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Cadets respond to church’s readiness to reach out


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)–First Baptist Church of Black Forest, Colo., has developed a presence among cadets from the nearby Air Force Academy in just the past four years.

First Baptist serves cadets a meal after Sunday morning services since they miss lunch during their three-hour church pass. In their visits to the church, cadets can relax at an adjacent house fashioned into a “home away from home.”

There they connect with other offers of help, such as laundry services, transportation to stores to purchase personal items or rides to the airport for trips home during school breaks.

The congregation also sponsors a Thursday night pizza-and-conversation hour in the academy’s cafeteria.

This kind of outreach, coupled with an emphasis on biblical preaching, has lifted the church’s ministry from a handful to more than 100 students during the 2004-05 school year, volunteer collegiate minister Bob Collins said.

This past school year, 90 percent of the participants were from the Air Force Academy, Collins said. Their numbers included 20 seniors who have graduated and moved on to fulfill military service requirements.

“We preach the Word and they seem to come out of the woodwork,” Collins, a 44-year-old electrician, said. “As soon as school starts, we’ll have those [graduates] replaced.”

Because students are busy and many drift away from church after high school, many congregations overlook collegiate ministry, Collins said. However, they are neglecting fertile ground for the Gospel.

“It’s a really exciting ministry,” Collins said. “None of these kids are going to join our church and be a part of our ministry, to speak of.

“But these kids are going to go out and serve Christ all over the world, wherever the Air Force takes them. It’s a neat opportunity we have as a church, to walk a season in their path, build them up and then send them out.”

First Baptist developed its collegiate ministry through following Christ’s method of building relationships and ministering to people through that relationship, Collins said.

Since cadets can’t have a car during their first two years at the academy and only have limited time off base, the church reached out to them, Collins said.

“We went and served them, brought them to church and fed them a meal after church,” he said.

“We purchased a home for them next to the church and made it the college house, a place where kids can come and relax. You could almost see the stress and pressure disappear as they got into my vehicle to come to church.”

This is the same method Collins encourages cadets at First Baptist to use with incoming students, suggesting they take them out for coffee and provide transportation.

Collins encourages them to remember that it only takes two or three leaders to build a strong ministry because the word will spread as they invite interested cadets.

The goal is not simply to boost church attendance, but to convince young adults to embrace faith in Christ as part of their identity, Collins said.

Although a recent report on religious tolerance at the academy said 85 percent of students identify themselves as Christians, the volunteer minister thinks those numbers are misleading.

“So many students have borrowed faith from their parents and grandparents,” Collins said. “We seek to give them ownership of their faith because borrowed faith won’t sustain them in the storms of life.”

As the next school year begins in early August, Collins will caution cadets to avoid heavy-handed approaches in sharing the Gospel with non-Christians.

The model for witnessing comes from Revelation 3:20, where Christ said He stands at the door and knocks; it is up to the person to decide whether to answer the knock, Collins said.

“We don’t cram the Gospel down anybody’s throat,” he said. “Jesus didn’t do it and we shouldn’t either.”

In addition, the collegiate minister emphasizes the importance of Christians’ actions and demonstrations of caring.

The way believers conduct themselves, from language to integrity, makes them shine and convinces others to want the same qualities, Collins tells cadets.

Collins said students in today’s media-saturated world are so bombarded with messages that they rarely listen to pastors or peers. They don’t care about words; instead, they want to see the difference in another person’s life, he said.

That means they watch everything a Christian does, he noted.

“How do we share Christ most effectively in this type of situation? It is by living the life, by conducting ourselves in success and in failures the way Christ told us to conduct ourselves,” Collins said.

“Then, when the questions are asked -– and they will be -– that’s when we share. That’s how we’re going to share our faith. It’s not going to be with the words. It’s going to be with the lives.”
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  • Ken Walker