Counting the Steps

It’s amazing to see students move closer to Jesus. No matter how many times we’ve seen God work in this way through the UCM college ministry, it never gets old. Whether it’s a lifelong Christian, skeptical agnostic or follower of another religion, God softens hearts and grows faith as His people faithfully reach out in love.

Clara is a sophomore at UTC who was first invited into the UCM family by CJ, another sophomore. CJ and Clara got to know each other in a Women’s Studies class their freshmen year. Even though Clara wasn’t a Christian, she was willing to give UCM a try because of CJ’s genuine love and persistence. One step towards Jesus.

As she opened the door, she stopped and said out loud, “I think I’m gonna give this Jesus thing a try.”

At first, Clara politely disagreed with most of the Christian views expressed. Her beliefs and lifestyle are common on a college campus, but pretty out of place in a church setting. Despite this, other students in UCM were eager to welcome her, listen to her and show her love.

Near the end of the semester, Clara was about to go home after our weekly meeting. As she opened the door, she stopped and said out loud, “I think I’m gonna give this Jesus thing a try.” One more step.

Clara (above with red hair) and other UCM students serving people on the streets  

Over the summer, Clara’s mom started going to the doctor to be treated for cancer. Clara asked her UCM family to pray and her mom was soon healed. When UCM students pointed to God and his ability to answer prayer Clara replied, “I’ve never really believed in prayer, but it seems like there’s something to it.” Step number three.

About a month ago, Clara was in a discussion group at our weekly meeting. The first question was about people’s previous experiences with Christian groups. Clara said that every Christian group she’s ever known was full of “horrible people and cliques.” The next question was about any community, religious or not, that was a good experience. Clara looked at us and said, “The UCM is the best community I’ve ever been a part of. They welcome me, they don’t judge me and they’re real.” Forget about counting the steps, this is exciting!

Each week brings new stories of students running towards Clara (and others like her) with boldness and love. There are conversations about deep, personal issues and faith. Lots of patient listening. Prayer. Coffee and study times.

We’re thankful for the chance to know Clara and we pray that God keeps working in her heart!

Students Become Teachers

When the UCM went on a mission trip to Chicago last month, it was a different kind of trip. Rather than going to wear themselves out physically or serve as many needy people as possible, the main goal of this trip was to learn and be inspired. We went to learn first hand about world religions so that we would be better equipped to share the Gospel with all kinds of people. During our time in Chicago we visited places of worship and learned from local Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim and Bahai leaders. We listened a lot.

At the end of each day we had long conversations together about these religions. As we examined their claims about life and truth, we were forced to re-examine what we really knew and believed about our faith in Jesus. As our discussions progressed, we asked ourselves how to talk more effectively with people of other faiths. What was good about these religions? What was strange? How can we clearly present the Good News of Jesus to people like this? We exchanged lots of good ideas, but God kept bringing us back to one core, distinct truth: the historical reality of a man named Jesus who lived, died and came back to life.

Before we even left on our Chicago trip, UCM students were building relationships with international students on campus in Chattanooga. We wanted to share Jesus with them and we knew that we first had to show them genuine love and hospitality. We spent time together, watched movies and shared stories. And we listened a lot.

It’s amazing how God is using the lessons we learned on our mission trip to make us more effective workers back home.

God used these relationships and the lessons learned on our Chicago trip to open an exciting door. In the final month of the school year we were able to start our first Let’s Start Talking Friendspeak classes on campus. Using the same material that Clear Creek’s Sunday morning ESL classes use, we began teaching our international friends English using the Bible. We practiced grammar while discussing the birth of Jesus. We studied new vocabulary while talking about his miracles. And we stressed the truth that Jesus – a man, God, and our Savior – really lived in history.

The first international students to join these classes have been from Japan, Cambodia and Pakistan—countries where most of the population follows religions like Buddhism and Islam. It’s amazing how God is using the lessons we learned on our mission trip to make us more effective workers back home.


College Steps

imagejpeg_2.jpgThere has been a lot of focus at Clear Creek lately on “taking your next steps.” Maybe the clearest example of this in the UCM college group is a young man named Jordan. Over the past few months, God has opened his heart, grown his faith and begun to transform him into the image of Jesus.

Jordan’s UCM story started on Thanksgiving 2017. He was going to college in Chicago, but decided to visit a friend in Chattanooga for the holiday. The friend convinced Jordan to join the UCM’s Friendsgiving meal while he was in town. He was blown away by the friendliness and love of the group that night.

