“Hina,” a Japanese international student at Highline Community College chose this week of all weeks to visit Cru.
She was curious about Christianity and wanted to learn more.
When she walked into the classroom where Cru met, Anna – a student leader – noticed her and introduced herself, welcoming Hina to the afternoon weekly meeting.
Once a quarter, Highline Cru devotes a full meeting to evangelism training, using the Cru “Would You like to Know God Personally?” booklet.
That was today.
“I remember at the beginning of the year, we’d prayed boldly that God would save people through Cru this year,” Anna said.
Highline Cru operates through the work of volunteer student leaders, like Anna, and Highline faculty Dusty Wilson, along with his wife Charlene.
Dusty had been involved with Chi Alpha as a student, so when he was hired at Highline 14 years ago, he wanted to give back in some way. His first week, he walked past a Cru table at the student involvement fair, where several Cru student leaders stood, meeting new students.
“Hey,” he said. “I’m a new teacher here, and I’d love to help in any way I can.”
“That’s wonderful,” one said. “Our advisor just quit, would you like to be our faculty advisor?”
He said yes, knowing only the names Campus Crusade for Christ and Bill Bright.
Cru’s emphasis on initiative evangelism was initially foreign to him. He’d been on mission trips growing up and his family had supported missionaries, but he’d never considered walking up to someone in America at his place of work and engaging in a spiritual conversation with them.
However, as the advisor and leader for Cru, he also felt that he should be doing it with them.
Once a quarter, Mike, a student leader, insisted that they set aside their normal weekly meeting and instead, go out in pairs and start spiritual conversations on campus, and so Dusty joined them, willing to give it a try.
That was how he met Muhammad, a student from Somalia.
Muhammad told him that he’d never had a respectful conversation with a Christian about God and spirituality before, but he clearly wanted to.
“I’d always been hesitant to approach someone, thinking that it would be something they didn’t want,” Dusty said. “But here was someone from another religion – and he wanted to talk about this stuff. And people weren’t there.”
As the Cru meeting began, students found their seats around the circle. Hina stayed by Anna’s side.
Brandon, the student vice-president of Highline Cru, began the meeting by introducing CoJourners and the KGP.
Brandon has been involved with Highline Cru for about two years, gradually taking an active role. Last year, Dusty challenged him to come on the Lake Tahoe Summer Project. He hadn’t wanted to go originally, until he felt God leading him there. It changed him from a reserved learner at Cru to an active leader and teacher.
Now, he’s one of the many students Highline Cru depends on to operate. They lead the Bible studies. They plan and organize events. If they want to bring in a speaker, or set up a table during opening week, the students are the ones who will have to be there.
“There are many more opportunities for the students to lead and be involved,” Dusty said. “But the thing they lose? They don’t get the one-on-one mentoring.”
Dusty, working full time, has only had time to meet regularly with one student over the last two years, and he meets weekly with the student leadership team. His wife, Charlene, meets with a group of women.
“In a dream world, I’d like to say ‘hey, I’m meeting with this one student, and in turn, he’s meeting with a couple of other students,’ but that’s often not the case,” Dusty said.
But as a faculty member there at the college, he is also uniquely positioned to form long-term relationships with other faculty, and to speak into his students’ lives.
“I’m here because I love my discipline and I love students,” Dusty said. “So if I can make a difference that goes beyond the math class, that’s a good thing.”
Halfway through my phone conversation with Dusty, a student came into his office.
“Hey, I’m trying to decide between these two opportunities,” he told Dusty. “What should I do?”
Over the last quarter, Dusty has been building a relationship with this student. He and Charlene have invited him over for a movie night at their house. Dusty gave him one-on-one help with a presentation.
“He thinks I know him, and where he’s going, well enough to give him insight and direction,” Dusty said.
But the time investment and his openness about his faith also come at a cost.
