The Cycle of Discipleship
Natalia Lynn wouldn’t give up on Sarah Aitken.
Lynn and her U.S. missionary husband, Derek, served on the Chi Alpha Campus Ministries pioneering staff at New Mexico State University in 2014. The following year, one of the students in the small group Natalia led told her about her friend Aitken, a first-year student at the school in Las Cruces.
For a year and a half, Lynn persistently invited Aitken to Chi Alpha events or over for a meal. Aitken repeatedly declined the invitations. Unfamiliar with the student ministry of the Assemblies of God, Aitken suspected someone must have been paying Lynn to be so nice to her.
Lynn, now 30, says she kept pursuing a relationship with Aitken because she had been down the same road. When Lynn first met a small group leader while a student, she called herself a Christian but didn’t live it on a daily basis until her mentor explained what a life surrendered to Jesus looked like.
“Sarah reminded me so much of myself because she considered herself a Christian, but lived a life that looked like the rest of the world,” Lynn says. “I don't think she had ever been shown an example of what real community, real devotion, or real responsibility looked like in the Kingdom.“
Aitken had been rebellious since the age of 16, when she refused to keep attending church. Admittedly strong-willed and prideful, she sought the party life instead, drinking alcohol and being focused on her dating life.
“I knew the difference between right and wrong, but I chose to do wrong,” Aitken says. “It was leading me nowhere fast, into a cycle of shame and guilt.”
That behavior continued at New Mexico State. Finally, halfway through her sophomore year, Aitken called Lynn at 10 one night and asked if she could talk. Lynn trekked to Aitken’s dorm room; their ensuing conversation lasted three hours.
Even though she only knew Lynn as an acquaintance, Aitken unloaded her troubles. Lynn empathetically, yet pointedly, advised her to stop going to parties and to quit hanging out with men who wanted to take advantage of her. Through their discussion, Aitken realized that Jesus loved her.
“I told Sarah the Lord longed for something more for her,” Lynn says. “She recognized she needed to change.”
After a series of difficult conversations with Lynn, Aitken decided to leave the party lifestyle behind. She accepted Jesus as her Savior.
Aitken admired Lynn. She found her solid marriage, content children (now three), and selfless ministry appealing.
“Natalia had a rich, fulfilling life,” Aitken recalls. “I wanted what she had.”
When she entered New Mexico State, Aitken majored in speech pathology, with the intention of becoming a speech therapist.
“I liked the idea of helping people — how it would look,” Aitken says. “I didn’t really love people.” But her heart began to change through Chi Alpha. She began to have actual empathy for others.
After graduation in 2018, Aitken spent a year as a Campus Missionary-in-Training internship, wrestling with whether to enter college ministry full time. Subsequently, she committed to join the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship staff at New Mexico State.
Meanwhile, Natalia and Derek moved to Springfield, Missouri, to become part of the national Chi Alpha team. In December 2019, Sarah visited her now good friend Natalia in Springfield. Natalia introduced Sarah to Daniel Aitken, the media producer for the national Chi Alpha team. Guarded at first, Sarah eventually began long-distance dating with Daniel. In March 2021, the couple wed. Sarah moved to Springfield and joined the national Chi Alpha training team at 24, the youngest on the team.
Sarah, a U.S. missionary associate, is a training resource specialist, as well as cross-cultural missions administrative coordinator. She also is operation specialist for the AG Network of Women Ministers. Aitken knows Chi Alpha will thrive only if students spread the Word of God on campus.
“We need to keep making disciples who make disciples,” she says.
Aitken helps coordinate events such as the annual Reach the University Institute, which draws hundreds of students and graduates interested in a Chi Alpha internship or campus staff position.
“I love to interact face-to-face with people who are changing campuses for the better,” Aitken says.
She is concerned about the health of Chi Alpha team members on the field, noting that the average missionary serves only five years.
“We need to equip missionaries for longevity, to know when to run, to know when to rest,” Aitken says. “Ministry leaders can get tired.”
PASSING IT ON
During her junior year at New Mexico State, Aitken became a Chi Alpha small group leader — discipling others as she had been discipled herself. That included Alexis Ellison, an atheist who met Aitken her first day on campus.
“I had no friends at college,” recalls Ellison, who just graduated from New Mexico State, receiving a math degree, with an emphasis in mechanical and aerospace engineering. “I didn’t know what Chi Alpha was.”
Ellison accepted Aitken’s invitations to both small group and large worship gatherings.
“Sarah lovingly told me what the Bible says,” remembers Ellison, 23. “Seeing how she abides in the Lord made me want to abide.”
Slowly, Ellison began considering a ministry career. An overseas ministry trip convinced her. As Lynn discipled Aitken and Aitken discipled Ellison, Ellison now is pouring herself into others. Aitken is grateful for her transformation from a stubborn rebel to a joyful worshipper.
“There is something beautiful about someone who is completely lost being found and changed,” Aitken says. “That’s who I was.”
TOP PHOTO: Sarah Aitken speaks at the Reach the University Institute in June in Springfield, Missouri.
BOTTOM PHOTO: Natalia Lynn (left), Sarah Aitken (center), and Alexis Ellison are helping others be discipled.