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Strategic Focus Cities funds helping reach college campuses

PHOENIX (BP)–Of the 15 students gathered around the dinner table at the home of Ben and Sarah Sanders, one couple was planning a move to the Northwest where the wife would serve as a campus minister. Another was forced by his empty plate to acknowledge he was in the midst of an extended fast. Others told of plans for mission trips that summer. All sought prayer for their respective ministry involvement.

Their primary purpose that evening, however, was to strengthen the efforts of ASUnited, a newly formed student-led group which seeks to coordinate the work of all Christian evangelical groups operating on the campus of Arizona State University and ultimately other campuses in the Phoenix area.

The students were of varied backgrounds and denominational affiliations, but all shared a common desire to see their campus transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“My personal vision is to see Arizona State University as a place where God is glorified, and that people — when they think about ASU — will think of it as a place where revival happened,” said Kim Gilbert, Lighthouses of Prayer coordinator for ASUnited and a member of the First Southern Baptist Church on Mill in Tempe.

The impetus for ASUnited came from Sanders, director of community ministries for Church on Mill and adviser for the core leadership team. It was through his involvement that ASUnited is receiving funding this year through Southern Baptists’ Strategic Focus Cities evangelism and church-planting initiative, which in Phoenix goes by the name “Celebrate Jesus 2000: Caring for the Valley of the Sun.”

“What I’m really praying for are student-led movements that will bring about revival on these campuses,” said Sanders. “I’m very convinced it’s going to be student-owned in order for it to be really effective. If the students don’t own it, it’s just so much harder and not as effective. If the students feel like it’s their event, they invest themselves in it.”

That involvement was evident at the dinner meeting at the Sanderses, which provided both fellowship and an opportunity to touch base on planning for the monthly worship rally that coming Saturday night on the ASU campus. Also on the agenda was planning for the upcoming Rez Week, an annual collegiate evangelism outreach held simultaneously at campuses across the country during the week before Easter.

Often such events are organized by Campus Crusade, Baptist Student Ministries and other groups. But ASUnited has enabled a larger base to be mobilized by bringing all of the groups together.

The group has its roots, Sanders said, in a Passion Conference and Concert of Prayer led at ASU by Jeff Lewis and Louie Giglio of Choice Ministries, a Roswell, Ga.,-based ministry to college students. The conference attracted 700 students one night, and 800 the other.

“I felt it was absolutely a catalytic moment in the life of our school,” he said. In the South there are huge collegiate ministries and gatherings for students, but out here there had never been anything this big. … That’s when students got really excited in terms of seeing God move.”

The students organized monthly worship meetings, and Sanders began inviting core leaders in campus organizations to his home each week to talk about how the movement could move forward.

“This is a night of repentance, getting right before God before we go into Rez Week,” said one student as they discussed the music and flow of the worship rally. “We’ve got to be right before God before we reach out to other students; otherwise we’ll be hypocrites.”

“What God has impressed on me,” said another, “is that the reasons he wants me to repent and get rid of stuff is not because I’m condemned — but because he loves me.”

After dinner, several of the student leaders talked about ASUnited and what they hope to see it produce on their campus.

“I guess I’m excited because it’s the students, and we are doing it,” said Christine Armstrong, who heads up planning for the worship services. “We’re following our own hearts in what we’re doing. … When it’s from the student I think it’s more on the mark in terms of both growing in our own relationship with Christ and bringing others to meet him.”

Greg Cook, coordinator of Rez Week events, said one of the main benefits has been the synergy created by bringing groups with a common mission together.

“Jesus is all over the campus,” Cook said. “And it wasn’t anything ASUnited did, anything Baptist Student Ministries did or anything that Campus Crusade did. But ASUnited is helping facilitate it.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org.

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  • James Dotson