Tuesday, September 8, 2020

August: Ministry in a Pandemic

Happy September!

Y'all, the Lord is working on these campuses. 

We kicked off the school year with Corefa Prep! We gathered our student leaders (corefas) to this super convenient park by my house where we were able to stay socially distant. Any people you see sitting together here live together. We have more corefas this year than ever before in Denton. God has really opened doors during this pandemic for these students to be able to commit their time to building His kingdom here. 


Gathering together meant that we were able to really cast a vision for campus ministry this year. We talked about discerning what necessary risks we might need to take and what unnecessary risks we can avoid for the sake of others. We get to really emphasize outreach this year because we don't have the normal flashy events that attract people. (None of our events were actually that flashy anyway 😆.) So, this year we're focusing on meeting people on a personal level and inviting them into a community that we have benefitted immensely from.


We knew doing ministry in the middle of a pandemic was going to be challenging. Our staff has been preparing for this all summer. And now that we're actually in the middle of it, I could not be prouder fo these students. They have responded prayerfully to each challenge they come across. One of our major themes as a ministry this year is suffering and sacrifice for the sake of Christ. These corefas are consistently choosing to suffer for the sake of others. Especially during our Texas summer, they are literally sweating it so they can protect their cores by meeting outside. They are sacrificing their preferences to hang out with their friends like they normally would and instead choosing to follow safer practices (distance, outside) - and for some of those physical touch people, that is absolutely a sacrifice. They are choosing to consider how they can be most effective and if the risks they are taking are worth it if they end up with COVID and are severely limited in their ministry.


So, we are rolling with the punches and God is so faithful!
The following week, we got to work! We went out on the campuses the week before school started to meet people as they moved in and were getting ready for the year. So many people were so receptive to what we had to offer. We met so many students who really just craved community and friendship and in person interactions. So many students have most of their classes online and the professors are having to change the format of the classes often - it was a stressful week for many as they kept waiting for information to come in. I think a lot of them were excited for the change of pace and for a chance to experience some normalcy and fun!

Becca, Jenna, and Shayla ready to do outreach at TWU!




We have 23 cores total this year and we may need to add more. The first couple weeks of core have gone so well and many of them have had to split up because more than ten people came! We're still working out some kinks and getting creative about how we can keep those cores safe but I've been so encouraged by the turnout. More than numbers, the people who are coming seem to really want to be there!


Here's my core's first core picture! Maddie, my cofa in the pink mask - Maria, under the checkered blanket - me, under my lawn chair - Aileen, in the back. We've had some interesting weather so we had to make a run for the union when it started raining on our core!

I also got to start meeting with my peer team! We met all together and I just had to snap a polaroid!


! also get to meet some of them in my backyard for our one on one time together and that means Blue Belle gets lots of pets! This is Kate!

So far so good! God has been tugging at hearts and showing us how to rely on Him over and over again. When things don't go according to plan, when I have to be flexible, God comes alongside me and gives me those chances to turn to Him for strength and comfort. 





Love y'all! As always, let me know if there is any way I can be specifically praying for you!





Monday, August 10, 2020

Getting ready for a new year!

    Hello! Since this is the start of the 2020-21 school year, I thought I'd take this chance to catch everyone up on what I do and what we expect this year to look like. If this is your first time on my blog, welcome! 

This is my peer team from last year!

    I am a campus pastor in Denton, specifically the UNT and TWU campuses. I found FOCUS (Fellowship of Christian University Students) at the end of my freshman year of college at UNT. I absolutely love the friends I was able to make as I became more invested in the community. I'm still close friends with many of the people I met during those three years. During my junior and senior year, I had the opportunity to learn more about ministry and serving people by being a corefa. (That's a core facilitator. And cores are our small, same-gendered groups where we learn to live out Scripture together and develop friendships.) I absolutely loved getting to build friendships with the girls in my core as we studied the Bible together and got to hang out around town! I was also invested in and developed as a leader by the campus pastors. That experience meant I grew a ton in my own relationship with God and in helping others pursue Him.

