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Come-and-go 20-somethings stirred toward faith in resort fellowship

FRASER, Colo. (BP)–For a group of mostly 20-somethings in the Fraser Valley of Colorado, church has taken on a new and fresh meaning. They don’t have a building and they don’t gather for worship or Sunday School on Sunday mornings. Yet they’re passionate and visionary in their efforts to encourage one another and reach their valley for Christ.

The group, who call themselves MIU, is intentional in reaching a specific subculture — late teens and young adults in this resort valley who have moved here from all over the world. They have no family or other ties to the valley. They’ve come here specifically to enjoy the benefits of life in a mountain resort valley.

In the winter months, they ski and snowboard. As the weather warms up, their interests turn to hiking and biking. They work — only because they have to — in service jobs such as housekeepers at hotels and servers in restaurants. Though they value their independence during this season of their lives, they also seek community with others whose lives revolve around hard-core playing.

Though some stay for a few years, many of them will come and go, staying only seasonally. These are the folks that MIU desires to reach for Christ.

Describing MIU is a challenge. Though the theology of the groups is unarguably evangelical Christian, their methodology is quite different from most Southern Baptist ways of “doing” church.

“We’re a group of people who really enjoy hanging out … being the church seven days a week,” said Doug Horch, who started the group two years ago as a new church plant of Fraser Valley Baptist Church.

The group gathers for Bible study on Friday nights in the basement of Fraser Valley Baptist Church where Horch leads in a study of Scripture.

“We don’t do anything special,” he said. “We just sit on a couch. I study and prepare for it, but our time is really flexible. What God is putting on the hearts of the people is important. But I’m really committed to preaching the gospel.”

The Friday night Bible study is typically quite interactive, with lots of questions and discussion. The participants are a tight-knit group who obviously enjoy each other’s company. But they also relish the opportunity to share with the others what they’re learning in their own spiritual journey. Their vision and passion for soul-winning becomes obvious during their prayer time as many of them pray out loud, offering heartfelt pleadings to God for their friends, coworkers and neighbors.

The weekly Bible studies serve as a time of accountability and encouragement as the MIU participants study and pray together. But the other weekly activities of MIU are decidedly geared toward outreach.

Open mic night is a popular gathering.

“That’s really taking off,” Horch said. “We have a group of musicians and artists coming together to make music. And almost all of them are non-Christian.”

A corner room in the basement of Fraser Valley Baptist Church’s building has been set aside for MIU and the open mic night. With a sound system, drums, guitars, lights, a fog machine and other high-tech toys, the setup is perfect for a bunch of artistic musicians intent on hanging out and making music together.

Of course, MIU participants are there building relationships and sharing Christ. Ultimately, the goal of open mic night is to get musicians involved in the next “show” that MIU presents.

It’s the only real planned and structured event MIU does. And it’s so big, they only do a couple of shows each year. MIU presented their last show on Good Friday of this year at the Hideaway Bar, a business that is no longer in operation.

“That bar is now a fancy restaurant,” Horch said. “That’s how quickly things change around here.”

Though an unlikely venue for a strong presentation of the gospel, MIU worked out a deal with the bar owners. MIU served a meal to everyone at the bar that night and used all music and media to present the gospel.

It took 45 people to pull it off, and about 150 people were there to watch.

MIU is preparing for it’s next big show in November. “We have our eye on this big party place,” Horch said. “It’ll be taken over by us. People will show up for a big party atmosphere and we’re going to be there to present the gospel.

“We’re committed to going where the people are, taking church to the people,” he said. “That’s one of our core values.”

Horch has already decided that Ecclesiastes will serve as the scriptural backdrop for the November show.

“These people know nothing of the Bible, but they do know about the meaninglessness of life,” he said, referring to the theme of Ecclesiastes.

Otherwise, MIU’s approach to ministry is quite fluid and changes according to the needs of the community.

“Our community changes seasonally,” said Matt Toller, one of the co-leaders of MIU. Thus, their weekly activities change “depending on the season and the work schedules of people.”

This past spring, most of the core group of MIU had left as ski season ended. But the group that remained all shared a common interest in skateboarding.

