In the name of Jesus Christ, I testify of God’s grace to our campus fellowship during my senior year in college.
THE FELLOWSHIP AT UIUC
I was born and raised in New Jersey, USA, but in 2003, I moved away to attend college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). UIUC is a remote area about two and a half hours drive from the nearest church in Chicago, but it had a True Jesus Church (TJC) campus fellowship of about ten believers. Every Sabbath we had service, comprising Bible studies on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, and sermon recordings on Saturday mornings. By God’s grace, the fellowship continued from my first year (freshman) to my last year (senior) in college, although the number fluctuated as members came and went.
By my third year, we were down to five members. Yet the fellowship was still strong. I stayed with two other brothers, both of whom zealously served God. We would take turns to lead the Bible studies, and every Wednesday evening, we would pray together. Besides us, there were also two other members—an older sister from Taiwan studying in graduate school and a brother who had recently believed.
However, at the end of my third year, both roommates graduated and left. I suddenly realized there were only three of us remaining, barely enough to have Bible study together. Although the other two members were good members, they were not yet in the serving stage of their faith. The sister only attended services on Friday evenings, since she spent her time on Saturdays studying. The brother, a new believer, had just begun to attend services regularly. So when my last year at university came around, I harbored many negative feelings. I was scared because I thought I would be alone. I was under pressure because I felt that the responsibility of keeping the fellowship together rested upon me. I also resented God because there were no new undergraduate church members. I knew all along that it could happen, but I had always thought that God would provide; yet in the end, no one came.
THE STORY OF THE FIRST TRUTH-SEEKER
In August 2006, three of us congregated for our first Friday evening meeting since term started. Although we knew it would be difficult with only three members, we were determined to continue. However, because we lacked manpower, we decided to have just one Bible study service per week on Friday evenings.
Around the same time, I also received the contact information of a potential truth-seeker. A friend’s friend from Taiwan had come to study at UIUC, and I was asked to contact her because she might be interested to learn more about God. I had never invited a stranger to church before, but thank God, she readily accepted my invitation to attend the Friday night Bible study service.
The following Friday, the truth-seeker joined us for Bible studies. It was a little awkward at first, because there were only four of us and we were studying Matthew 1, on the genealogy of Jesus Christ. It did not seem to be a good first topic for a truth-seeker, but thank God, it turned out well, almost like a truth-seeker class, because we could ask her which names from the genealogy she recognized and introduced to her those characters she didn’t know.
Before we concluded to pray, she shared with us that she was desperately looking for a sublessee. She had rented one apartment, but had to move out as she was given a cat as a gift, and pets were not allowed in this apartment. She rented another apartment, only to realize that she could not break her contract with the first apartment and ended up having to pay rentals for both apartments. As UIUC is a campus town, very few move into town after the semester starts. We were not really sure what to tell her; all we could say was that we would pray for her. The following week, when we picked her for Bible study, we were amazed to discover that she had already found a sublessee! I was really surprised that God answered our prayer so promptly.
THE STORY OF THE SECOND TRUTH-SEEKER
Several months later, in November, we had a Thanksgiving dinner together and the truth-seeker brought one of her friends along. We did not think much about it at the time, but after the Thanksgiving break, this friend also joined our Bible study service.
As the Bible study was ending, the second truth-seeker also shared her problem with us. The university had unfairly charged her an extra 3500 US dollars in tuition fees when she opted out of two classes and registered for another class. Despite her petition to the university’s financial services, nothing had happened for two months; moreover, she incurred a late fee charge for not paying the original fee. Like we did with the first truth-seeker, we could only tell her that we would pray for her.
The following Monday, she went to the financial services office and asked me to accompany her. When we met with financial services staff, they realized the additional charge was actually due to a computer error. Therefore, this second truth-seeker was not responsible for the extra charge or the accompanying late fee. Once again, I was amazed that God answered these prayers so promptly. From then on, this second truth-seeker also started to join us consistently on Friday evenings.
THE STORY OF THE THIRD TRUTH-SEEKER
One Friday evening in January 2007, the first truth-seeker brought another friend. I then realized that our fellowship had doubled! When I pondered over this later, I was moved to tears. All this time, I had thought I was just there to survive this one year, but God gave us three truth-seekers. I was also very touched to see God abiding with us, and yet we had done nothing to deserve such grace.
