About Impact

Monday, December 29, 2014

Impact Stories: A Letter From An Alumna…

This post is part of a series of stories from our Impact students. These posts are all written by students. I hope you'll enjoy a closer look at what God is doing on our local college campuses.  

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Kristin graduated last spring from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising with a degree in Interior Design.
 

I remember the first time Sarah was brought up at our college meetings at Marty's house. I remember Marty pulling me aside, specifically, and sharing with me that someone new was coming to "help out." I had a lot of questions because Marty was and is one of my favorites as he's been my youth pastor since I was in middle school. Instinctively, I was a little nervous about what that meant and wondered if he was no longer going to lead the college ministry. He knows me very well and left things very basic.

And then I met Sarah. Her laugh boomed through the room and, though she very well may have been very nervous, you'd have never known it. She made an earnest effort to meet everyone, learn their names, and know what everyone was doing in their daily lives. I was in the tail end of my program at FIDM and I remember her having so many intriguing questions for me. I also remember, vividly, her eagerness in wishing me luck in my last week of school.

Since Sarah has come into the college ministry at CCTO and the Impact ministry at CLU, I have gained not only a trustworthy teacher, but a loving friend. It's hard to believe that it's only been one year since she's arrived because I feel I have such a deep connection with her. I feel as if she's known me for much, much longer. Sarah is a constant reminder of God's grace and love. She's the type of friend Jesus encourages us all to be and sometimes I'm amazed at how merciful she can be. She is so involved in the college community and I know her heart for bringing others to know Jesus is so filled with Him. When Marty told me "Sarah is coming." I didn't think I'd gain a friend and confidante who I can grab breakfast with, or share a late night meal on PCH with, or meet for coffee and catch up with each other (we bond over food, if the pattern hasn't become apparent!) Nor did I think I would gain someone I could bare all to; to really open up and share the things that excite me, upset me, scare me. I am so grateful that God led Sarah to California and, more specifically, us here in Thousand Oaks. I am so happy to call her a close friend who holds a dear place in my heart.

I think she is a wonderful role model in how she leads our Sunday night gatherings in which we share dinner and will have discussion. Lately, we've been going through the Transformed series and it really is one of my highlights of the week. Not only do we get to bond over food again, but I love how God uses her to orchestrate conversation within an intimate group. She creates a safe environment and brings together a group of people who wouldn't otherwise know each other to talk about God and share scripture. I feel so blessed for getting to do something so special and progressive every Sunday.

So thank you, God, for sending Sarah here against her will.


With so much love,

Kristin Ketring  
Kristin came to support our students who were baptized at the beach last spring.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Impact Stories: Christian Community

This post is part of a series of stories from our Impact students. These posts are all written by students. I hope you'll enjoy a closer look at what God is doing on our local college campuses.  

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Sean is a junior at California Lutheran University majoring in Theology and Christian Leadership.

In my freshman year of college, I wrestled with my identity in Christ.  I could not figure out how a Christian was supposed to act or how to go about living a life centered on God.  I met Sarah in the beginning of my sophomore year at college and at the time I was beginning to give more of my life to God.  I grew up as a Christian but when I got to college, the temptations were endless and I did not know where to turn to for help.  Sarah introduced me to the church she worked with and as I went to it more and more, I began to really enjoy it. 

After a couple months of knowing Sarah and going to Young Life on campus, I decided I wanted to be baptized. Baptism to me was the sign that I was giving my life to Christ. I was tired of the regular college life of drinking every weekend and repeating it the next.  The ocean was the perfect place to be baptized because I was deathly afraid of the ocean.  On the ride over to the beach, we listened to Oceans by Hillsong and it was very ironic but very spiritual at the same time.

As I went on to my junior year, I was excited to see what the Lord had in store for me after I gave my life to Him last year.  In my life, friends are really important because I come from a small family. I was excited to join Impact’s College group because they shared the same interests as me and it felt like family. The Impact community has kept me focused on God and helped me to challenge my faith, which is a good thing.  I look forward to Sundays, when I am in fellowship with people my age and they are growing in their faith as well.  The Impact community has given me the tools to understand and read the Bible better which is important for any person who is trying to follow Christ.
Sean was one of the two students we baptized last spring at the beach.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Impact Stories: Finding God

This post is part of a series of stories from our Impact students. These posts are all written by students. I hope you'll enjoy a closer look at what God is doing on our local college campuses.  

