Conference ignites collegians’ passion for Christ

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Minutes before the session, colorful beach balls crisscrossed overhead as reverberating, pulsating music and strobe lights energized the crowd. Enthusiasm grew as the collegians jumped to their feet with arms raised in worship led by the contemporary Christian band, “All Things New.” 

But quickly the gathering turned serious as the nearly 400 students at the State Collegiate Conference, Feb. 19-21 at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center, prayed for persecuted Christians living worldwide facing the threat of death and violence from their faith in Jesus Christ.

Persecution is real, said keynote speaker Nik Ripken. He added, however, the persecuted would say, “Don’t feel sorry for us, because we have never felt so close to Jesus.”

Ripken, and his wife, Ruth, global missiologists with the International Mission Board, SBC, challenged students to live a life obedient and pleasing to the call of God.

“Serving God is not a matter of location, it is matter of obedience,” he said.

The theme of the weekend meeting “Ethos,” was developed “to create a culture of passionate missional living within the collegiate community that will appeal to campuses to spread the gospel,” said Rahul Agarwal, Baptist campus minister in Tampa.

That spoke volumes to University of South Florida freshman, Jaycee Welker. “The entire weekend opened my eyes to the persecuted church and ignited a fire in me to share the Gospel even more than I already do because we have so much freedom in America to share about Jesus,” she said.

In the final worship session, “I kneeled at the altar, crying my eyes out. The Holy Spirit hit me so hard and God spoke to me. God reminded me that he is always with me,” Welker added. “Every time I go to class, eat, sleep, cry, work, study, read the bible, and evangelize he is there with me. He reminded me that I am his daughter and that I do not need to worry because he is with me wherever I go and that he loves me.”

Keynote speaker Ripken shared his own pilgrimage as a “pagan kid” growing up in rural Kentucky family that did not know God. “I know what it’s like to be lost and no one is looking for you,” said the author of “The Insanity of God” and “The Insanity of Obedience.”

Raised in a pastor’s home, Ruth Ripken knew as a sixth grader she was called as a missionary to have a role in reaching the “2.8 billion people who have never heard about Jesus.”

After his conversion, the unlikely couple married and together forged forward on a desire to “go to the nations and go together,” a commitment that has been the foundation of their lives for the past 30 years as missionaries. With their family, they served in Malawi, Transkei, South Africa, Kenya, Somalia, Germany, Ethiopia and the Middle East.

Serving in Somalia, a nation engaged in a bitter and violent civil war, the Ripkens worked in a relief center to help more than 1,000 displaced refugees who arrived each day. Watching children and adults die from starvation and disease, the family fell in love with the people in this Muslim country.

Decrying the rhetoric of those who would like to close the borders to Muslims, Nik Ripken urged the students to look upon Muslims as Christ did. “Our job is to lift up Jesus and draw people to Him.”

Forced to leave the country due to its unsafe conditions and move to Kenya, the family suffered their own loss as their middle son died from an asthma attack on Easter morning. After his death, the Ripkens notified family and friends, including Hussein, a Muslim coworker in the Somalia refugee camps.

Walking for five days and nights through mine fields and dangerous territories, Hussein arrived in Kenya to sit with the family during the funeral, asking at one point, “why have Christians kept Jesus to themselves so Muslims don’t know how to get to heaven,” recalled Nik Ripken.

Most Muslims living in the U.S. have never had someone share the good news of Jesus, said Ripken.

“Christians won’t walk across the street to tell a Muslim who Jesus is,” said the missionary. “But a Muslim man walked five days through the desert, tribal fighting and danger to help us bury our son.”

“Thousands of people feel like they are in a black hole. God created you to walk with Jesus, love them, and share Jesus,” he said.

Throughout the three-day event, the collegians learned of opportunities available to them to live their life on mission, including hearing testimonies from students who came from out of their comfort zones to serve on short-term mission trips. One student told of ministering to young women trapped in sex trafficking in East Asia, while another shared how God gave him confidence to help plant churches in Portland.

“Experience stations,” designed to create an atmosphere that lived out the Ethos theme, were located on campus to “help us understand our culture, as well as other cultures, especially the persecuted church,” said Agarwal. “The stations enhanced a student’s take away through interaction instead of just absorbing information.”

Students also attended a dozen small group seminars to help define their calling and grow in discipleship and faith.

Matt Crawford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sebring, led a seminar on growing in Biblical knowledge. He said his desire to reach college students began with his own involvement in the Baptist campus ministry as a University of Central Florida student. “I want to be a part of investing in students and want the students at my church to be plugged into BCM. That’s where the ‘boots are on the ground.’”

Students at the conference came both with their campus ministry groups and local churches.

Ricky Lindsey, minister of students at First Baptist Church in Plant City, brought 14 students to the conference, hoping to build a bridge between the church and the campus ministry of their schools, to “extend beyond our church walls.”

“Our campus ministry and the local church are coming together for the same cause. This conference offers a great spirit and great investment in the lives of our students,” he explained.

Matt Seitz, college minister at North Central Baptist Church in Gainesville, had several students attend. God spoke to his students, he said. “This year’s speaker, Dr. Ripken really encouraged our students to live a life on mission.”

The church partners with the Gainesville campus ministry to impact the lives of students in the schools there, he explained. “If you are a church in a college town like Gainesville, and are not actively involved in the life of BCM, you are ignoring the real reason God allowed you to be there,” he said. “Not engaging your campus is bad stewardship. BCM is our outreach arm on campus.”

By Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist Convention, March 11, 2016

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