My regular job, if you will, is serving as the lead minister/pastor with the Newark Church of Christ in Newark, Delaware. Serving in ministry with me is our campus minister, Casey Coston, and our worship & community outreach minister, Nicole Da Cunha.
The city of Newark is located in New Castle County, which has a population of just over 500,000 and is part of the vast Philadelphia metro area, Newark is also home to the University of Delaware Blue Hens, which has a student enrollment of nearly 25,000. So a significant ministry for the Newark Church is sponsoring the Blue Hens for Christ campus mission and Reflect Campus Missions, which seeks to call, train, and send out new campus ministers to serve and even plant new campus missions on university and college campuses in North America.
I asked Casey to share a little about what his campus mission work is like and here is what he had to say:
I am excited to share how I’ve seen God at work in the past year and how Mission Alive played a big part in that. It’s a story that took over 6 months to develop and it’s still just getting started. But first, here’s a quick review. We have a great way to reach international students by teaching English using the Bible. They have a felt need to improve their English and many of them agree to use the Bible to help them with their English. Along the way, friendship and conversation about the Bible can lead to exciting spiritual things. But I was looking for some way to connect with American students in a meaningful way as well (though international students are connecting with us this way as well). Early last fall, Steve Schaffer at Mission Alive coached me for an hour and helped me discern that we should offer a mental health support group as a way to meet another felt need on campus. I was excited and it seemed like the Spirit was guiding us in this direction. We started a group in our ministry and we started another group in partnership with a non-profit called Sean’s House that is also focused on mental health. Their building is just off campus on West Main Street and that’s where we met people most of this past year. I worked with the director to figure out when to offer the group. It took some time to get started so we didn’t actually have our first group until November. We posted on social media and I prayed. I had no idea who might show up. I think 3 students showed up the first time. I was ecstatic and thanked God. Maybe you would have hoped for more people but this is part of our mission to “focus on a few” just like Jesus did. We quickly ran into Thanksgiving and the long Christmas break so we didn’t get a lot of traction but it was a good test run for us. Then we started back up in February and went to the end of May.
In our ministry, Rusty Jordan (Director of Campus Planting, Reflect Campus Missions) has also encouraged us to guide conversations from casual to meaningful to spiritual to biblical. Sometimes you can go from casual to spiritual in one conversation. Sometimes it can take months to move the conversation deeper. The neat thing about our support groups is that you can get into meaningful conversations very fast but then it can take time discerning how to take the conversations deeper. There is one student I want to focus on who came that first time…we will call her Mary. She shared early on that she was trying to reconnect with her faith. I was able to ask her about that and have a good conversation. I was able to let her know that I was praying for her about some of the things she was sharing in the group. There was even one time where she was the only one at the support group and at the end, I asked if I could pray for her right there and she said yes! As we got into the spring semester, I invited her to waffle night, Blue Hens for Christ (BHC), and some other special events but she was busy with school and her schedule didn’t really allow her much time. It would have been tempting to give up on ever connecting her with BHC. Then one of our elders, Richard Duzan, mentioned getting Nicole Da Cunha, our worship and community outreach minister, to help me at Sean’s House since most of those coming were female students. Nicole and her husband Tony worked with Rusty in BHC for a season. Nicole and Mary connected very well and they started texting and meeting together outside of the support group. They’ve been able to have some important spiritual conversations. Now in typical campus ministry, things tend to shut down in the summer but we took one week off and decided to keep our dinner and discussions going because most of our students would still be around. At the very first summer gathering in early June, Mary showed up! And she has come three straight weeks and is now staying late and making friends with others in BHC. This is what I dreamed and prayed might happen when we started the support group. It takes a lot of patience and prayer and relationship building, but it is organic and Spirit-led and so exciting to witness.
I applaud Casey for the innovative approach to campus missions as well as the help he received from Mission Alive. Reading what Casey has said coupled with my increasing awareness of campus missions, has me thinking about the future of campus missions and church planting too.
Just as there is a need for new innovative churches, there’s also a need for more innovative campus ministries that can engage both American and International students. We need churches that have the capacity to allow for a new wine to be poured into new wineskins and one way of meeting this need could happen by planting both new churches and new campus ministries in tandem with each other. This thought kept reoccurring with me as I was meeting with other campus ministers at the regional Campus for Christ gathering, held in College Park, MD near the University of Maryland (see picture above). So, for example, what if a church planter and campus missions planter moved to College Park, MD, just outside of Washington D.C., where there are 40,000 students enrolled in the University of Maryland.
Think about it, dream about it, and imagine what can be by the power of God at work in us through his Spirit for the namesake of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
K. Rex Butts, D.Min, serves as the lead minister/pastor with the Newark Church of Christ in Newark, DE. He holds a Doctor of Ministry in Contextual Theology from Northern Seminary in Lisle, IL and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, TN. He is married to Laura and together they have three children.