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Nisha, a junior at California Lutheran University, is working towards a degree in Communications with an emphasis in Film Studies. 

Nine months ago, I signed up for a mission trip to Mexico with Young Life College, focusing more on the fact that I didn't want to be alone on Valentine's Day than the mission itself. Though I was still learning to let go of a past relationship, I had found the greatest relationship and the strongest love during the midst of my heartbreak. It wasn't until sitting down to write this testimony that I realized this: Don't search for it and it'll find you, but if you allow for it, then you'll find it. You see, I wasn't looking for God in Mexico, I was looking for a way out and yet He found me ready for Him when all my focus was on a different relationship entirely. I then allowed for God to come into my life, after watching the sunrise over the valley in Mexico, which in return allowed me to find Him and then shortly after Mexico, accept Him.

After that trip, I got involved with Impact CLU. Impact has served as my guiding light on this intrepid journey. Being part of this group has not only allowed me to familiarize myself with the Text, but evaluate what the Text means to me in my personal life. For me, it's important to go beyond what's being said and discover what's being meant. Impact allows us to interpret the content and then grow from our findings into more knowledgeable Christians. I've come to learn that it's one thing to know the stories in the Bible and another to understand the significance, recognize the deeper meanings, and connect recurring messages. For me, Impact created an environment where it was okay to be new in the faith and in disagreement with certain ideas extracted with that day's message.

Being surrounded by Christian believers instead of my typical friends who had a very stereotypical college mindset was like surrounding yourself with butterflies instead of bees. This environment was new, trusting, calm and exactly what I needed as a new believer. My faith wouldn't be nearly as strong if it hadn't been for lessons taught at Impact and the butterflies who were there to help clarify my doubts.

Nisha brings lots of joy and laughter to our Dinner and Discussion nights.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Impact Stories: Transitioning to College Life

This post is part of a series of stories from our Impact students. These posts are all written by students. I hope you'll enjoy a closer look at what God is doing on our local college campuses. 

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Jacob, a freshman at Moorpark College, is taking general studies classes to prepare to transfer to a Christian school to study youth ministry. 

When I entered my senior year of high school, I was mildly concerned that this would be my last year of a ministry group at Christian Church of Thousand Oaks. Up to that point, there had been a college group, but they met very inconsistently and only a couple people would come each time. Then, Sarah Koutz came with Impact and the change that happened was very clear, the college group had life in it and I couldn't wait to join the group.

Once I actually left high school and the youth group that went along with it, I was able to join Impact, but I didn't know how much it was going to change my life and help me transition into college. I was able to be surrounded by other college believers that could help me by telling me what they have done as well as haven't done throughout their college life. I'm also blessed to have Sarah who has been very open to talking whenever you want. She has counseled me in my schooling, in my church life, as well as just my day-to-day life. These two different aspects, being able to talk to other college students, as well as the Impact Leader, Sarah, really helped my transition into the wide range of the college world.
Jacob, the current Impact Pencil Game record holder, teaches one of the CCTO elders how to play the pencil game.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Restoring Faith in the Church

I shared in my last post that one of the greatest challenges of this school year was dealing with some past wounds. I thought I would share one of the painful wounds in my life where God has brought a tremendous amount of healing in the last year. I’ve been hesitant to write about this because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea so let me make this disclaimer:

There are absolutely no ill feelings toward any specific churches or individuals. I grew up in a wonderful church and have been a part of some great congregations. I am well aware that I have hurt and wounded people, just as people and circumstances have hurt and wounded me.

Okay, now that I’ve made that clear, let’s get on with the story. 


As I look back at my life of growing up in the Church, most of the picture is beautiful full of amazing role models and giants of the faith that have had a tremendous influence in my life. But scattered throughout that picture are several dark scars that at some point overshadowed the beauty of the rest of the painting. Those scars are the voice of those who told me I didn’t look the part. Voices of those who told me I asked too many questions. Disapproving looks as I speak truth boldly when my “role” was to be silent. They are scars from losing jobs or not being hired because I don’t have the right body parts. 

