March is always a wild month of the year, primarily because it is the month college ministries are either building up to spring break trips or adjusting back to campus life following them. So, while there was some other things going on within H2O during the month of March, this newsletter is going to focus solely on our spring break trips. I apologize in advance for the length of this newsletter, but I want you hear what all God has been doing in H2O Cincinnati and in the lives of it's students.
I've mentioned Beach Reach in some previous newsletters, but to bring all of you up to speed, Beach Reach is all about evangelism. Every year, hundreds of students from various college ministries head to Panama City Beach for a week to share the gospel with those who go there for other reasons. Some ministries, such as Cru (Campus Crusades), go out on the beaches and the strip during the day. The ministry H2O partners with for this trip, however, chooses to hit the beaches from ~9pm to ~3am. During those hours, students split up between one of three jobs: contact evangelism, van rides, and prayer team. For contact evangelism teams of three to four students are made who then walk around and tell people about Jesus. After each conversation, the Beach Reachers' text a number with the names of those they spoke with and specific prayer requests, which are then received by the prayer team for them to pray over. Lastly, Beach Reachers' drive vans around PCB in teams of two to three to give people rides back to where they are staying. These van rides offer incredible opportunities to get to know other people and share the gospel with them. In the past, we have not been able to do the van rides due to UC forbidding any non-UC students or faculty members from riding in their vans. This year, however, the team was blessed by H2O Bowling Green when they allowed us to use their vans to do van outreach.
H2O Cincinnati took 30 students and three staff members to Beach Reach this year, making the 24 hour round-trip packed eleven to a van. And the stories I've heard from those that returned have been incredible. I say that as if not everyone returned, which (thankfully) is not the case. Everyone who went on our trips did, in fact, return to Cincinnati, but those people did not come back the same. This is especially true for one of our students who gave their life to Christ on this trip and then proceeded to be re-baptized in the ocean! From other stories I've heard, the single term I would use to describe the theme this trip is boldness. The 30 students who chose to sacrifice their spring break for the gospel stepped out in their faith and expressed the boldness Christ calls us to have when sharing the gospel. And based on the attitude of those students who returned to Cincinnati, this boldness was not a temporary thing brought on out of a spiritual high, but a heart change within them to make evangelism--and thus boldness--a part of their everyday lives.
Below is a testimony from Katherine, a third-year in Morgen's Lifegroup who went on her first ever Beach Reach:
[Two weeks ago], I spent my spring break in PCB on a mission trip focused on evangelism. Months before the actual trip they announced Beach Reach at church several times. Every time I heard about it, I thought absolutely not, everything about Beach Reach genuinely sounded terrible to me. I kept telling myself no, but the Lord kept consistently turning the word no into the word go. And man am I glad He got me there. On the van ride there, before the trip had even started people were sharing their testimonies and I felt like mine was useless and honestly felt like I hardly had one. Then the next day a girl I hardly knew was talking about how she doesn’t have a testimony in the living room of where we were staying. The next thing I know I started spitting out truth about how valuable her testimony is and how valuable she is to the kingdom. In less than 24 hours I went from crying and freaking out to preaching truth in front of a whole room of people I hardly knew. Moments like this continued to happen consistently in my life and the rest of the Beach Reachers' lives.
The biggest impact for me happened on the last night. During the last worship session, the band sang a song that said, “We’ll never be the same, we’re forever changed.” Hearing those lyrics honestly wrecked my life. I had never felt more overwhelmed in my whole life, I could not stop crying and could hardly stand. The Lord put so heavy on my heart that this wasn’t just about Beach Reach, it was the start of a whole new way of living. Living in constant pursuit of the Lord. Praying so bold it sets fire to golf carts. Sharing the gospel without fear. Letting the Lord take full control of my plans. This trip changed it all. I pray that the Lord takes this fire lit inside our group this past week and never lets it burn out. I pray that we can take this fire, fueled by the Lord, back home and use it to impact our families, friends, churches, and communities.
Our second trip was ironically to Panama City Beach as well due to the Hurricane Michael. Michael wrecked havoc on Panama City, leaving homes and churches destroyed and needing to be completely gutted. The team might have been small, but their impact was huge on the community and the lives of the individuals they served. This trip is much more straight-forward than Beach Reach since it is all about entering into areas of our country which have been devastated by natural disasters and doing whatever is required of us to serve the people affected; whether that be gutting a church (pictured below), replacing drywall, ripping out destroyed flooring, cutting trees, or anything else they the home/church owners needed.
