Introducing Craig and April Woodham

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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.

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Julie Davis is a freelance writer living in Springfield, MO. (jsedenko@hotmail.com)

Pioneering Campus Ministry in Sweden and Denmark

11951854_10156021874230243_8749173848303358996_nChi Alpha Campus Ministries, USA and Assemblies of God World Missions have partnered together on a joint venture with Pentecostal churches in Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden to pioneer ministry among students in these two great university cities, called the Bridge Initiative. Copenhagen and Malmö, which are separated by 9 kilometers (7.5 miles) of water, are joined by the Öresund Bridge. Sweden and Denmark are also joined as two of the most secular societies in the world, with virtually no Christian ministry among the 200,000 students in these two cities where less than 1% are believing Christians. Recruitment for the Bridge Initiative began in 2014 among Chi Alpha students in the US as well as European students in the Students for Christ-Europe network.  Much prayer has gone into these efforts and it is exciting to see how God has sovereignly formed the two teams.

The Malmö team
The Malmö team

The Malmö team began to take shape in the summer of 2014 at SFC Europe’s annual Connect conference near Köln Germany. A recruitment video was shown and that planted the seed in the hearts of many to pray about this planting effort. A perfect opportunity presented itself in the conference’s “prayer for the nations” evening. There, as different European nations’ flags were displayed and prayed over, Finnish campus leaders Miika and Mirja Toukola began to pray for the nation of Sweden. It was at this time that God clearly spoke to their heart about moving from Finland to Malmö to be a part of the pioneering work there. God moved similarly on the hearts of other European campus leaders and students. The team is now complete with the addition of Johnny Danielsen (Norway); Melodie Fina (Belgium), and Elina Ubele (Latvia) all Students for Christ Europe leaders who have not just been trained, but have responded in faith to God’s call on their hearts to be a part of this exciting pioneering work.

The team works in partnership with Andreas Wessman, lead pastor of Europaporten Pentecostal Church and his associate pastor, Mattias Sennehed, who also works for the national pentecostal youth department. The team and ministry are also a part of the Mosaik student ministry network in Sweden, led by Assemblies of God USA  missionaries Phil and Katja Zarns. The team was able with God’s help to raise their support budget and arrive in November 2015. And in spite of the needs and challenges of finding housing and getting settled, they have already been able to hold a student gathering  in the Toukola’s apartment. God is already on the move among students in Malmö!

11960115_10156025803535243_7403513934280950161_nThe Copenhagen team that will be working in tandem with pastor Jarle Tangsted and Copenhagen Christian Center will begin arriving in January 2016.  Veteran Chi Alpha USA pastors Chuck and Sally Haavik are relocating to Copenhagen, after pioneering and building campus works in Duluth, Minnesota and Trondheim, Norway. Joining them will be Daniela Crisan from Raices (SFC) in Granada, Spain. 15The work already received a tremendous boost when a team from The Groves Church and XA Portland State joined the Haaviks and other European volunteers in September 2015 to participate in a city-wide outreach called “Welcome to Copenhagen”. This was an unprecedented collaboration among 20 different Christian groups in the city to impact and serve the 60,000 new students coming to study in the capital. The team offered  free bicycle repair and participated in many welcome and service events. Many great contacts were made on which the local church and team can build as they start ministry next semester.

 

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God is at work among the campuses of Europe, and he is calling and enabling Europeans to reach their continent as they step out in huge faith. Pray for the Malmo and Copehnagen teams that God will give them divine wisdom and strategy to open doors, provide their needs and give them much fruit in their ministries.14

Book Review: College Faith

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College Faith: 150 Christian Leaders and Educators Share Faith Stories from their Student Days, Andrews University Press, 2002

Ronald Knott, editor

This book is full of encouraging stories from the lives of 150 Christian leaders who recount the faithfulness of God during their time at university. Arranged like a daily devotional, each installment is short capsule of a moment passed or valuable lesson learned, all built around a Bible verse that drives home the main point of each author. Enjoy insights into the formative years of well-known leaders such as Bill Bright (Campus Crusade), and authors such as Tony Campolo, Dallas Willard and Ronald J. Sider. You will also learn from the lives of presidents, deans, and professors of Christian universities across America. The book reminds the reader of the issues and struggles faced by students both as they prepare for college life as well as as when they are in the middle of facing the doubts, pressures, and challenges, of a typical university student. It is through the retelling of significant and life-changing moments that one becomes aware of how crucial a time period university is during one’s lifetime. It is also obvious through the testimonies that those mentors and adults who are in a position to speak into the lives of students play such a key role in their maturity and development.  I found the book insightful and encouraging. It is a reminder for the campus worker that the students whom they are reaching and influencing today do in fact become the leaders and decision makers of tomorrow. (212 pages, paperback)