Soon after I graduated from college, I reached my breaking point. I was done with the Church. I kept attending a local congregation because the Text says so much about community and being together, but I wasn’t invested. I just showed up. It didn’t take long before some good friends surrounded me and started to get me plugged into our local church. But even after getting involved and serving for several years, I didn’t trust the Church. I was skeptical. 

When I started working for Impact any healing that had come was about to be tested. All of those voices I mentioned earlier were back and they were louder than ever. I quit counting how many times I was told I was a sinner or going to Hell because I was woman devoting my life to doing ministry or because I wasn’t getting married and having babies. The hardest part was that some of those voices were of close, trusted friends. 

I’ll be completely honest. The last several years have been incredibly difficult. I accepted a new position that would require me to work even more directly with a church than I already was. I confess I was not happy about this, but I was confident of what God was asking me to do. Here is the great thing about following God’s lead: no matter how hard it is, it is always worth it.

I came to California super guarded. I was greeted with open arms, tons of acceptance and a Church that was eager to follow God’s leading. I came having lost sight of that Church. My perspective had been skewed. As I’ve dropped my defenses, allowed the people of the Church to be the Body and sat at the feet of some great teachers, I’ve rediscovered what God’s Church is. I’ve regained trust in Church. I have a deeper love for the Church than I have in years. 

The voices are still present, but I’m choosing not to focus my eyes on the scars but rather on the beautiful picture that is the Body of Christ. 

Monday, June 02, 2014

Resurfacing Monsters

After my last post and confessing my love of control, you can imagine how I feel about change. Like conversations, I like to prepare myself for as many aspect of a transition as I can. I did exactly that as I prepared to move to California. Now that I’ve been here for nine months and completed my first school year, it is interesting to look back and see how I handled the transition, the things I was prepared for and what I was not.

I expected the transition to be very difficult, while it has had its challenges, it really hasn’t been as hard as I expected. I knew there would be times when I missed family and friends. I did not expect to make such great friends here as quickly as I have. I did not expect to be welcomed accepted by the church staff like family from day one. For the most part, this move has far exceeded my expectations and been an incredible blessing, except for one thing.

I was not ready to have past hurts and insecurities resurface like waves crash into the rocks at the coast as the tide comes in. This has most definitely been the single most challenging thing about coming to California. Not long into the spring semester I started having horrible nightmares. I wasn’t sleeping well. I wasn’t eating well. Focusing was a challenge. Internally, all of those hurts and insecurities were like roaring monsters that I could not silence. I knew I had a choice. I could allow these monsters to silence me or I could allow God to do more healing.

I’ve decided this is a hidden gift that comes with the chaos of change and transition. There seems to be something about the shaking up of our “normal” that reminds us of our own monsters. The sudden awaking of our awareness makes way for another layer of healing and growth. I’m discovering when I allow that to happen, the insecurities fade away and the hurts have less control over me.

Now I’m not saying I’m a fan of change, but I’m learning to embrace it in new ways. And before anyone starts worrying: I am sleeping well, eating probably too well, and concentrating just fine.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Throwing Out the Script


Hi, my name is skoutz, and I’m a control freak.
 
I am well aware many of you are chuckling as you read this, because you are very familiar with this issue in my life. A couple years ago I realized one of the ways this desire for control manifested in my life was in conversations with other people. I love to play out conversations, especially difficult ones, in my head, imagining every possible way a conversation could go. I do this because I hate surprises. I hate surprises because I can’t be prepared for them. I can’t prepare how I am going to respond. I can’t control the emotions or thoughts I may have in that moment of surprise. So I write scripts in my head for conversations.

Now this isn’t always a bad thing. There is great value in thinking through your thoughts and how to best articulate them before you go into a conversation. The problem is when you start to decide what the other person or people will say as well. Instead of actually having conversations, I found myself deciding how people would respond and continuing on with that assumption. When I discovered this I started being very intentional about not having conversations for other people.