“So we started going to a skate park in downtown Denver every Sunday morning,” Toller said. They developed relationships with locals in Denver and eventually started a church there, though Toller is quick to add, “It’s a very non-traditional church. We met some people at a tattoo and piercing shop. Over half their business is from Christian kids. As we continued to talk about life and faith and people, they were very open to the gospel.

“You can’t structure that,” Horch said, referring to the encounter at the tattoo shop. “You can’t plan for that.”

A big part of MIU’s ministry is promoting fellowship and community.

“We really operate more like a club,” Toller said. “We attract people by a common love for life. It’s amazing to see how God uses that.

“Doug is an awesome snowboarder. Because of that, he met a guy named Josh who hangs out with us now. Josh is a bartender. Josh’s friends got upset with him that he’s hanging out with us — with Christians,” Toller said. “But instead of getting turned off to Christ, he’s turned on to God and turned off to his old friends who were being judgmental and critical.”

“Josh has a degree in classical music and he offered to teach me music theory if I’d teach him the Scriptures,” Horch recounted. “He’s totally changed.”

So what exactly does MIU stand for? It depends on whom you ask: Marching In Unison, More In You, Misfits In Youth, etc.

“It’s a philosophy of ministry,” Horch said. “It changes.”

Then he refers to Colossians 1:27, “… Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

“MIU is like Christ asking, ‘Am I in you?,'” he said.

MIU is just one of the unique and intentional ways that sponsoring church Fraser Valley Baptist is trying to reach out in the Winter Park resort community and the rest of the Fraser Valley.

“My leadership style is totally hands-off,” said pastor Pat O’Connell. “My role is one of putting God in front of the people and urging them to do whatever he tells them to do.”

Fraser Valley Baptist is in its 25th year of ministry in the valley. O’Connell is in his fourth year as fulltime pastor of the church.

Like MIU, another ministry of the church is also two years old. “Changes” is a second-hand thrift shop that gives all proceeds to a local relief agency.

“It becomes an informal community center. Sometimes people go in just to talk to Grace,” said O’Connell, referring to Grace MacGregor, a church member and manager of the thrift shop.

“This past year, they raised $25,000 to donate,” he said.

A surprisingly exciting aspect of Fraser Valley Baptist’s ministry has been their Sunday night worship service.

“We started that three years ago, but I didn’t want to just be doing it,” O’Connell said. “I wanted to offer another worship opportunity for those folks who can’t come at traditional times.”

Since the valley is a resort community, people work at all hours and schedules vary.

“That has blown up,” he said of the Sunday night service. “It’s by far the biggest gathering.

“Lives are being changed. People are accepting Christ and following him in baptism,” he said. “God is working in marriages and people are seeing areas of service and jumping in.”

Three years ago, the church started a softball team, “just to do something together,” O’Connell said. It too, has been wildly successful. They regularly work 24 people through each game.

“The question I hear regularly is, ‘Do you go Sunday morning? I go Sunday night.’ Or vice versa,” he said. “The challenge is merging the church family together.”

Another successful ministry of the church is a laundry ministry. When it was started, church members would go to a local laundry facility with $75 in quarters. As customers would come in to do laundry, church members would pay for it as an act of service and love.

“That ministry has morphed,” O’Connell said. “We recently purchased four commercial washers and dryers with a foundation grant. Now, people come here to do their laundry.”

And even that ministry has seen spiritual fruit.

“We have a new member, a new Christian actually, who was introduced to our church through that ministry,” said O’Connell, who performed the man’s wedding recently.

“It’s awesome when a ministry has changed someone’s life. Not the program, but the ministry of the program,” he said.

Fraser Valley Baptist is definitely not program-driven, and O’Connell admits that would be a difficult task because of the transient nature of many of the valley’s residents.

“We have musicians who are here for only three or four weeks and then gone. Ministry leaders leave. We don’t fill positions because they’re there. We wait for God to raise up a person,” he said.

Fraser Valley Baptist Church and MIU depend heavily on faith in order to be effective in their ever-changing valley, the pastor said.

“Faith is like riding a horse at full speed,” he said. “When the horse goes left, you have to go left.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TESTING, TESTING.

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  • Allen Spencer