Chi Alphans Impact Students for Christ from Tree Stump
It sits in the middle of the Colorado State University (CSU) campus plaza - a large tree stump. And from that stump, all manner of speeches and messages have been given as it's considered the platform for those wishing to share their thoughts in the campus' designated "free speech" area.
"People stand on the stump and say whatever they want," says Duncan Chance, a Chi Alpha staff member serving at CSU in Fort Collins. "They talk about all sorts of things, from political to religious."
Chance says that up until this year, Chi Alpha didn't take advantage of the "stump" as there were a number of "fire and brimstone" and "religious" individuals who spoke from the stump and the CSU students' reception and opinion of them has not been warm.
However, Nate Banke, the Chi Alpha director at CSU, recently took a field trip with University of Colorado - Colorado Springs Chi Alpha director, Dan Gibson, to Texas. He want to see first hand what kind of efforts other Chi Alphas were involved in, what they were finding effective, and what wasn't effective.
One of the things that surprised Banke was the success that the University of Texas - San Antonio (UTSA) Chi Alpha was experiencing through open air preaching. However, instead of threatening college students passing by with pointed fingers and shouts of eternal damnation, sharing Christ's love through Scripture was focused on - and students were responding to the messages.
"Kyle Volkmer, a UTSA Chi Alpha staff member, explained it like this," Banke says. "If you make the mountain top for your student leaders the building of a small group through building relationships, that can seem intimidating to them; but when your mountain top is standing out on a stump and preaching, it makes the building of a small group so much less intimidating - even easy."
Chance and his wife, Lorie, who came with Banke six years ago as part of a Chi Alpha team from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, to establish Chi Alpha at CSU, explains that thousands of students walk through the CSU plaza on their way to and from classes every day.
Chance admits that when the idea was first presented to Chi Alpha staff and student leaders, the apprehension was evident, but Banke held true to his convictions. After bathing the effort in prayer, the CSU Chi Alpha leaders began to take turns on the stump.
"Staff led out and we set the tone by sharing our testimonies," Chance says. "Student leaders then stepped up and followed suite. It was kind of scary at first, and we wondered what we were doing. But then people started to stop and listen at this 'fresh' way to present Christ. We were able to engage in some serious conversations - explaining how Christ isn't about religion, but rather, relationship. That caught students' attention."
Chance says that they encourage their student leaders speaking on the stump to prayerfully prepare and allow the Spirit to lead them, whether it's to share a testimony or share a message from the Bible.
"We've been out there three or four hours a week for the last three weeks," Banke says. "The main focus is on elevating Jesus and sharing our personal stories - what He has done in our lives."
Banke and Chance agree that not only is this effort impacting students in CSU's plaza, it's making a significant difference in the lives of the Chi Alpha student leaders.
"Their boldness has definitely been affected," Chance says. "They are now excited to be out there as they are finding it to be so rewarding. And if you can get up in front of 1,000 people and share your testimony, sharing your testimony in small groups isn't so scary anymore."
Banke says, "Our students have come to realize that they don't need to be afraid to go out there and share their faith with people."
"Nate Banke and the team at Colorado State University are examples for Chi Alpha across the nation in modeling creative, courageous Holy Spirit-led witness," states E. Scott Martin, Chi Alpha national director. "From pioneering Chi Alpha at CSU to launching a Chi Alpha ministry in Krasnodar, Russia, they continue to lead the way in reaching university students for Christ."
One statistic at CSU reveals an incredible need and opportunity for Christ. "Of the 30,000 students attending CSU," Chance says, "only 4 percent describe themselves as Christians."
But when the Chi Alpha staff and student leaders share their stories - their struggles and search for answers - students identify with them.
"My wife, Lindsey, shared her story and afterwards a girl told her, 'That's my story too!'" Banke says. "We are making real connections with CSU students as we give them a new perspective on what a relationship with Christ is all about."