Penn State Navs unite with other campus ministries and churches to see the Gospel spread campus-wide
March 11, 2014—Find a friend. Ask them to read the Gospel of John with you for 21 days. In a row. No, really.
That’s the challenge The Navigators laid down for Penn State University’s Christian students last semester, and the outcome has been astounding.
In preparation for the “21-Day Challenge,” 30,000 copies of the Gospel of John, printed for Penn State campus ministry by the Pocket Testament League, were distributed to almost every student through campus and U.S. mail.
The Navs had handed out Gospel of John booklets on campus before, but on a much smaller scale. When the donor of the original supply of Gospels reached out with more, campus leader Morgan Forney sensed God was doing something big. The Navs joined forces with 12 other campus ministries and partnered with local churches in prayer as plans unfolded.
Organizers recruited 30,000 people to pray for each student who would receive a Gospel, created discussion groups for those who would have questions as they read, and sent a daily email devotional to each person who signed up to take the challenge. The challenge was widely publicized on campus and in the surrounding community, relying on talented student volunteers to get the word out in creative ways. A kick-off event was held at the center of the campus on the first night of the challenge, and a group met to pray for the campus all 21 days.
Morgan is quick to mention that the 21-Day Challenge is also done on other campuses and through other ministries, and that PSU Navs were surrounded by strong support from start to finish. To Morgan, that’s almost as exciting as the challenge itself.
“There’s been a movement of unity in a handful of churches that partnered together in praying for us,” Morgan says. “The student body was also really open and responsive. We give God the glory for everything that happened throughout the challenge. He was the source of the idea, He provided and changed hearts. We even had students from different faiths respond well to the challenge.”
Then there were the Christian students, some shy about sharing their faith, many inconsistent in their own devotional times, finding new excitement in reading God’s Word and reaching out to classmates, coworkers, and family members.
“You can’t measure the potential of what has happened,” Morgan says. “Many of these students are Christians who are walking with God, but had never seen God use them in the life of someone else. It’s one thing to try to share your faith with someone, but how do you help them approach the Word of God, too? This challenge helped them do both of those things.”
Many of today’s students are hesitant to share their faith because they do not want others to feel judged, Morgan says. He reminds them of the importance of their approach.
“I tell the students that if the Gospel of Jesus is your hope and your foundation, and the very thing you stand on for your eternity and for your life itself, to live life alongside people and never mention anything about it doesn’t make sense,” Morgan says. “But when you’re reaching out to your friends, you don’t have to be weird! If you talk to your friends about it like it’s a normal everyday life thing, they find that really intriguing.”
Peggy, a senior at Penn State, found herself reaching out to a student from East Asia she saw reading the Gospel of John at the student union building. The student was having a hard time understanding biblical concepts culturally, and wasn’t familiar with many words she was reading.
“I explained what Pharisees were, and what anointed meant,” Peggy says. “She asked how long I had trusted in Jesus. I shared with her, and she told me that when she finishes reading, she wants to be able to trust Jesus, too. We exchanged emails and I put her in contact with a Christian woman from her country to help her as well.”
One student’s 87-year-old grandmother, who had never read the Bible in her life, agreed to take the challenge. An ROTC student gave a Gospel of John to every superior officer in the program, and invited more than 300 ROTC students to consider meeting to read the Bible together. People from at least 20 nations took the challenge. With fires of interest lit, many students joined ongoing Bible studies. A handful of students made a commitment to Christ, and others took their first steps toward Him.
“I’ve easily heard 100 stories worth sharing,” Morgan says. “I’m sure there are hundreds more we’ll never know this side of heaven.”
Listen to the Pocket Testament League’s interview with Morgan.