Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
From June 2 through August 4 of this year, 193 students from Campus Outreach Minneapolis lived together in two small hotels in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
They worked full-time jobs in the area in order to both survive financially and to learn to minister to their co-workers. They returned in the evenings to be trained in theology, Bible study methods, and evangelism. They studied Colossians together, verse by verse, challenged one another about their sin, and built one another up in the love of Christ. We call this two-month experience the Summer Training Project.
Now, before you marvel at the sheer number of students and exclaim something like, “Praise the Lord for such fine young people!” … read on about what God did this summer.
Each of these students has a name and a face, and each made the decision to attend the STP over and against the alluring whispers of comfort, financial security, shame over sin, fear of fitting in—or, occasionally—subtle and selfish family pressures.
The decision-making process for each student was up against all natural and cultural desires. The decision to participate was not a normal decision for an 18-, 19-, or 20-year-old. It was at times agonizing, as it required the putting to death of fleshly desires, and so was, by all accounts, a miracle.
This process happened in some similar form or fashion 193 times.
Each student has a tangled web of sin-soaked circumstances that encumbers—both through personal sin and the sins of influencers. None starts at neutral, or as simply a “fine young person” with a functional family. There are rampant divorces, abusive relationships, absent fathers, tragically early deaths, drug addictions, and every level of conflict that has resulted from these circumstances.
And then there are the “normal” Christian lives, rife with myriad insecurities that flow from the “normal” self-centered heart: 193 uphill battles.
These 18–22-year-olds were discipled for two months by other 18–22-year-olds (with a few older 20-something staff mixed in) who were all in over their heads. Yet almost every student sat with a group of staff and classmates at the end of the summer to proclaim the victories of gospel healing for insecurities and strained relationships. God gloriously and repetitively performed miracles.
All the students had to come face-to-face with themselves this summer. They had to take a brutally honest look at their sin and guilt before the living God. Then they had to abandon all pretense of personal merit and lay that sin at the foot of the cross, rather than seeking to simply correct it to restore their righteous status before God and man.
Students had to humbly receive the grace of God and not run back to old self-reliant ways. Or, if they did run back to old patterns, they repeated the glorious process of repentance and faith all over again.
For 14 of these students, this process happened for the very first time(!). For the previously-believing students, it happened with renewed vigor, most every day, and usually multiple times per day. This is not the way of the natural man.
The realities of sin and grace smell like death to the natural man … so we must conclude that every inclination of every heart at every point toward the grace of Christ was nothing short of a miracle.
193 lives, multiple times per day. You do the miracle math!
Students had to face a deep-seated fear of man and open their mouths to speak about Jesus on the beaches and at their workplaces. To conform to the pattern of the world would have been to keep silent at every juncture. The flesh cried, “No! It will be uncomfortable! They’ll think you’re strange!”
But still, Christ’s love compelled, and the gospel flowed from the lips of each student with shocking regularity. The overcoming of such opposition, each and every time, can only be described as a miracle.
At the Summer Training Project we have methods and means. We have training packages and a discipleship structure. But these things in and of themselves are no match for the subtle and manipulative schemes of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
So, in the final estimation, while we are certainly deeply involved in conversations and prayers and Bible studies, this really only affords us a front-row ticket to admire the miracles of our merciful Father.
I did … 193 times over—and over—and over.
Campus Director, University of Minnesota Staff
Campus Outreach Minneapolis (cominneapolis.org)