The next semester Jordan transferred to UTC and began looking for a circle of friends. He was outspoken about being a non-Christian and his lifestyle proved it! He visited one or two campus ministries that offered free meals, but clearly felt (or was even told!) that he didn’t fit in. Looking back, Jordan points to a few specific times when UCM students loved him and didn’t flinch in the face of his somewhat shocking behavior. Feeling loved despite and through these times in his life caused his heart to be open to the Gospel for the first time.

That same semester Jordan was asked to start a one-on-one Bible study and he agreed! Jordan’s hard heart was becoming fertile soil as we saw the timeless formula of loving, Christian community + honest examination of God’s Word = steps towards Jesus. Since that time, God has brought about so many changes in Jordan’s life. There have been countless conversations in the Taylor kitchen about real, messy life topics. Lots of personal texts back and forth. And lots of sincere questions that many people don’t dare to ask.

And that is perhaps the single greatest factor that’s allowed Jordan to grow so quickly—his willingness to be honest and ask questions. No part of his life is off limits and no question is taboo. Sharing faith in this way can be shocking or embarrassing for some people, but students in the UCM live and breathe this kind of ministry. College campuses are no place for the timid or tiptoe Christians. Students are looking for real answers to life questions and people who are actually living out those answers.

Over the last summer, Jordan faced a lot of struggles due to family relationships and the health of loved ones. This led to more questions and doubt-filled conversations. But it ultimately led to more of God’s pruning and watering with the result being even greater faith in Jordan’s life. This last semester Jordan shared his testimony during one of the UCM’s Monday meetings. He acknowledged how far he’s come in a short time and how unbelievable it seems. Looking at these changes, he gave credit to the unique love of the UCM and to God’s goodness to him. We praise God for helping Jordan take steps towards Jesus!


From the Classroom to the Office

The tagline of the University Christian Mission is “Living Out God’s Mission on Campus”, but as we enter the fourth year of the UCM we have our first crop of students beginning to turn an eye towards what comes next. Over the past few years we’ve learned to live for God at college in some exciting ways—serving the community, sharing faith on campus and reaching out to international students—but how does that carry over to life after college?

This month we spent a weekend talking about what it might look like to live out God’s mission in our careers. God spoke to students during two days of scripture, group discussion, prayer and individual brainstorming. The result was that each person came away with a few tangible ideas of how they could honor God and further His kingdom through their current or future job.

The UCM challenges students to move beyond simply attending Bible studies to actively joining God as He impacts the world around us. This can be tough and not all students accept the challenge, but those who do see their faith come alive in new ways during their college years. Discovering how to challenge students in similar ways with their work was a new experience for everybody involved.

It’s easy to think of ways to serve God by preaching or becoming a missionary. But how can a secretary, lawyer or fire fighter make a real difference for God through their work? In our discussions we talked about the negative views that we often have about work and the struggle to make a job feel like a ministry. As we looked into the character of God and the biblical narrative of God working throughout time, we began to uncover ways that we can live for God in classrooms, offices, restaurants and more.

c0aee3f7af76e4231c2dcf56122ee311-0.jpgOne huge help for our weekend (and the UCM ministry in general) was the presence of a few older adults who joined us for the weekend. They were able to share some real life experiences and provide a different perspective. The time and love that they shared is a great example of mentoring and discipling for our college students.

It’s always exciting to see what God is doing on campus. And as the first few UCM students begin to graduate, it’s exciting to think about how God is going to use these students out in the world for His glory. There is so much potential for these young disciples to go out and lead in ways that will change the world in the name of Jesus!


Time Around the Table

There is no substitution for quality, face-to-face time around a table. This is true with family, friendships, coworkers, and so very important as we live in community. At UCM (University Christian Mission), time around a table is foundational for the relationships formed.

IMG_2387Every Monday evening, college students from many different cities/countries and all walks of life come together to not only eat, but to help prepare the meal together. They spend this time in the kitchen laughing good naturedly. Arguing in silly voices about whose recipe is better, or how badly someone botched the “suggested” amount of a certain ingredient. They sit in Dale and Lisa’s dining room, spread out among four plastic tables; catching up on their week, course loads, relationships, families. Sharing life.

They help clean up and transition into a time of student-led worship and small group discussion. This time is so life-giving. In order to invest in real community, it takes more than laughter and a meal around a table. Sharing burdens and life is a byproduct of the invested time together. As an outsider to this group, I was very impressed by the following…

This group is so welcoming to outsiders. They are warm, fun, generous people with a heart for the people on campus in their proximity. They love each other, and sincerely enjoy spending quality family time together. Their small group discussions were so earnest and sincere. That only happens after initial time is put in getting to know each other’s hearts. God is at work at UCM, and Chattanooga’s college campuses are blessed by their presence.