Below is a testimony from Juliet, a third-year student, about what the service trip taught her:
The service trip taught me the value of community in times of crisis. Rather than being tasked with the burden of facing disaster alone, God brings the church together in order to heal and serve faithfully. Psalm 68: 5 says, "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." We had the opportunity to witness this first-hand. Of God keeping his word. The Spirit of the Lord led volunteers from all over to be servants to the survivors of Hurricane Michael, each person using their unique capabilities to send relief. Only God could have organized and pulled together each team so masterfully. His provision for the storm was not only seen through physical acts, but felt through spirit and warmth of each person involved. Although natural disaster and devastation are paired together, God can use these instances to bring us together.
Church Planting Trip!
This last trip was the one that I chose to go on and I feel like I could write a couple pages worth of information about it. To sum it up much shorter than that, this trip was super insightful, but not in the ways we imagined it would be. I don't think any of us really knew what to expect from this trip in general, but I know for myself I expected it to bring some clarity about where God is calling to plant. And to some extent that held true. We have pretty much ruled out the University of Kentucky because of how saturated the campus already is with Christian groups and churches. Crossroads planted there in the Fall of 2018, Cru has a large presence, and Cincinnati Student Fellowship, or CSF, is massive, drawing in over 600 students every week and boasting a staff of 40 full-time support raised staff members.
Purdue University was also ruled out, although not until after the trip when we learned that Salt Company, another church network under the Collegiate Church Network's umbrella, confirmed to be planting there. Up until then Purdue was still a very viable option to plant at. Because it is ruled out, I'll skip the details about why it was a viable option here, but if you are curious for all the reasons feel free to call or email me.
The only university we visited still in the running is the University of Louisville. This campus is appealing for many reasons, a few of them being the amount of jobs in Louisville, the high need on campus, and the ripeness for a church plant there. The university very much prides itself on diversity and as a result is ranked as one of the best colleges for LGBTQ+ persons. This means a lot of the students who attend Louisville are either LGBTQ+ or very accepting of the movement in general, thus leading to their disregard for what scripture says and the blatant need for the gospel. The campus is also a heavy commuter school and thus the university itself is starting the process of revamping the campus to try and get students to stay on campus and get involved. This is where some of the ripeness comes in. H2O has always done an incredible job of fostering community, it's one of the reasons I became so invested with the church when I first started attending it. There was something different about how people in H2O loved each other and I wanted to be a part of that, which meant sacrificing other things to be a part of that community. With Louisville working towards this culture change, there is a huge opening for H2O to step in and be one of the first student organizations to strive towards this sense of deep, intimate community the students are longing for. Despite all of that, though, we walked away (well, drove away) from Louisville with two conclusions. (1) Somebody should plant on Louisville within the next 2-3 years. (2) We are not sure that somebody should be us.
In addition to visiting three college campuses for scouting purposes, we also spent two days at Indiana University to assist the team from The Ohio State University's H2O who planted there in the Fall of 2018 and gain insight from them. During those two days, we had the opportunity to serve IU's campus by passing out free coffee and hot chocolate to students, grow closer as a team, and explore IU's campus. On that note, saying the campus is impressive might be an understatement. Instead of campus the term medieval European town might be more appropriate due to the uniform grey color scheme, architecture, and the building in the middle of their campus which they mistakenly call their student union instead of a castle. But as much as I could rave about their campus, the best part about visiting IU was the time their staff team took out of their Thursday night to sit with our team and answer our questions about church planting in general. It was this meeting coupled with what we learned from the other campuses that led to the trip being super insightful in ways I never imagined it being. Louisville is an option, but is only higher on the list than it previously was due to two other universities being ruled out. In short, we did not gain clarity on where to plant, but instead of how God wants us to go about this process of church planting. It is not meant to be rushed and we are not meant to merely pick the best option, but to let God lead us to where his heart desires this plant to be. Where is that? I have no idea. I know Kyle and Lindsey, the two leading the plant, are visiting UCF, China, and possibly some East coast schools, but we don't know where we are going to land. And that's perfectly okay. Personally, I'm at peace with trusting God to lead them in their decision-making, and thus am willing to go wherever they do.
Once again, I want to thank all of you who are supporting me either financially or via prayer through all of this as you are making it possible for me and the rest of H2O Cincinnati's staff team to reach the students at the University of Cincinnati. If you are not a part of my financial support team, I ask that you prayerfully consider joining me and my mission with H2O Cincinnati at a monthly amount by clicking on the "give" button on the top of your screen.