Craig and April Woodham are the new Expedition Directors for Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, the university ministry of the Assemblies of God USA. Writer Julie Davis recently sat down with them and chronicled their journey.
She was just seven years old, shelling peas on her grandfather’s front porch in Alabama. It was a quiet, eternal moment, the culmination of many who invested in a seemingly insignificant little girl. It was the moment she connected with the one who created her.
Not far away, a young boy was living in a tumultuous home. In and out of church, he knew his life was a mess. Craig Woodham can’t point to a specific moment except to say, “It was just the Holy Spirit drawing me.” By the age of 16, he responded with action. He broke up with a girlfriend. “For me to give my life to Jesus I had to end that relationship,” Woodham says. One connection ended for an eternal one to begin.
There was another important connection in Woodham’s high school years. A prom date. That little girl, April, now grown up, was his date and soon, his girlfriend. They continued dating, long distance, while attending separate colleges, Craig at the University of Alabama (studying secondary education) and April at Auburn University (studying landscape design).
While they didn’t attend the same university, they did have one thing in common: Chi Alpha. For Craig, who never had a youth pastor or mentor, the group was life changing. “I had a great leader there…. I started being discipled. My freshman year of college was exponential growth, spiritually… I grew like crazy. My small group leader was the catalyst to that,” Woodham says.
Craig and April were married before the end of his senior year. As they looked to the future, they discussed the possibility of missions. Because of a connection with Chinese friends, they felt drawn to that part of the world.
As they began to prepare for China, Craig was asked to speak at a Chi Alpha retreat. While there, he says, “I felt the Lord was calling us to do Chi Alpha.” The couple became campus missionaries-in-training at the University of Arkansas and later became the Chi Alpha directors at the University of Alabama. By this time, the couple was settling into their position and a new role as parents to their son, Tyler.
“Give a year and pray about a lifetime.” That’s the challenge Chi Alpha gives to its students. In October 2007, almost two years after the first World Missions Summit, Craig felt the Lord give him that same challenge. He says, “The clearest thought hit my head, ‘Why don’t you give a year?’” April thought he was nuts. “I was cleaning bottles for our six-month-old,” she remembers. But, soon, the family was preparing to go to Thailand where they could work with students.
Awful. That’s how the Woodham’s describe their initial experience at Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok. “Missionaries go on campus to do conversational English… no one wanted to talk with us. It was awful,” Craig says. Then a team of 13 students came from the University of Alabama. Once the team was connected to the Thai students, everything changed. “Thai students flocked to them. We’d go eat dinner and play games … go to the mall… it all led to an English camp at the beach.” By the end of the team’s visit, there was a core group of kids. Soon other teams came from Australia and New Zealand. “By the time we left, there was a group of 30 students connected… several students came to faith.”
The University of Alabama Chi Alpha team made a five-year commitment to return to the Thai campus and continue building those connections. While the short-term trips are life-changing, Craig says, “The end goal isn’t short-term missions. The end goal is to make disciples of all nations.” That, is the vision Woodham takes into his latest role as Chi Alpha Expeditions Director. (Chi Alpha Expeditions is the global missions outreach of Chi Alpha.)
Craig and April, along with their two children, Tyler (8) and Abby (6), are based in Springfield, Missouri. Their vision, Craig says, is to see Chi Alpha teams raised up to plant campus ministry all over the world. Chi Alpha challenges students with this motto: “Every student goes. Every student gives. Every student prays. Every student welcomes.” Every student. Regardless of their field of study. Woodham says, “If there are millions of people with little to no access to the gospel, whose responsibility is that? If it’s not ours, whose is it? I don’t think we can, with clear hearts, say it’s just for the missions majors. We have a significant role to play in what God wants to do around the world. And why not us?”
In fact, it’s easier for those in non-religious majors to get access to certain overseas countries. Many students are even required to study abroad. Craig says, “Sometimes they are the only ones who can step on that campus because they are actually studying there. A missionary couldn’t even go.” Chi Alpha’s “Strategic Study Abroad” program connects students preparing for study abroad with ministries in which they can become involved. It’s helpful to the ministry as well as the student who needs community and relationship while living outside the United States.
Connection. It’s what we all crave. Connection with one another and, ultimately, with the one who created us with that longing in the first place. Craig and April Woodham see themselves as connectors. “We connect our local ministries, students, and campus pastors to missionaries around the world,” Craig explains. He believes strongly that we, in some form, are all connectors. “We are all called to God’s global mission. The question is, ‘What’s our primary role?’” Whether it’s teaching English overseas or shelling peas on a front porch with your granddaughter … our mission is connection. Connecting the people in our lives with the one who offers eternal life.
Julie Davis is a freelance writer living in Springfield, MO. (firstname.lastname@example.org)