Chi Alpha's New Partner Unveils Christ to Campuses
E. Scott Martin, the national Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, U.S.A., senior director, couldn’t believe what he was seeing — or thought he was seeing — as illusionist Jim Munroe deftly defied the “possible” and presented a testimony so compelling, even Martin was moved.
More than 700 college students had poured into the auditorium on the campus of the University of Hawaii to experience the M?ZE featuring Munroe that March night in 2014. “The students were riveted to every move, every word he said,” recalls Martin. When Munroe gave his testimony and shared the gospel, students responded and Martin says he immediately knew “Chi Alpha needed something like this.”
Today, Chi Alpha, the college campus ministry of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions, not only has something like the M?ZE — they have a partnership with Munroe and the M?ZE, which launched this past fall at four college campuses and has appeared at three more campuses so far this year.
Although Munroe is an elite illusionist, who typically does “street magic” for students on the campus sidewalks and in the cafeterias to help draw interest in the Chi Alpha event, his testimony is equally amazing.
A self-professed agnostic/borderline atheist, Munroe had an encounter with God when he was 29. “Being a magician, the idea of God seemed really silly to me, like it was all some kind of Wizard of Oz thing — a fake wizard behind the curtain,” Munroe admits. “So, I told God that if I was going to believe, He would have to make this [Christianity] real to me.”
Soon after, Munroe was diagnosed with a very rare form of leukemia. Without treatment he would be dead in two months, but even with treatment, this type of leukemia would keep coming back until it killed him. The only hope was a bone marrow transplant.
“They have a database of 7 million possible donors,” Munroe says. “Of those seven million, there were only 16 possibles. Of those 16, only one was a close enough match to try — a 19-year-old girl.”
The doctors told Munroe that once the bone marrow transplant took place, if his body didn’t reject the transplant, it would be like he was born anew, like a baby in the womb. Munroe says the transplant was a complete success and now, because of someone else’s compassion and sacrifice, he’s alive and 100 percent cancer free.
“If you looked inside of me, you would see someone else, as I now literally have XX [female] chromosomes living inside of me!” Munroe says. The obvious similarities between the whole process and Scripture confirmed to Munroe that not only was God real, but He answers prayer!
What Chi Alpha campus pastors and directors are discovering is that the M?ZE, coupled with Munroe’s testimony, is a draw that few other campus organizations can match in professionalism or in sharing the gospel message — especially with students who otherwise would likely never attend a “Christian” event.
“College campuses are becoming the most hardened soil in the country,” Munroe says. “The culture there has slipped toward atheism and the ‘nones.’ For many, religion is dead and science is king. However, what magic does better than any other art form is it creates curiosity. You can be the most hardened, nastiest person, but people become children when they see magic tricks. It’s wonder, which offers open opportunity to speak into their lives.”
Derik Buescher, Chi Alpha director at the University of Wyoming, headed up the first Chi Alpha/the M?ZE event in Sept. 2015. He worked with other Christian campus ministries to make sure the event was not only a success that night, but follow-up could be done effectively.
“We had over 1,400 students attend,” Buescher says. “To my knowledge, it was the biggest Christian outreach in the history of the University of Wyoming.”
Buescher says that 125 signed response cards and he personally noted how the show impacted the international students in attendance — many who may have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel before. “It also really bonded our leaders and students to a cause greater than Chi Alpha,” Buescher says. “There was a renewed passion and enthusiasm to get the gospel into lives and into our conversations.”
Munroe explains that one thing the M?ZE is not deceptive about is his testimony. “When we get to the point of the show where I’m going to share my testimony, I let students know, and give them an opportunity to leave — typically very few do.” Munroe says that as he shares his testimony he mixes in select illusions to powerfully drive home the significance of what he’s saying.
Brian Hargett, Chi Alpha director at North Carolina State University partnered with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) to host Munroe and the M?ZE in January. They had a “standing room only” crowd of over 1,000 packed into the NC State auditorium, with 553 response cards turned in and 53 indicating first-time decisions for Christ.
“We’re a materialistic and scientific campus,” Hargett says, confirming Munroe’s evaluation of today’s college campus. “One of the things Jim said that really seemed to hit home was if students were trusting their five senses to tell them the truth and show them reality, they were placing their trust in the wrong place as their senses, through his illusions, had been deceiving them all night long.”
Hargett shares how one student, who accepted Christ through the event, was so adamant about getting baptized in water “to seal the deal” that they performed the baptism in the campus lake in 30-degree weather!
At the University of Louisiana – Lafayette, Eric Treuil has been Chi Alpha campus pastor for 29 years. He’s also the Louisiana assistant district superintendent. On Feb. 16, he had a standing-room only crowd of over 850 for Munroe and the M?ZE, with 187 response cards turned in.
“When Jim lays out his personal testimony, being on the verge of death with leukemia, how he came to faith in a Creator who does have a purpose and a plan, and he gives that invitation, people respond,” Treuil says. “He shows them how so many of them are trapped in a maze, searching for a way out, and discovering all the ways they’re trying — sex, finances, and the like — are just dead ends. Only Jesus is the way out of the maze!”
Treuil says that what amazed him almost more than the evening show was Munroe’s ability to engage students and perform illusions simply walking around the campus. “Jim played baseball at the University of Texas, so the head baseball coach gave him 10 minutes to talk to the team. He pulled a little trick on them, really got their attention, and several of the key players came to the event that night.”
For Treuil, much like Buescher, he noted how Munroe’s message impacted international students. “We had just over two dozen Muslim students who came who had been befriended by some of our Chi Alpha students,” Treuil says. “Their feedback included words like beautiful, wonderful, very heartwarming and challenging — with one of them now attending our main weekly services, not just a small group service.”
Since the beginning of the fall semester, Munroe and Chi Alpha have had more than 5,500 attend their seven events and more than 1,000 responses turned in. In addition, at most of the events, Munroe also appeals to students to register with Be the Match — a global bone marrow pairing agency. “It’s automatically a point of agreement that’s hard to argue,” Munroe explains.
For Martin and Chi Alpha, this is only the beginning. Plans are underway to partner with Munroe to bring the M?ZE to 40 campuses over the next few years. “We try to hold a fundraising event just prior to appearing on a campus to help ‘pay the M?ZE forward’ to another campus,” Martin explains, “so that the only costs a campus Chi Alpha would incur are for promotion and acquiring an auditorium for the evening.”
“I’m loving working with Chi Alpha,” Munroe says. “And as Chi Alpha has been demonstrating [in working with other Christian campus ministries], this isn’t about building Chi Alpha, but building the Kingdom. I think God delights the most when Christians are in unity.”