 

Asian Youth Changing Their World

Over the years we’ve seen AIYS (Asian Institute of Youth Studies) serve as a catalyst for ongoing networking between youth departments. This year we saw an increase in this and plans are already in the works for sending and receiving student mission teams between the nations. Taiwan will be sending out its 7th mission team in as many years in August 2012 to the Philippines. They are also working with us on a project to reach remote Chinese villages in northern Thailand.

Social networking has made this year’s training an ongoing event: One delegate from Indonesia wrote last week: “Every time I open FB, the 1st thing I want to see is the AIYS 2012 group page.” Daily delegates are posting prayer requests on the AIYS 2012 FB page and sharing reports of how they are applying what they learned at AIYS to the youth and campus ministry in their nations.

Training and practice in campus prayerwalking is always an important part of AIYS. Already, less than a month after AIYS, the application of this training has resulted in students being saved and new campus ministries being birthed through prayerwalking. One delegate returned home to train her student leaders in prayerwalking and in one day they not only covered the university in prayer, but they had lead 15 students to the Lord!

Several of the delegates have been invited to speak in the churches since AIYS to cast vision for reaching the students in their cities and nations. One delegate reported that his congregation was so moved by what he shared that several adults, including the church board joined him as he lead students on a campus prayerwalk the next day.

The Fiji delegation felt God was saying that now was the time to begin doing XA ministry in their nation. One of the brothers on the national youth committee called home and had a coworker begin announcing an organizational meeting on the radio for June 8. Several churches have since met to gear up for planting campus ministry this school year at the University of the South Pacific in Suva.

Beyond the classroom instruction and the relationships that are forged, the greatest impact of AIYS is the deep work of the Holy Spirit in clarifying vision and empowering workers for Pentecostal ministry to this generation.

We are very encouraged by what we see in this generation of youth and campus ministry leaders across the region – their hunger for God, their sacrificial spirit and their love for the lost. And as we have seen over the years, many of these youth leaders will soon move into other areas of leadership in their general councils.

Because you stood … and knelt … with us, AIYS 2012 was much more than only an event. Instead it is having an ongoing impact to reach youth throughout Asia Pacific. May God bless you abundantly!

We strongly believe that no matter where we are located or what area of ministry the Lord has us in, it really is always about the next generation. Psalm 78:7 declares this clearly: “…that each generation might set its hope on God.”

AIYS (Asian Institute of Youth Studies) — Training opportunity for Pentecostal youth/Campus ministry for national youth directors, their national leadership teams and missionaries. AIYS is conducted in partnership with the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary (APTS) summer seminar program. AIYS began in 1996 and is now held at APTS every 3 years. Next AIYS: May 2015

 

XAi

XAi (Chi Alpha Internationals) is committed to showing the love of Jesus to each of the 700,000 international students on our American campuses. Chi Alpha has had intentional ministry to International students for over 20 years. The fruit of this kind of intentionality has produced a great harvest. Experts say the present Diaspora or scattering of people is creating some of the greatest worldwide reaping of souls. As our campus missionaries and students are rising to the challenge of touching the guests living among us with the love of Jesus we are seeing unprecedented harvest. Presently China is the largest sending country to the United States. The stories coming off our campuses of Chinese students dedicating their lives to Jesus is unprecedented. The harvest truly is plentiful. I was in one Chi Alpha group where 10 Chinese students had found Jesus in one semester. The American students who are harvesting where they did not plant are beginning to think Chinese students coming to Christ is normal. Praise Jesus for the new normal.

The blessing of international student ministry is not only for the international, but can serve as a training ground for cross cultural ministry for all students and campus missionary staff.

As I have traveled globally, I have noted that the phenomenon of the Diaspora of students is not contained to America. It is a global opportunity. In Chi Alpha we ask our students to make one more friend and intentionally make a friend with an international. We ask our campus missionaries, “you are Chi Alpha, but is the I (international) in you?” Today 1 out of every 5 Chi Alpha students involved in our ministries are internationals?

In 1979 Iran sent more students to study in America than any other country; what might have happened if the American church would have noticed?