For the most part, I was getting much better at actually talking with people, but one of the things I learned this school year is that I still had scripts I was writing. There were topics that needed to be discussed, and I had written a script for every response imaginable. I was shocked to discover I was having a lot of conversations where my scripts were useless. Fortunately, most of these conversations went far better than I could ever imagine, but I was still trying to control them. I was still holding on to these scripts.

Over the course of this semester, I’ve been striving to not waste time and energy on preparing for a bunch of what ifs that will rarely happen. I’m throwing out the scripts!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Ministry Highlights

I am finding it hard to believe that my first school year has come to a close. It has been a week since most students moved home for the summer. Campus now feels fairly empty and quiet. It has been such an incredible blessing to watch God move on campus in the lives of students. Here are some of my favorite moments from the year.


Student Baptisms
Perhaps I don’t have enough faith, but I never even considered the fact that in my first year of planting this ministry, I would have the opportunity to watch students surrender their lives to Christ and publicly confess Jesus as Lord. This school year we had four students do just that, three of which I had the honor to baptize. One of those baptisms happened within our first month of being on campus!

12 Days of Thanksgiving
Impact ministries across the country set aside 12 days in November to gather food for local food banks. We were only in our third month, but the few students we had involved here in California gave generously and donated over 100 pounds of food to CCTO’s Feed My Sheep food pantry.





Collegiate Day of Prayer
One of my goals for this year was to gather together students and members of CCTO for the purpose of praying for our campus. The first attempt at a gathering failed miserably. It was discouraging, but we didn’t give up. During our Collegiate Day of Prayer Luncheon we had 20 people gather to pray together.


Passover Seder
I have been celebrating Passover with student leaders for several years, but I have never lead a seder for more than a dozen people. This year CCTO decided to host a seder and asked me to lead it. So we combined our Impact CLU seder with theirs and had an incredible night of celebrating God’s deliverance as the Body of Christ


Coffee, Pizza, and Cookies
College students love food! Most of my favorite moments every year are the conversations that happen over cups of coffee or lunch or simply taking cookies to campus. Rarely is there an agenda of conversation planned, but rather just moments of being present and authentic with students. It seems to be that it is always in these unplanned moments where the greatest conversations and decisions are made. This will probably always be my favorite part of campus ministry.


There is much to celebrate this year. Bless the Lord for a great year of ministry, both the good and the hard times! 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wilderness People

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:12

Hiking is one of the many things I love about Southern California. I can do it everyday and there are several places I can explore. Hiking is one of my favorite ways to connect with God; exploring His creative work, quieting my heart and listening to His voice.

This evening, I went on a short 3.5 mile hike at one of the local parks where I do a majority of my hiking. Most days last week were over 90 degrees, and I can’t remember the last time it rained. The hills are brown again, and there isn’t much green to be seen. The trails are rocky and dusty. It isn’t very pretty to most, in fact some days it makes me miss the green forests of Michigan. But it always reminds me that God’s people were wilderness people.

The wilderness, or desert, is a land of “just enough.” There is just enough water and rain for the vegetation to survive. There is just enough vegetation for sheep and goats to graze. There is just enough shade to provide an overheated shepherd relief from the hot sun.

And because there is just enough and not too much, there is plenty of room to trust. There is plenty of room to trust you’ll have just enough food to survive the day. Plenty of room to trust you’ll have just enough water to survive the day. Plenty of room to trust you will have exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. It is not what I would consider comfortable, but it is exactly where I want to live my life.

This evening I decided to hike my regular route backwards. I did this mostly because it would be a harder climb and I need to step up my workouts in preparation for our Israel trip, but I also like the different perspective it gives me. As I made my way up the final climb to the bluff, I was reminded of one of the hardest moments in my life, my battle with depression.

During that time I was convinced the wilderness I was in was not a land of just enough but a land of no where near enough. Not enough of God’s grace to handle my weaknesses. Not enough of God’s love to love someone like me. Not enough second chances to try again after I messed up. Not enough reasons for me to even be alive. It was a very dark time. It was the book of Hosea and the Psalms where I found any glimmer of hope. If Hosea could marry a prostitute and still follow God each day and rest in His love, surely I could handle another day. If David could tell God how broken and sad he was and write about it, surely I could tell God too.