Sometimes, math work that he otherwise would have left at work comes home with him, and the 14 years he’s spent as the Cru faculty advisor have colored all his relationships with the other faculty.
“The needs are all the same,” Dusty said. “We faculty just make them sound more sophisticated – isolation, loneliness, identity, and family issues.”
His goal is that everyone who spends any amount of time at Highline would know someone who is actively following Jesus, but on this campus of 17,000 students, Dusty only knows of two Christian organizations operating on campus, with about 30 students between them.
Operating a student ministry like Cru is a challenge at most community colleges like Highline. There are no student dorms, so weekly meetings need to be scheduled in the afternoon. Many students are working one or more jobs. And many will not be coming back after each quarter.
“It’s a very difficult place to invest, because it’s highly likely that you won’t see the fruit of your own work because people will be gone too quickly,” Dusty said.
Each spring, he and the student leadership team have a conversation about who they can challenge to step up and join them. They consider who will be returning the next year, and who has the potential to be a leader.
They think about what is required of a leader, what are the qualifications of a Cru student leader, and begin to brainstorm names. Then they’ll divide up the names and each challenge one or two students to join them.
Sometimes, the students they challenge don’t seem like good leadership material at the outset, but then he’s watched them grow into that role.
“And I’m always surprised when it happens,” Dusty said.
Last year, they challenged Anna to join the student leadership team, because she was faithful, a solid believer, and involved in the mission.
“That part was really clear,” Dusty said. “Then it became obvious that only a couple student leaders that were going to be coming back this year.”
Needing an officially designated president for Cru’s place as a student club on campus, he asked Anna to take that role.
“It was funny – even though Anna had all this one set of qualifications – being very faithful and solid spiritually and Biblically, she’d always come across as very timid and shy,” Dusty said. “I remember thinking to myself ‘I just don’t see it.’”
But then earlier this year, Anna wanted to take a weekly Cru meeting and invite students to share their testimonies. While she was organizing it, Dusty emailed her and asked if she would like his help.
“Do you want me to do some kind of introduction to help set the tone and help people understand what’s expected of them?”
“No. I’ve got it covered.” She responded.
At the meeting, she did a great job and the event was fantastic, Dusty said.
“It’s one of my favorite Anna stories,” he said. “It was such an eye-opener to me: this young woman who had all the raw potential, but I’d never seen her take the initiative, step up, and take the ownership of something.”
As Brandon finished his overview of the Cru tools at this meeting, he instructed the students to pair up – one person with experience, with one who had less – and practice going through the KGP together.
Anna turned to Hina.
“If you haven’t heard any of this before, why don’t I share it with you?” She said. “And then you can ask me questions you have.”
Hina agreed, and Anna started through the booklet, trying to explain things as they went – she’d never shared the gospel with a non-native English speaker before. She had to slow down and think about the words she was using, distilling the gospel into the most basic ideas and terms. As they talked, she realized how simple the gospel really is, and how much she had to trust that God was making the message clear to Hina.
When they reached the diagram of the two circles, and Anna asked her which represented her life, Hina pointed to the circle without Christ.
“This is all so new to me,” she said. “So how would the cross be inside?”
“Which would you like to be true?” Anna asked.
Hina pointed to the other, and Anna turned to the prayer. She explained that the words weren’t what was important, and that prayer is talking to God. This was just an example of what she could say.
“Yeah,” Hina said. “I want to pray this.”
Her tone was firm and sure.
Then she prayed a simple prayer that expressed her genuine desire for God to forgive her and for Christ to come into her life.
As they talked more about what her decision meant, the emotion of her decision began to catch up with Hina, and she teared up. Hina told Anna that she’d been carrying a load of guilt and she’d never known what to do about it, until now.
“Now I know my sin can be taken away,” she said. “And I know that God wants to forgive me.”
“Why do I think Cru should push toward community colleges?” Dusty asked. “Because there is a wide open need. There isn’t anyone else. It is a relatively small investment that could have a huge impact on the world”