How To Start a Spiritual Conversation with One Word

One word started their conversation: Freedom.

Josh Dickens and Delaney Cornish, students serving in the Cru movement at the University of Central Florida, had some time between classes and a new evangelism tool they were eager to try out.

Walking from the student union to the campus’ reflection pond, they spotted Matt casually eating a granola bar and sitting on a limestone bench. They introduced themselves and explained they were trying out a new game called “The Words Project” and wanted to see if he’d play it with them. They learned Matt is a sophomore and a physics major who loves empirical knowledge. He’s also an atheist.

Josh pulled out a small deck of dark blue cards with one word printed on each of them. He encouraged Matt to pick a card that resonates with his life at the moment. Matt picked “freedom.”

Josh asked smiling, “So, why did you pick that card?”

“Living in the country we do, it’s awesome,” Matt said.

TWPThere were smaller cards with words printed on them that Matt used to explain more of what freedom means to him. He chose “awesome” and “good.” Delaney listened intently while Josh picked up the deck of cards and asked Matt if he could share a word that’s significant to him. Matt agreed, and Josh selected “forgiveness” and the smaller cards “essential” and “valuable.” He described his experience with forgiveness through his personal relationship with God. This opened a door to a spiritual conversation.

“What about truth?” Matt responded with a bit more seriousness in his tone.

“What do you think that could be?” Josh countered.

“Your truth is different than mine – yours is the Bible, mine is empirical knowledge.”

“There’s a lot of unknowns in the faith world and the actual. The thing is, what do you put your trust in?”

Josh’s question to Matt is at the heart of what these cards aim to surface: What do people believe and how can believers listen more effectively with understanding and intent?

“The Words Project” is a new evangelism tool developed by Cru, designed to help anyone start a spiritual conversation using one word. Evangelism isn’t easy, but it can be fun and surprising as we connect with people’s stories and share the love of Jesus.

Teresa Touma, a Cru staff member who helped develop the conversation starter, explains that the heart behind “The Words Project” is to ask people what they think.

“One of the things we’ve discovered is that people want to be heard,” Teresa said. “A lot of times, as Christians, when we go into a conversation with someone, we do a lot of telling and not a lot of listening.”

Josh and DelaneyConversations help us build bridges of connection to the lives of others. Jesus modeled this in the gospels when He shared parables and spent time with people. He used His own conversation starters – whether writing in the sand, asking for water at a well or stretching a meal of five loaves and two fish in supernatural ways – to connect to people’s stories. And because He connected, their hearts were open to God’s truth.

After Matt left, Josh and Delaney chatted with a girl named Sam.

When Delaney handed her the cards, the art history major picked “freedom” and the smaller cards “random” and “designed.”

This is my first semester at UCF,” Sam said. “2017 is gonna be a big year for me. Being away from my parents, I have the freedom to do whatever I want.” 

As their conversation moved toward faith and their religious beliefs, Sam said she grew up going to church, but didn’t have a specific faith she believed in now.

“If there’s a higher being, good for him or her,” she said. “But I’m gonna be here, doing my own thing.”

Delaney listened and then asked if she could share her card. Sam welcomed it and Delaney picked “truth” and how she experienced it through her relationship with God. The two continued to talk and Delaney saw the next open door the cards could provide her with Sam.

“I’d love to get together with you and talk about life,” Delaney said. “Could I get your phone number, Facebook?”

They “friended” each other online a few moments later and discussed connecting again.

“The Words Project” helped Josh and Delaney start dialogues about faith with people they didn’t know. The resource can help you do the same thing.

Consider connecting with different groups on campus and ask them to play “The Words Project,” (like gaming communities, alliance groups and societies.) Approach with the desire to hear people’s stories and as you do, share yours and how God meets you there.

The resource will officially be released during Big Break 2017 this spring.

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Preparation

I’m definitely in a season of preparation.  Merriam – Webster defines it in this way:

preparation

noun prep·a·ra·tion \ˌpre-pə-ˈrā-shən\

: the activity or process of making something ready or of becoming ready for something.