Hosea 2:12 was one of the verses I clung to during those years. My life felt like that toughest, driest desert to ever exist, but it was in the desert that God spoke to His people. Most days it felt like He wasn’t speaking or listening at all. There were brief moments where I heard His voice. Brief moments where I knew He was there with me. Those moments sustained me. Those moments healed me.

Now I make it a habit to go to the literal wilderness to remind myself of what God has done. To remind myself that just enough is more than enough. To remind myself God is present. I sit in the wilderness to listen to His tender voice. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sitting in Hope

I don’t often write or talk about my years battling with depression. They were incredibly painful years and not much fun to talk about. Like many stories of depression, although the doctor declared my depression “over” many years ago, there is fallout from the fight that comes and goes at different times. One of those issues for me has been grasping the idea of hope. 

Despite the fact that I can give you beautiful textbook answers about what hope is and point to all sorts of Scriptures that teach us about the hope we have in Christ, the whole concept seemed very elusive to me. For the last couple years, my goal has been to "sit in hope." I first heard this phrase when my counselor encouraged me to practice doing it. I could never figure out what she meant. 

Early in the school year, I was having coffee with my mentor and she asked me to share a little bit about my journey through depression. I shared this phrase with her and went on a bit of rant about how I just didn’t get it. You have to understand my mentor is the poster child for “sitting in hope” and could not understand why it made no sense to me. 

Then one Wednesday morning I was meeting my mentor for coffee again and sharing some stories of the past week or so with her when she interrupted and said, “You know what?! That sounds like a girl who is sitting in hope! I think you have found your elusive target.” What?! I was shocked. 

Now I have no idea how I got there, but in that moment it clicked and I was completely overwhelmed by the peace that comes when we embrace hope. Perhaps I needed to move across the country where no one knew me to discover it. Perhaps I needed to be surrounded by a church staff that respected me, trust me and valued my opinion without having to prove myself. Perhaps I had to get a little better about living in the moment and not the what-ifs. I’m not entirely sure. 

In a message on hope, Frederick Buechner said, “I think it is hope that lies at our hearts and hope that finally brings us all here. Hope that in spite of all the devastating evidence to the contrary, the ground we stand on is holy ground because Christ walked here and walks here still. Hope that we are known, each one of us, by name, and that out of the burning moments of our lives He will call us by our names to the lives He would have us live and the selves He would have us become. Hope that into the secret grief and pain and bewilderment of each of us and of our world He will come at last to heal and to save.”

That seemed to bring it together for me. So I continue to sit in hope and wait to see how God will continue to redeem and restore His people and His creation. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mentoring

When I was in college I had some great mentors and some not so great mentors. When I decided to go into vocational ministry, I started looking for a woman who had been doing ministry who could be a mentor to me. I prayed and prayed and never seemed to make much progress in my search. This went on for years. It was incredibly discouraging. 

A few years ago I was sharing this with a friend who was just beginning her journey in vocational ministry. She shared this same desire so we began praying together and seeking out some women at our church who we felt would be able to teach us more about serving well. Let’s just say neither one of us had much success.  One individual literally told me, “No one has time to mentor anymore. People can’t give up that much time for one person. Go find some books about great women of the faith and let them be your mentors.” I heard responses similar to this numerous times, even after explaining I wasn’t necessarily looking for someone to meet me every week for hours and hours. 

About a year ago, I was ready to give up on the whole mentoring idea. I went to Kenya where we had extensive conversations about mentoring and the need for it in the discipleship process. I have spent a great deal of time wrestling with the concept for years. My conclusion was, although I may never find a mentor, I would be intentional about mentoring the students I was serving. 

I returned from Kenya and was frantically making preparations to move to California. I received an e-mail from Karen, an associate pastor at Christian Church of Thousand Oaks, the church I would be partnering with to plant the new ministry. She wrote that she wanted to do whatever she could to help me with the move and transition, including giving me an hour of her time each week to ask questions or get insights on the church, community and culture of Southern California. It was a very generous offer so I took her up on it when I arrived in town. 

Every Wednesday morning, Karen and I meet at my favorite coffee shop and talk through things happening in both my ministry and my personal life. I can’t begin to explain the amount of wisdom and experience she has shared with me. This time has reignited my passion for mentoring. 

