USA (MNN) — The
Pacific Northwest is the least-churched, most-secularized region of the United
States. For years, InterVarsity
Christian Fellowship staff who serve on campuses in the area struggled with a frustrating
sense of futility.
"There's been this sense that all
this stuff that we're trying may work some other places, but not so much in the
Northwest because they don't want to hear it, or they're not ready to respond,"
said Jason Jensen, a national field director who oversees the Northwest for InterVarsity. "So there's been a cycle of checking out some
new things, maybe not trying them, or trying them with a kind of deep doubt
about whether they'll work here."
However, there is no group of
people or part of the world that is outside the reach of God's saving
power. Last spring, the staff was
convicted that they needed to change their perspective.
"In fact, there is ripe fruit
ready in the Northwest," Jensen said. "And
we need, especially at the very beginning of the year, to take the risk to make
calls to faith and believe that students will come to faith."
The staff decided that the first
large-group meeting on every campus would include an invitation for
non-Christian students to receive Christ or participate in a Group
Investigating God [GIG] and an invitation for Christian students to commit to
following Christ during their college years. The first campus to begin its academic year was Willamette
37 freshmen attended the first
large-group meeting. The staff who ran
the meeting felt they were in "uncharted waters," Jensen said, and hoped for
three responses to the invitation.
"As alumni of Willamette, none of
them had seen or experienced a public invitation of any kind in the fellowship,"
he explained. "Invitations are too
pushy, too manipulative, typically incur a knee-jerk response, and we just don't do
that here. But they shared a strong
sense that in order to break through the complacency and individualism on
campus, they needed to take a risk and paint a bigger vision for what
Willamette students could give their life to."
In the end, two students stood to
receive Christ as their Savior, five stood to express a desire to learn more
about Christ, and two-thirds stood to indicate their commitment to following
Christ during their years at Willamette. The only student to remain seated was a
believer visiting from another campus.
"I felt like God was stirring
something inside of me," Jensen quoted one of the students. "I'm not sure what it is, but I think my year
is going to look different than what I thought."
Every single campus in the region
reported a similar response to the Gospel in the fall of 2009.
"For five weeks I was regularly
forwarding reports of these happenings," said regional director Kim Porter.
"Typically our region averages about dozen conversions each fall, all GIG-related. Last fall, we had over 28 conversions from public
In some cases, the responses did
not come immediately but dribbled in over a period of days or weeks. Such was the case for staffer Ben Emerson on
the campus of Oregon State University. In
a dorm lounge, he led a dialogue about Christian values and sexuality under the
billing "Sexy Pizza." He included a Gospel
"No one responded at the actual
time I made the invitation but a couple of people said something to me
afterwards, or something to their friends," Emerson said. "It got the ball
rolling for more personal evangelism for students."
Half an hour later, Emerson got a
text message from a student in his chapter. The student's roommate had enjoyed the discussion and was asking him a
lot of questions about the Gospel.
"This is a guy the student had
prayed for. Now he is taking some steps toward faith because he is curious
about Jesus," Emerson said.
Reflecting on the work God has done in the Northwest this
last year, Jensen marveled at the mystery of the sowing and the blossoming of
the Gospel seed.
"Why does any student become a
Christian?" he asked. "We can come up
with all sorts of rather simple answers to that, from because it's that we used
this particular strategy or because the funding was there for the staff worker
to be on campus, or on the far other side, because God draws some people and
nobody knows anything about that.
"And we can't land on any of
those…. If the Gospel isn't preached, Scripture is clear: people won't hear the
Gospel. And yet, even when the Gospel is preached, we're not in control of
whether or not they respond. There are more
forces involved than we know about."