When we were about to pray to conclude that Bible study service, like the two previous times, this third truth-seeker also shared her problem. After being in the graduate program for a semester, she was beginning to experience anxiety simply from being on campus. Again, her situation was difficult, and we had no idea what to do, but we decided we would pray about it. In the end, this third truth-seeker did not stay long because the answer to her prayer was to return home to Taiwan. Even so, during the two months that she stayed with us, she seemed to have peace whenever she joined us for Bible studies.
THE STORY OF THE SISTER
Besides the truth-seekers, God also showered much grace upon the other two members and me. One night in October of that senior year, I could not sleep because I was thinking about the older sister in the fellowship. Since she was nearly old enough to be my mother, I thought, if I saw my own mother working so hard and not attending services on Saturdays, would I not say something?
While I was thinking about it, this sister called and asked me if I could come by the following day to help her with a few things. The next day, after helping her, I blurted, "It would be really great if you could join us on Saturdays also." Although she felt bad about it, she told me she really needed her Saturdays to study. I thought I had tried my best, and I would leave it at that, since in the end, it was her choice.
After I left UIUC, a preacher visited her. Although I do not know the details, from that day forth, she started to attend Saturday morning services every week. The sister remembered that day I talked to her about joining Saturday services and how it was a turning point for her. Thank God, this sister's faith continued to grow while she was in the fellowship.
THE STORY OF THE BROTHER
I also saw how the faith of the other brother grew in our fellowships. He was baptized for only two years and had not yet been actively serving. But during my senior year, this brother became a real comfort to me by not just being a brother, but also a co-worker and friend. He opened his apartment for our fellowships, drove his car to pick truth-seekers, and even offered to help with leading Bible studies. However, since he did not have the Holy Spirit at that time and had little experience leading Bible studies, we decided that I would lead the Bible studies whenever I could.
After my graduation in May 2007, this brother was left with the sister and the two truth-seekers. I was worried because I wondered what would become of the fellowship after I left. That summer, he decided to attend the National Youth Theological Seminar (NYTS), and I also went as a counselor. We prayed earnestly that he would receive the Holy Spirit, because we knew that he would need the Holy Spirit in the year to come. Thank God, our prayers were answered. It was such perfect timing, for God gave him the Holy Spirit just in time to enable him to lead the campus fellowship. From then on, I felt relieved because I knew that God would take care of the fellowship through this brother.
THE END OF THE FELLOWSHIP
A year after I graduated, I returned to visit and attend the graduation ceremonies of the two truth-seekers. It turned out that the fellowship came to a perfect end, as everyone else left at roughly the same time. The two truth-seekers graduated on the same day and the sister completed her degree a couple of weeks afterwards. The brother who had taken up the fellowship also left that summer, deciding to transfer to a school closer to church.
Although the truth-seekers are not yet baptized, and the campus fellowship came to an end, God has blessed each fellowship member abundantly. However, I think the greatest blessing is that each of us grew so much spiritually. The purpose of the fellowship was fulfilled from its beginning to its end because it helped us to draw closer to God.
MY STORY—LESSONS LEARNED
As for me, I have learned lessons from the fellowship that year that will stay with me for my entire life. For one, I now understand that no situation is hopeless. Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God can do beyond what we ask or think. Second, "where two or three are gathered together in [His] name, [He will be] there in the midst of them" (Mt 18:20). Although we were few in numbers, every session of the Bible studies was filled with God’s righteousness, peace and joy. Third, I saw that evangelism is actually easy when God is working. Sometimes, we worry about preaching, but it is really God who calls His people, not us. Fourth, to quote a hymn, "In Jesus Christ, we are all family." Indeed, we should be treating the believers like our own family members, since we are all connected by the blood of Christ.
But I think the most important lesson I learned was to care more, pray more, and serve more. Throughout my senior year, I was burdened with many cares for myself, but also for the fellowship, and these made me pray more. Every day I would pray for each fellowship member, to the point I found it easy to fast and pray too. Because I prayed, I also found the wisdom and strength to do what I could to serve. As Deuteronomy 6:5 says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart (caring), with all your soul (praying), with all your strength (serving)." So all along, God was teaching me to care, to pray, and then to serve, but caring comes first.
Today, after many years, I still vividly remember the events during that senior year at UIUC and the lessons that I have learned. I still do not completely understand why God allowed us to experience Him so deeply that year, but I thank God for His incredible and amazing grace.
May all glory be given to God. Amen.