All of that to say, we cannot give up on the idea. Mentoring can look very different in terms of specifics but students need to see examples of faith and discipleship lived out in everyday life. Without these examples of faith in the here and now, how can they learn how to allow their faith to permeate their lives? I’m sure you will be reading more about this on the blog in the months to come. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

First School Year in Cali

It is finals week here, which means my contact with students is brief since they are all frantically finishing papers and projects, cramming for final exams and frantically packing up their rooms for the summer. This means much of my time is spent at my desk praying for students and reflecting on the year. This year I find myself with a million thoughts wandering around my mind. 

It has been an absolutely tremendous year. I’ve had the honor of watching four students publicly accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior and then baptize them. I’ve watched as the Lord has taken students from various backgrounds and begun to bring them together as a family. I’ve experienced the tremendous love of God through the people at Christian Church of Thousand Oaks, who have been incredible partners in ministry and friends. God is so very good! I am overwhelmed by His goodness. 

I thought I would take the next few weeks to put some of these thoughts down in hopes of my scattered thoughts becoming something a little more concrete. I’ll be posting a series of blogs about my first year doing ministry in Southern California. This is mostly for my benefit, but I thought I would give the few of you a glimpse into my world.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Faith on Campus SoCal Forum

This week I enjoyed attending the Faith on Campus SoCal Forum at Pepperdine University with a couple of our Impact staff. I was going to share some of my thoughts on the forum, but then Impact’s President, Bill Westfall blogged about it. I decided he summed up the experience far better than I could. I am so grateful for the insights Bill has shared through his dissertation. The forum definitely confirmed his work. Head over to his blog and check out his thoughts. 

http://williamwestfall.com/2014/05/08/sabbatical-days-6-and-7-three-keys-to-effective-discipleship-among-millennials/

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reflections From Passover

Each year during Passover I find myself overwhelmed with how vast God’s love is for His people. At the end of every Passover season I find God has revealed some little nugget of truth that will take me months, even years to unpack. This year it hit me as I was leading the Passover Seder at Christian Church of Thousand Oaks (CCTO), Impact CLU’s partner church. 

We had an incredible turn out. I had never lead a Seder for this many people. It was a little nerve-wracking, but so much fun! We had reached the third cup, the Cup of Redemption, which represents the third promise in Exodus 6. "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.” I shared with our group that God not only was going to lead His people out of Egypt, but He was going to teach them how to live in freedom.  As the words were coming out of my mouth, it was like God was standing in front of them speaking them to me. “Skoutz, I’ve not just brought you out of oppression, but I want to teach you how to live in freedom.” Wow! 

One of the most difficult parts of my transition to California is the tremendous amount of freedom I’ve experienced in doing ministry. I came to this realization early this semester. Very little college ministry has been done here. The only expectation is progress, no matter how big or small. The hurtful voices of past ministry experiences are fewer and far between here. No one has told me I’m sinning by doing ministry because I’m a woman. I have tremendous support from the CCTO staff. I really can’t imagine an environment where I am free to be who I am and to do ministry the way God is leading. 

The struggle comes with the fact that I’ve never been in a situation quite like this before. It reminds me of the college freshman who leaves home for the first time and now has to make all his or her own decisions. It is a tremendous amount of freedom and responsibility. Every freshman responds differently. Some flourish and others spiral down quickly. I’ve been praying that I will handle the new freedom and responsibility well. 

In the middle of our Passover celebration, I realized God has already shown me how to live in freedom. He is just waiting for me to notice. It is the kind of God He is, a god of great compassion and love, who constantly pursues His people. He desires to be with us because He loves us. That brings an incredible freedom! 

Friday, March 28, 2014

"I like your backpack."


I got a great deal on my red backpack when I was in college. I needed a backpack that wasn’t going to fall apart after lugging around multiple textbooks and tons of music. It has far surpassed that need. With the exception of a short period of time as a teacher, I’ve always carried it with me. It has traveled with me to France and Kenya. This summer I will take it with me to the Middle East. This backpack is fantastic, but I’m often asked why I’m 33 and still using a backpack. 

