I did not grow up in the church. It was toward the end of high school that I began to attend a local evangelical church in my small town, an hour or so west of Chicago. Over a process of about a year and a half of hearing the gospel, learning and recognizing my sin, and realizing my great need for a savior, the Spirit brought new life to me through the preaching of the Word. I distinctly remember one Sunday when I was 18, about six months before I was leaving for college, I went into church spiritually dead and left alive. My “race” had a very clear starting date, one that I will never forget.
My wife’s story is very different. Erin grew up in the church, as a pastor’s kid, no less. She professed faith in Christ as a child, went to Sunday school, did the Christian kinds of things (Christian clubs, VBS, etc.), but entered college in what she often refers to as a “fog.” It was a hard time of trying to figure out what she really believed and what it meant to live out the faith she had professed as a child.
While our backgrounds differ, it was the college years for both Erin and me, when we really came to see and understand the riches of the gospel. We met in college at a Campus Crusade group on our community college’s campus. Erin began to attend the evangelical church where I had become a Christian. At that church there was a godly and faithful pastor and his wife who poured their efforts into us during the early years of our dating, engagement, and marriage.
While I was attending Wheaton College for graduate school, Erin and I were members of a smaller PCA church near Wheaton. We helped out with youth, music, and children’s ministry at that church, and we experienced vibrant Christian community there. The encouragement of that church helped direct us to further studies at Westminster where Erin and I both graduated this past May.
For the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a small group of volunteer staff with InterVarsity as we sought to reach and minister to fraternity and sorority students at UPenn. Again, the teamwork and support from these co-laborers has helped me to grow probably even more than some of our students.
As I think about our story and how God has worked in our lives up to this point, my mind immediately is drawn to the image of Hebrews 12:1–2, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” One two-letter word in that verse, easily passed by, has made all the difference for Erin and me. The word is “us.” Like tired and occasionally disoriented runners in a race, what has kept us going has been the support of others. Each step of our journey, each mile of the race, there have been others there cheering us on, calling us to repent and believe the gospel every day, and pointing us to Jesus.
Over the last 10 years, there have been many pastors, elders, and friends in the church who have helped Erin and me. They have invited us into their homes, listened to our struggles and hardships, spoken much-needed gospel truths into our lives, and encouraged us with their steadfast love. Running the race of the Christian life in community with God’s people has made all the difference in our slow and steady growth in the gospel.
As I think about college ministry, I hope that we can serve and direct students like others have served and directed us. For many, college is a time when the trajectory for one’s life is set. For Erin and me, our college years were foundational. We pray that through Tenth College Fellowship, the Lord would use us to serve students in order that many would come to know the riches of the gospel and be equipped to serve Christ for a lifetime of joyous service in the church.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Nick Owens. © 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org