As a global family of campus missionaries I could ask the same question. Is the I in us? Are we intentionally touching the nations on our campus? Are we disciplining our students toward the nations by engaging and loving international students?

“Tell me that once more”

In 1733, Moravian grave-diggers Matthew Stach and his cousin Christian sailed to Greenland as missionaries. Like the early apostles they were ‘unlearned and ignorant men’ Acts 4:13. In 1734 two more missionaries from Herrnhut arrived but they were shunned by the nationals and life went poorly. By 1737, they were reduced to eating raw seaweed and tallow candles as the natives wouldn’t sell them any seal meat to eat. In 1738, they wrote, “courage dear brethren, and believe with us that our Lord will yet at last do glorious things in Greenland” (Thompson:197).

One day as one of the missionaries was copying the Scriptures, some natives passing through entered their hut on Ball’s River and asked, “What is in that book?” He read to them sharing the Gospel including the account of Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane. One of them who was listening, named Kaiarnak, stepped up to the table and said with much earnestness: “‘How was that? Tell me that once more, for I too would fain be saved.’ The hour had come for the Holy Spirit to awaken something responsive in an Eskimo soul, the first well-defined instance in Polar regions.” It was June 2, 1738 (Ibid:198).

How was that? Tell me that again! This story was repeated in several locations in the 1730’s. Author Thompson records: A missionary crossing a large street in Southern India spoke to a native concerning the forgiveness of sin by Jesus Christ. “What is that you say?” exclaimed the man, “Tell me that again, explain that to me; I want to hear that repeated.” Mr. Nott was reading John 3:16 to South Sea Islanders when one of them interrupted him, “What words were those I heard? Let me hear those words again!” Upon hearing the explanation, the man replied, “Is that true? Can that be true? God love the world when the world not love him?”

Now it is 2012, find the students on your university who would say, “Tell me that once more!”

Source: Thompson, Augustus C. ‘Moravian Missions.’ New York: Charles Scribners, 1882.

 

Japan: Training the next generation

The Commission on Student Ministries traveled to Japan, the first part of March, for the training of Japanese students and church leaders at the Chi Alpha campus ministries training seminar held in Tokyo. From the 170 churches that the Assemblies of God has in the country we saw 31 churches and 26 campuses represented! Pray with us that the training would advance student ministries in Japan, and transform the lives of this generation of University students. We were hosted by Chi Alpha Japan and they recorded and uploaded the sessions. Click *here* to view the sessions!

Brazil—Rising to the Challenge: Make Disciples of University Students!

Community Strategizing with Pés Formosos and Chi Alpha

This last week, John and I traveled from cold and wintery Belgium to the warm summer skies and flowers of Joinville, Brazil. Contrasts of weather and culture are always a joy to observe as we travel to share with students who have a passion for the mission of God on their campus. This last week was no exception. Joinville is a beautiful city, full of flowers and greenery… and it was not only plants that were blooming: grass-roots campus ministries gathered to explore new identity and purpose statement and to pour over the five pillars of campus ministry (discipleship, witness, prayer, worship, and fellowship). Together we dialogued about common problems, laid them on the table for prayer, and asked the Holy Spirit to help us think creatively in response to the problems.

Because we have been in Brazil for several years in a row, we were able to re–connect with students and discover what has happened as a result of earlier trips. Jacqueline told us that she had been in a small group, using the Discipleship Study Guide, and said “it works!” In some parts of the world, small groups are common, but in Brazil, Christians enjoy gathering in large groups, the bigger the better, to hear preaching and great worship. So for many, the complimentary idea of small groups is new but when they tried it, they found they like it. We had the joy of sharing many stories of how God has used students in Munich who had been part of discipleship small groups 25 years ago. It was life changing! We can also say, ‘it works!’

Pray for our friends in Brazil as they accept the challenge and responsibility to reach their fellow student colleagues for Jesus, and help them become followers of Christ.

More Central Asia Adventures

Three weeks in Central Asia with temperatures at minus 20, the lack of water, electricity, or milk on different days, continual police checks and stolen tires…these realities of life gave us heavy hearts for the folks who live and serve there. We were privileged to teach cross-cultural training and team strategizing for a great of young people from Asia, South and North America who were called by God to plant the church in this broken nation. These countries, bruised from the totalitarian regimes of the past, continue to experience declining quality of life causing many pastors and Christians (as well as others!) to have a strong desire to emigrate to the West, making it extremely challenging to plant the church of the future.

Central Asian Squirrel amazed us with his beauty...and assured us that God loves this land and these people.