Reaching the “Least Likely”

“Why would I want to be a Christian since most of the Christians I’ve known aren’t exactly great people?”

“How do we know that life is real and we’re not just robots in a giant simulation?”

“Jesus seems cool, but am I supposed to be impressed with some guy’s magic tricks from 2000 years ago?”

Wow. Those are some heavy questions. Some of them you may have thought about before and some you may have never even heard. (Robots?!?) They’re the kind of questions that make you happy you’ve got a cup of coffee in your hand, so you can look calm on the outside as your mind scrambles around for something to say! And they’re the exact questions we’ve been hearing on Chattanooga’s college campuses this year.

starbucksMost people tend to spend time with people like themselves and steer clear of people who don’t fit their mold. And when Christians think about sharing Jesus with someone we often imagine a certain type of person – someone fairly stable, with a decent family, who knows some of the Sunday School answers, is living a pretty good life, etc. These are the people many expect to find in college ministries.

The UCM is connecting with many students who don’t fit that mold. God has given us opportunities during this past year to become friends and study the Bible with people that you may call the least likely. These are students from confusing family situations, who don’t know anything about Jesus, struggling with depression, caught up in drugs and alcohol, and more.

Sometimes the questions we hear seem strange, shocking or downright rude. But we’ve found that it’s important to keep a calm face and listen to these “black box” students. Behind the tough exterior and un-Christian behavior they have serious, deep questions. And as followers of Jesus we have answers. But more importantly, we have love. Countless times this year we’ve heard students say things like, “The people in the UCM are different than other Christians I’ve known”, “I really appreciate how non-judgmental you  are”, “You’re not like any minister I’ve ever talked to before”.

More than 92% of students at Chattanooga’s colleges are not involved in a Christian campus ministry and many of those have no faith commitment at all. That’s a huge opportunity that’s getting bigger. The next generation often doesn’t look, sound or even believe the way that we do. But they need the same Jesus that we need and the same love that God has given us.

It’s been an amazing year as God has moved UCM students from not knowing Jesus to being buried with him in baptism; from depression and loneliness to hope and community; from rejection and skepticism of Jesus to curiosity and searching. Praise God for the way he draws all people to himself!


Kingdom Teamwork

When God’s Kingdom grows, everybody wins. We experienced that
recently on a Sunday in April as Icces Furr, a college student at UTC,
was baptized into Christ.

Icces’ story is an amazing example of how God works in his own time through his people to fulfill his mission. Icces met some UCM students at the beginning of the school year when they were giving out free pizza. She became quick friends with a few UCM girls, went on a Beach Trip, started coming to Bible studies, and became a steady presence in the group.

After a couple months, Icces confided to her friends that she didn’t really know anything about Jesus. But she wanted to. Icces was raised by her mother, who wasn’t a Christian, and she knew very little about the Bible. But she could see something real in the faith of these college Christians. These were people who took their faith seriously. They served the community together, lived together and studied the Bible together. And they were part of a church together.

31913962_1230548423746321_8622081404303310848_nOne Sunday, Icces went with her UCM friends to a church meeting. She loved the casual atmosphere, style of music, and friendly people. The church was City Collective, Clear Creek’s downtown church plant. Icces continued attending City Collective, growing under the teaching there and her weekly Bible study with UCM students.

When Icces decided in April that she wanted to be baptized, she knew just how she wanted it to happen – at City Collective with her church family and with all her UCM friends there as well. Icces’ story is one of God’s grace and his pursuit of those who don’t know him. It’s also a story of God using college students, a new church plant, and lots of different people to bring himself glory in Chattanooga.


A Chain of Love

“Take the things you heard me say in the presence of many witnesses and
pass them on to faithful people who are also capable of teaching others.”
2 Timothy 2:2

The only thing greater than seeing college people get excited about their faith is seeing them excited about sharing their faith! Over the past two years there has been an amazing chain of discipleship in the UCM that keeps growing, one link at a time.

It began with a handful of students intentionally playing basketball at UTC in hopes of meeting new people. They met a young man named Michael who wasn’t connected to any Christian group. Michael started playing basketball with UCM students and soon joined the group’s Monday Launch meetings and came on a retreat. Within a few months, Michael invited several of his friends to start hanging out with the group as well. One of those friends was a young lady named Maddie who spent the next year growing in her faith and eventually becoming one of the UCM’s Campus Missionaries.