Becoming a missionary journalist and building my team of ministry partners for this new season is an adventure of faith, determination and trust in the Lord.

I’ve been in Atlanta for a little over a week, visiting with family, friends and connecting with current ministry partners, many of whom who’ve stood with me on the mission field for more than a decade, praying for me and giving financially to fund my ministry endeavors.

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Went for a two mile jog today in Piedmont Park, placed in the heart of Atlanta. Fall is definitely here. Loved seeing the leaves and their changing colors.

I had great plans for Atlanta and my time here, specifically in my desire to meet potential new partners and invite them to join my team. But what I’m finding is that God has a very different plan than the one I thought would be in motion.

He’s making my time here move at the pace he’s designed it be. He’s causing me to see him in the process and trust him with the results. I’m finding when I do, greater fruit than what I could have created actually gets borne instead. It blesses me and it humbles me at the same time.

Julie, one of my prayer partners, shared the following words with me last month after reading a recent list of prayer requests I sent for my support raising. My heart’s desire is to finish raising my funding needs soon so that I can report to my new writing assignment and start serving full-time in ministry. Julie’s perspective about preparation caused me to pause and embrace the journey that God has planned for me this season:

Mel, ministry partner development is such a journey. I pray that you would sense the Lord’s direction as you step out in faith. That you would feel buoyant. That specific image is coming to my mind for you. Maybe that mean you should be skipping to your appointments! I love that you ask for prayer regarding your times with Him. I ask that you would pray the same for me. 

I also want to encourage you to trust the Lord for His timing. That’s hard. It seems right to us that the support would come in asap so we can report to our new assignment. I really struggled with that our year of MPD after Stint. Why wouldn’t the Lord grant my asap requests? They just made sense!

But oh … His timing was NOT ours. He had significant valleys for us to walk through before we were “ready” for this new assignment. And His timing turned out to be best. (Go figure!) For me, especially, the roles I have now would not have been available to me had we arrived months earlier. 

So, sister, press on. Set faith goals. But don’t try to rush through the journey of developing this new team. God has them hand picked. Be in each moment, attentive to what He has for you there. I pray that you would hear the Lord’s voice saying “This is the way. Walk in it.” Amen Julie. Amen.

Coming Back To My First Love

I find it pretty hilarious that after 14 years away, God is bringing me back to my first love (well, it’s second next to him): the art, the craft, the gift of Journalism. I first fell in love with media as a cute, chubby-cheeked, tall teenager in metro Atlanta during the mid-90s.

R&B ruled the radio waves in my neighborhood, the East Coast – West Coast beef in hip hop was just getting revved up, stylish sisters at my high school were working their finger waves, feathered bangs and box braids while the fellas were kicking it with Tommy Hilfiger ensembles, Timberland boots and Karl Kani swag.

With strong encouragement from my 10th grade English teacher, Coach Buck Godfrey, I interviewed at the end of my sophomore year to join the staff of my high school’s newspaper, The Prowler. Our advisor, Mrs. Norma Hollingsworth, accepted me immediately to the staff. I started on staff junior year covering school news as the girls’ sports editor, being managing editor, pursuing advertising and doing general writing for the newspaper.

Tupac

Senior year I moved in the co-editor position and had the chance to cover several compelling headlines including the rise of teenage pregnancies at school and many opinions columns, my most memorable being one about the deaths of 2pac Shakur and Biggie Smalls.

Newspaper journalism was easy to love. I found a home in the beauty of the written word but even more in telling people’s stories and helping broaden the perspectives of others through the experiences of those around them. College came next and it was a no brainer that journalism is where I headed. But I left newspapers for a greater love – magazines – and found more of my writer’s voice in the journey.

