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Campus ministry is ‘greatest opportunity’ to shape North America’s cultural future

BOULDER, Colo. (BP)–When Bobby Pruett strolls across the sprawling campus of Colorado University in Boulder, he has his thoughts on what kind of values North America will treasure in 10 years. Thoughts about what kind of government leaders will be shaping the laws and what mothers and fathers will be teaching their children — and how many believers are attending area churches.

As director of campus ministries at this 26,000-student university, Pruett knows that the answers to many of those questions will be determined by the leaders of tomorrow who now share the same sidewalks with him. That’s why he has devoted the past 15 years to bringing Christ to this international campus.

Pruett and his wife, Gayle, were among the North American Mission Board missionaries featured during the 2003 Week of Prayer for North American Missions in Southern Baptist churches March 2-9.

Boulder, which snuggles up against the front range of the Rocky Mountains about 20 miles north of Denver, offers numerous distractions — both good and bad — for students who choose the setting for their college years. Pruett has placed himself into that setting to help point many of those students to a lifelong commitment to Christ and to instill a Christian worldview that is nonexistent in most academic settings.

“There are a lot of distractions that keep students from making their spiritual search a priority. There are these gorgeous mountains to hike on weekends, we have a large cultural scene with theatre and the arts, and there is the ever-present bar scene where singles congregate. It’s difficult at times for students, many of whom are experiencing freedom from their parents for the first time in their lives, to set the right priorities,” he said.

In many ways Pruett is searching for diamonds in the rough — students who are seeking answers to life questions and who can be mentored in the Christian faith. It’s not something that can be dealt with in an evening Bible study or two; once a relationship is established, it can easily stretch into regular discipling sessions throughout the students’ four-year stay on campus.

“A majority of our students have very little in the way of a Christian background that would provide a stimulus to make them want to explore or develop their spiritual side,” Pruett said. “Add that to the fact that there is a strong New Age presence throughout the community — not just on campus — and that the nation’s only accredited Buddhist university is located in Boulder, and you have the deck stacked against any community support of Christianity.

“The university campus, whether in Boulder or elsewhere, is the greatest mission field and the greatest opportunity we have to influence our future culture in North America,” he said.

“In public universities much of what is being taught does not recognize God, much less give him honor and glory. It is critical that we have campus ministers to counter what the students are fed in the classrooms.”

That — coupled with the belief that most Christian students face the danger of leaving their faith when they don’t have a support group — bolsters Pruett’s commitment to the academic world.

As director of Christian Challenge, a Baptist campus ministry, the Colorado native oversees a variety of Bible studies in large and small group settings scattered throughout the week. He shares the responsibility with fulltime staff member and fellow Mission Service Corps missionary Howard Kenzie* — whom he led to Christ nearly 14 years ago shortly after Pruett arrived on campus — and volunteer Bryan Adler.

Add that to the responsibility of raising his own financial support as a Mission Service Corps missionary and Pruett’s job is more than fulltime.

Pruett, Kenzie and Adler work together to create a dual approach to reaching CU’s students through a variety of ministries. Their mission is to bring Christ into the lives of those who do not have a relationship with him, and to strengthen the walk of those who are already believers but are putting their faith to the test for the first time.

“We want to challenge the students to consider the claims of Christ, regardless of their current spiritual walk — or lack of it,” Pruett said.

“Most students come to their college years with a blank spiritual slate. Some know nothing of Jesus Christ, others may have attended mainline churches but still do not have a firm grasp of what it means to be a Christian, how to actually live out their faith.

“We are striving to mentor and disciple those who already have a foundation and introduce those to Christ who do not know him. That’s why we call ourselves Christian Challenge — because we want the students to know that we want to challenge them to take their faith seriously.”

That’s what attracted students like sophomore Brent Young. He’s not sure why he attended his first Christian Challenge meeting but is confident “it must have been God tugging at my heart.”

Young arrived on campus confused and confounded about spiritual matters. With a Jewish mother, a father who is a nominal Christian and a grandmother who is a Jehovah’s Witness, he didn’t know what to believe.

After a time of being mentored by Pruett and Kenzie, Young became visibly disturbed during a Sunday church service and later that afternoon in Kenzie’s home, Young accepted Christ.

“Now I know that God has a purpose for my life,” he said, “and I don’t have to worry about my future anymore.”

Jill Adler, a senior and wife to Bryan who works with Pruett, can relate to Young’s situation.

“Until I discovered Christian Challenge I felt that there were just too many voices out there saying they were the way to God,” she said. “While I believed that there was a God, I wasn’t convinced that he could be known.”

Adler was attracted to the group because it had gained a reputation as being more than a Christian social club where singles would network to locate dates. The emphasis on a disciplined Bible study and knowing Christ was just what she was seeking.

“Christian Challenge helps people like me who have no Christian background to learn about [God], accept his promises and grow in faith and obedience to him,” she added.

As much learning occurs in Pruett’s home as it does on campus. The modest home is a regular stop on the destinations of many students looking for an oasis away from college life. And those visits to 111 Cherokee St. provide opportunities for the Pruetts — and their eight children — to showcase what a Christian family looks like, warts and all.

Jenny Stage, who has been active in Christian Challenge her entire four years at CU, said the organization helped her to strip the legalism away from her faith and taught her how to relate to Christ on a personal basis. And being around the Pruett family gave her a positive role model of what a Christian family looked like.

“Gayle is just amazing as an example of a Christian wife and mother,” Stage said. “I grew up in a loving home but not a Christian home, and Bobby and Gayle have shown me how faith comes together in their relationship with each other and with their children.”

Gayle Pruett’s primary role is to be fulltime mother to their children, who range in age from 19 years to 18 months. She homeschools all but the two oldest, Robby and Bethany, who attend Front Range Community College and help their dad with Christian Challenge.

“Our family is very large and we naturally serve as family values advocates. We take seriously the responsibility of providing role models that a Christian family can work in today’s society.

“We try to teach the importance of dating the right people who will make good spouses. It’s never too early to begin thinking about what kind of family environment you want five or 10 years down the road,” she said.

“When Bobby sees a student, he doesn’t just see a biology major or communications major; he sees them as future husbands and wives. They are only students for a very short time, just four brief years, but they will be spouses for a lifetime.”

Those many facets of Bible study, mentoring and counseling about dating and family values is why students like Adler stay involved with Christian Challenge.

“It’s more than just a social club, though you do meet new students and make friends for life. Christian Challenge is all about knowing Christ and learning how to glorify God through your life.”

*Name changed
The Big Picture
— Bobby and Gayle Pruett are among 231 North American Missionaries involved in collegiate evangelism, serving as campus ministers, metro collegiate evangelism directors, collegiate evangelism specialists and other roles. Campus evangelism has become a priority for the North American Mission Board since its founding in 1997.
— There are more than 16 million college students on 3,000-plus campuses in the United States and Canada, including 700,000 internationals.
— Among the collegiate evangelism strategies developed by NAMB is EXIT, in which students gain opportunities to share their faith by cultivating long-term relationships with other students.
— The Pruetts serve under the Mission Service Corps program, in which NAMB provides endorsement, encouragement and other assistance for missionaries who raise their own financial support. The ministry makes possible the ministry of 1,924 missionaries across the United States, Canada and U.S. territories.
(BP) photos posted in BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CAMPUS COMMITMENT, HEAVENWARD MOMENTS and A STEADY WITNESS.

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  • Joe Westbury