During the first week of this school year the UCM hosted a pizza giveaway outside a dormitory at UTC – intentionally trying to meet new people, again. We met a freshmen girl named Icces who was happy about the pizza, but even happier to meet such friendly people. Icces immediately got involved in the UCM’s weekly activities and became good friends with Maddie. A couple months later, Icces confided to Maddie that she didn’t know anything about Jesus and was totally new to the whole “faith thing”. That week
Maddie started a one on one Bible study with Icces that’s continuing today. Icces is
growing in her faith and has been introducing her friend Rachel to Jesus and the UCM.

There are so many parts of this story that point to God and the way He works. It’s
a story of young people being bold in their faith. It’s a story of Christians being intentional and seeking to meet those outside their own group. And it’s a story of God using young Christians, non-Christians, and seekers to further His story on campus!

Simple, But Powerful

It’s Wednesday evening and a handful of college students are sitting around a table at the Yellow Deli. The restaurant has delicious sandwiches and drinks, but the real reason they meet here every week is to study the Bible with their small group. At the center of the action is Abby Morehead, one of the UCM’s Campus Missionaries, leading the small group. For the next hour students laugh, discuss the Bible, finish their food, talk about life, and pray together. Some of the students are UCM veterans and others have just connected with the UCM for the first time, but they all equally belong around this table. It’s simple, but powerful.IMG216215686

On Thursday afternoon Abby and some friends are in a study room at the library. A few people in the room are part of the UCM college group, but others are not. About a year ago Abby realized that if she was going to share her faith with new people she needed a good way to get to know them. She already spent a lot of time in the library, so she decided to be intentional about using her study time to build relationships with people in her classes. Since then she has invited classmates to the library for group projects and study sessions. The schoolwork gets done, but more important are the relationships that are formed between these classmates, Abby and the other UCM students. It’s simple, but powerful.

The rest of the week goes on much like any other college student’s would – classes, meals, Wal-Mart trips, hanging out on campus. What’s different for Abby though, is the knowledge that God wants to work through her and her gifts to bless others on campus. Abby is naturally loud and exciting, so God is at work as she laughs and has fun with everyone around her. She may seem like an average college student, but she is also a disciple maker and leader.

Asked how she sees her role on campus Abby said, “Building relationships with people and growing alongside them. I’m hopefully being the influence that pushes them toward Christ and his unconditional love.”

As she goes through her school life with a sense of purpose and open eyes, she is doing the work of Jesus on campus. It’s simple, but powerful.


God’s Mission on Campus

The University Christian Mission is about to celebrate its second anniversary and it’s amazing to see what Jesus is doing through this ministry!

If you haven’t visited a public college or university lately, you’re missing out on a whole world and mission field that’s right in our backyard. The UCM’s purpose is to reach into this diverse and exciting environment to share Jesus with as many people as possible. It’s a tough mission, but one that we are equipping our students to live out. Here are some examples from the last year of ways that we are reaching different kinds of people on campus:

  • A couple months ago, we met a young man struggling with lots

    Volunteering at the Salvation Army

    of serious issues. He’s also an outspoken atheist who has been burned by Christians in the past. We’ve been able to patiently get to know this young man, listen to him, and welcome him into our group. We’ve also been able to study the Bible with him one on one. God is softening his heart and bringing healing through our love.

  • A young lady we knew was struggling with the transition from life at home to life at college. She was also having a tough time leaving the comfort of her youth group and having to build her own faith. UCM students lovingly reached out to her and didn’t give up. She is now a steady member of the UCM.

  • Late last year some UCM students met a young man while playing basketball on campus who wasn’t involved in any church or ministry. In the months that followed he joined the UCM intramural team, came on a retreat, and got involved in UCM meetings. Most importantly, God has been convicting him and drawing him to a

    UCM students who helped with Work Camp

    stronger faith. Today, he is one of the leaders in our group! 

  • Another young lady got more and more involved in the UCM during her sophomore year. She attended the Passion conference with us in January and then joined our New York City mission trip in March. Jesus has set her heart on fire and it’s exciting to see her desire to serve now.

When the UCM went on our Spring Break mission trip to NYC, one of our goals was for students to come back to Chattanooga eager to serve—just like the young lady above. Students have already volunteered at the local Salvation Army and helped with this summer’s Work Camp.

UCM Spring Break mission trip to NYC

We love to see God setting young hearts on fire and building a movement on our campus—and we know the best is yet to come!