My four years at the University of Georgia were incredible as I took classes I loved (minus Statistics, ugh, ugh, awwww ugh), served as a contributing writer for my college’s student newspaper The Red & Black, a contributing writer for my college’s student magazine UGAzine, wrote and edited for Mandala, our college multicultural magazine, served as vice president and president for our student chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and secured three media internships under my belt (broadcast journalism – WSB TV Atlanta Channel 2; newspaper journalism – The Atlanta Daily World; magazine journalism – Arthritis Foundation).

I knew that full time media was my next step post-college, with dreams of being a staff writer at Essence or Real Simple magazines floating through my mind. God had other plans, as he often does. Instead of full time media, I landed into full time ministry, through a campus fellowship program with The Impact Movement. Wasn’t part of my plan but it was totally all in God’s blueprint for me.

14 years later – priceless experiences, an incredible personal relationship in God through Jesus that’s been faith tested, strengthened through beauty, struggle, goodness and challenges, with the friendships of phenomenal people, mentors and college students who’ve changed my life – I’m back at the beginning, back where a big part of my story started, back in the seat of journalism. I’m very excited about where I’m headed next.

Below is a photo of the layout room in my office for the magazine my team writes for. The wall displays the current issues of the magazine and the upcoming issue.

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What a privilege it is to serve on this team as a missionary journalist. My co-worker Mary (who also is a stunning  vision caster) shared these words with me recently:

We get to tell the world of all He (God) is doing and how He is moving in power and love. The beauty of what we do is that if God moves in (x) person’s life or in (x) city or in (x) ministry and others are told about it, it has this ripple effect. It results in God moving in other places all around the world. It enables Him to move in more ways than He would have without that story ever having been told…you will bring back God’s stories from the ministry frontlines. And God will use those stories to activate more soldiers, encourage those already fighting, and connect the frontline soldiers with the ones back home.”

The stories I used to write in high school and college were special. They were purposeful. They were unique. But the stories I’ll get to write in this new role have much more in them. I’ll be interviewing, reporting and writing with eternity in mind and the best part is that the story is all about Him.

What an honor. I can’t wait to follow the words that will come. 

The Cards We’ve Been Dealt

Colorado in the summertime is a beautiful experience! Well, once you get past the high altitude effects of being thousands feet above sea level and adjusting to a new time zone. Three weeks ago I visited Ft. Collins, CO for Cru’s national staff conference. 5,000 Cru missionaries converged together on the campus of Colorado State University for 10 days of spiritual encouragement, direction and development.

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The conference was the best one I’ve attended in my 14 years as a staff member. It stands out because I believe God used this conference to create sacred space and holy ground as Cru organizationally addressed important conversations about ethnic diversity and cultural awareness internally in the ministry. The conference also emphasized:

*Our continuing commitment to be people who share the good news.

*Our focus in taking the good news of Christ beyond our borders to the people of the world.

*Our intention in being people who partner well to expand God’s kingdom. 

During a campus ministry session a few days into the conference, I was given the blessed honor to speak to a couple thousand of my peers in ministry as we dug more into conversations around diversity, culture and ethnic identity. There has to be a shift in the understanding of staff members in these areas internally to become more effective externally in our missions focus.

Using a hands-on activity, everyone engaged in conversations about their backgrounds, where they grew up and what shaped their personal stories. As those conversations wrapped up, I joined a panel on stage where we told our stories of faith and cultural experiences.

Cards

I shared how parts of my identity – being female, African-American, an only child, becoming a Christian in college, living in a home where education was a strong family value and being southern – all have shaped my view of God. I also shared the tension and the challenges that come when assumptions are made about me by others just based on what they see on the exterior – that I’m black and I’m a woman. The session was a powerful time. 

You can view the video of the panel I spoke on here. You can also view videos of the main sessions and extras from the Cru15 conference here. I pray you enjoy the content and I hope it challenges you to grow and seek the Lord more. My experience at this conference definitely changed me, developed me and continues to encourage me to seek the Lord in fresh ways.

Thank you for your prayers and giving that propel me forward as I serve God.