There are multiple reasons why. Mostly, it is convenient and easy to carry.  Once I started doing campus ministry, I discovered it allowed me to blend in with students making it easier to build relationships with them. Today I was reminded of another reason why I enjoy carrying a backpack: it starts conversations.

I walked into my favorite coffee shop and was waited on by a college-aged girl I had not yet met. As soon as I walked up to the counter she said, “I like you backpack. I have one just like it.” I thanked her and mentioned I had been using this pack for several years. She shared a similar story mentioning she got hers when she was pretty young. I told her I loved the back because, until that morning, I had never had even a sign of the fabric tearing even though I had carried it around the world with me. Again, she had a similar story and started asking about my world travels. 

As we chatted a line started to form, so I ordered my drink and moved to the end of the bar. The barista preparing the drinks asked me a few more questions about Kenya. At some point the topic of traveling to Israel came up in the conversation. The man who was directly behind me in line, had already ordered his drink and joined us at the end of the bar waiting for our coffee. He was intrigued by the idea of choosing to go to Israel and joined the conversation asking some questions. 

Our dialogue is now bouncing back and forth between a couple customers and employees and we’ve transitioned to talking about my job as a campus minister. The man behind me asks, “How in the world did you get into that field?” I chuckled a bit and told him it was a fairly long story of me being stubborn. No one says anything, only stares waiting for me to explain. I begin to share and answer questions as they are asked. 

At this point I realized every employee has stopped working and is listening to me. The entire line of customers has shifted their attention towards me. Part of me thought they were all annoyed that I was wasting their time so I tried to summarize a very long process in a few short sentences. I looked past the group of customers who had gathered in line and realized almost the entire coffee shop was listening to me talk. 

“This is so weird," I thought. "Why are they all staring at me? I can’t tell if they are captivated or annoyed. What do I do? Talk about Jesus!” So I did. I very briefly shared about my conversations with God in the process of coming on staff with Impact. I shared about how God doesn’t give up on His creation. Even when we would rather chose to be disobedient, he chases after us and shows us His love. 

The barista hands me my coffee and says, “That’s awesome.” The man behind me says, “Hmm…that is interesting. I hope you have a great trip to Israel.” I responded, “God is pretty great,” and thanked them. Several others nodded, smiled and went their separate ways. All the employees went back to work and walked outside completely amazed and confused by the whole thing. 

My simple red backpack was what started the entire dialogue. It was a casual conversation that ended with sharing about God’s incredible love for us. I don’t know the stories of people in the coffee shop that day. But I do know my God longs for all of us to understand how great his love is for us. He uses kings and beggars, young and old, prophets, shepherds, and evidently red backpacks as a way to make Himself known to us. 

I think I’ll keep carrying my red backpack and praying that I will continue to decrease as he continues to increase. 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Impact the World - Israel 2014

Almost a year ago I traveled with some Impact Campus Ministries staff and students on one of our Impact the World initiatives to help students engage in the call to discipleship through a cross-cultural experience.

Last year I participated in the Kenya experience, and as you may know I was planning on returning this May, co-leading the same trip. Due to some circumstances beyond our control, the mission organization that hosts our group is unable to do so this year. Much to our disappointment this forced us to cancel the trip. However, Kenya is not the only Impact the World trip, and I want to take advantage of the opportunities I have to help challenge students to answer the call of discipleship. This July I will be joining the greater Impact family in another Impact the World initiative to Israel and Turkey.

Marty Solomon, an Associate Campus Minister at Washington State University and University of Idaho, is leading this trip that will focus on the journey of God’s people through the Bible. This is not a sightseeing trip, but rather a very intense study trip with the opportunity to dive into the Text with students in the culture and context that it was written. Just like the Kenya trip, it provides opportunities for mentoring and discipleship beyond the trip itself and challenges everyone in their relationship with Jesus Christ.

In order to be a part of this incredible initiative, I need to raise approximately $5,795 to cover all costs and materials during our time there (July 11-31). I would love to have you partner with me as I continue to Impact the U. Impact the World.

If you would like to donate to this project, you may do so by mailing your check to:
Impact Campus Ministries (indicate “Sarah Koutz’s BEMA Trip”)
PO Box 82925
Tampa, FL  33682
You may also give online HERE.