories with others who were around way ahead of my time!! 

If you can't make it out to the celebration, I would ask that you just be in prayer for that weekend. Give prayers of thanksgiving with me for how God has used this organization for the last twenty years and the people that have been impacted by it! Pray that He would continue to bless and move ahead of this ministry so that even more students can have personal encounters with Jesus and engage in true community that is going to spur them on in their relationships with Him. 

Thank YOU for how you've been a part of this adventure! It really wouldn't be possible without the ways that each of you gives generously and prays continually for this ministry. I can't even imagine what it might be like without your support. 

Thank you for spending this time to reminisce with me! Love and prayers! -Miriam

More Pics of People I Love! 

Giving blood for the first time with Miranda!
Each of these staff women have had significant impact on me! Love them!!
These girls are now pros in their fields, grad students, moms, wives, and missionaries.

Core adventures to the Renaissance Fair!

Winter Camp Core, 2010

Denton Fall Camp, 2015

"And the LORD will be the king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one." -Zechariah 14:9

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Welcome Week and Beyond!

"Oh Lord God of Heaven's Armies! Where is there anyone as mighty as you, O Lord? You are entirely faithful." 

Psalm 89:8 

I feel like this verse is so appropriate for this month. August is one that really does show the faithfulness of the Lord, particularly in regards to answered prayers. Thank YOU so much for the ways that you've really covered our staff teams, the student leaders, the students themselves and our campus connections in prayer over this last month! What an awesome, faithful God we serve and what a major blessing you guys are to me and this ministry!

Part of the Move-In Day Crew

First Flight, Welcome Week Prep, and Corefas 

Last weekend we had a couple days of practical preparation for our students to really be equipped to utilize First Flight week well. First Flight is the week before classes start when freshmen move in and the university hosts daily events to help them get comfortable with the campus, make friends, and prepare for their first year of college. This is one of the MOST IMPORTANT weeks in student ministry because everyone is so open to new experiences. 

Our stellar leader team! 
Because it's such a vital week, we take a bit of time each year to try to to equip our students for how best to reach out to the people around them. Our students work so hard to meet new people, swap phone numbers, be invitational to outside events and generally "cast their nets wide" during this week. It's such a tiring week because there are a myriad of events to go to, thousands of students to meet and reach out to, in addition to most of our students also working part time jobs! They really are such amazing, dedicated people.

One event that we host every year is Glow in the Dark Capture the Flag (CTF). The week before First Flight, we found out that the park where we normally host it was under construction! Oh noooo! But we used our problem solving skills and found another area of campus to host, which I think was an even better location. Each night we had 200-275 students come out to play CTF, other lawn games and just to sit around chatting with each other! 
It's events like these that make me so thankful for our Corefas (student leaders) and returning students. There is no way on earth that our team of six staff people would be able to meet, befriend, and disciple even a fraction of the number of people that show up to these events. But the students in this ministry are dedicated and gung-ho for Jesus! It's so fun to get to work alongside these young people to reach the universities.

Made it up 7 flights of stairs for a move-in...twice! 

Some Highlights and Favorites from the Week

The Invisibles
One of my favorite things this year was the variety of new students we met. I noticed that many of the ones I got to have conversations with were people who really were more comfortable staying in their rooms and didn't consider themselves to be very good with social interactions...people who generally try to stay invisible. But I kept seeing them at different events, surrounded by a mixture of our student leaders and others I didn't know, and they seemed to be really enjoying themselves! I'm so hopeful that these relationships they've made so early on will continue, saving many of them from a lonely, isolated college experience and drawing them into a community that will point them to Jesus! 

Just some friends, hanging out!
It's a Starting Point!
Another favorite thing I heard from our student leaders were some of the freshmen's reactions to how they were reached out to over the week..."Wow! I didn't expect to make TWO friends today!" "Yeah, I don't believe in anything, but I still want to be friends." 
While these may be tiny things, they are the potential starting point for the Lord to do some really amazing things as they develop friendships and invite these new people into community focused on Jesus!

International Outreach
Something that I've been praying about a lot this summer was that the Lord would open more doors for opportunities with international students and give more of our students a heart and eyes for them. Wowsers! So we were able to go to several "mingle" lunches with the new Intensive English Learning Institute students (the english school nestled in the middle of the campus) and soo many of our students showed up, too! They were incredibly intentional with trying to make these new students feel really welcomed and loved, even when the language and cultural barriers made it feel extremely difficult. As a result, there were more international students at the kick-off for Friday Night Fellowship and Denton North Church than ever before! 
I'm really hopeful that we'll continue to be able to join in on events that the Institute is hosting and be a blessing to them, while reaching out to the Nations! 
New friends from Taiwan, Plano, Japan, South Korea, and Columbia! 

DNC - we ran out of chairs! 
Kick off for Friday Night Fellowship was pretty fantastic! We meet in a room that can hold 300 students and we had probably a good 200+ there! While it's so not about the numbers, it is really encouraging to look out across a room full of students worshipping God and to imagine all of the things He might do over the course of this next year! 

Denton North Church was along those same lines...full to bursting on Sunday! One thing that was so encouraging to me was that even in such large crowds, I didn't really see anyone that seemed to be alone or left out. New friendships are being developed all over the place! 

MORE Hamburgers!
One last thing I'll share...I got to help serve hamburgers to the students at NCTC (North Central Texas College), which is our newest FOCUS plant in Denton. We were prepared to serve 100 students because so far, not a lot of people have shown interest in FOCUS or anything else on the campus. But where there's free food, there's lots of college students! We could have fed twice as many students as we did and still have needed more! 
While that may be like "Yeah, they'll come for food...whatever," there were actually so many new people who expressed interest and who have been coming to different events since then! That's a major answer to prayer!! 

FNF Kickoff! 

Ways to Pray

UNT: Cores are about to start this next week! Pray that the students we met at Welcome Week and First Flight would get connected and start developing closer, more intentional relationships that lead them to Jesus. 

TWU: The men's side of this ministry is pretty small. There are lots of men at Texas Women's University, but not many are interested in being part of a ministry and sticking around to help lead the next year. Be praying that the Lord raises up more men leaders this year to be able to better reach this entire campus. 

NCTC: Be praying that the people who have expressed interest would continue coming! Pray for outreach on this campus to be fruitful and for the student leaders there to really catch a vision for the people there. 

Thank you for all of your love, support and encouragement! I'm looking forward to great things this year!