My core at Fall Camp 2016

My core at Winter camp 2018

    As I approached graduation in 2018, God consistently kept nudging me toward ministry. I was studying chemistry to go into forensic science and I care a lot about doing ministry in secular workplaces. But the more I prayed, the more I felt called to stick with FOCUS after I graduated. FOCUS offers an apprenticeship program where post-grads can commit 10 months to on-the-ground ministry with students and student leaders and intense classes that help develop ministry skills. So I got the opportunity to do this! I worked closely with our campus staff to plan events, think pastorally about students and leaders, and learn to guide our community as the Spirit leads us. 

This is the Denton staff I got to work with during my apprenticeship year.

These are the 2018-2019 apprentices I got to have classes with and learn from!

    I really fell in love with ministry during that year and ended up committing to four more years with FOCUS. Last year (2019-2020) was my first year of that commitment. I got to be a corefa again and a peer team leader. (Peer team leaders are usually staff members who lead a group of corefas. The group together is a peer team. I meet with each corefa once a week and we talk through core, leadership, discipleship, and life things together.) I really loved being a corefa again but I think my favorite part is being a peer team leader. I love getting to know these girls who have committed to serving God and their community while they are going through so much growing up in college. They really bless me so much and teach me again and again about faith.

Jess and I put together some care packages for the homeless.

    All that to say, I really am so pumped for the year! We'll face unique challenges as we figure out meeting new people during a pandemic. But the Lord is faithful and He is up to something. Maybe this year isn't about having lots of new faces around, although there is a big need for community right now and I pray that the lonely on campus will find friendship. But maybe this year for all of us is more about God solidifying His people to be ones marked by stability and perseverance. Instead of us finding our stability in routine, maybe God is teaching us to really put our faith in Him. We know that the Lord uses times of suffering to produce perseverance (Romans 5:3-5). This is a time for us to persevere, to really take the opportunities God gives us seriously, and to trust Him with the outcome.

    Already, some surprising blessings have come out of this time. Our plan for the year is to mainly focus on cores, keeping them small and taking the precautions necessary. Because we're limiting their size, we needed more corefas to step up so we could have more cores. Before we could even worry about that, God provided close to 15 more corefas than last year! So many students have more flexible time with online classes that they can commit to leading! Also, TWU tends to have fewer corefas but this year we have almost the same number of women's cores at each campus! I think God is preparing us now to really bless these campuses, and we haven't even started the year yet.

Ways to pray:

Please join me in praying for this year, for the students we need to encounter, and for the leaders God has given us.
Please pray for the universities to communicate their plans quickly and clearly so we can plan accordingly.
Pray for our staff to move with wisdom adn to strike the right balance of caution and boldness.

More about me:

Here's a few quick things you should know about me!
I have a doggo. That's it, that's all you need to know. 



Meet Blue Belle!

    Just kidding! You should also know that I am married to Jon Smith, who I met through FOCUS. We got married a year ago July! Does that mean I'm no longer a newly-wed?



    I'm so very excited to partner with each of you in ministry and to share with you what God does on these campuses. Please always feel free to respond to these updates and let me know how you're doing and how I can be praying for you!

Love y'all!


Here's some other fun photos from ministry life:








Thursday, July 16, 2020

June: Wrestling with God


    I don't have any huge ministry updates for y'all this month. A lot of June has been getting regular time with students, fundraising, and starting to make plans for the school year. God has showed up so much in those things, absolutely! But, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some of the things I've been working through with God this month. 

    In a lot of ways, the Lord seems to be preparing me for this school year, more than he's letting me plan the year. Almost every part of the next year of ministry is going to be unfamiliar in some way. The universities are still in the process of making the tough decisions for what campus life will look like, which means that we're in limbo with some of our decisions. We're in the process of whittling down all of our big, community wide events - those don't seem to be very possible. We won't be able to plan much for our welcome week, a time when we meet so many new freshmen (and that's one of my favorite weeks too!). The main things we'll be doing are cores (with limited group numbers) and one on ones. In a lot of ways, this works out so well! One of our axioms is one on one is how it's done. A big part of our ministry's DNA is to develop personal, deep, discipling relationships. So, small groups and one on ones come naturally to our students. In other ways, that is intimidating to me. I say all the time that me doing ministry is God working through my weakness. I love meeting new people, developing friendships, and growing with people. But, those things don't come easily all the time. Sometimes, I really struggle to be relational. And, gosh, it really is crazy the difference being in person makes! I am really excited for this year and the changes we'll get to experiment with, but it's also a little scary to step into a year so new and strange.  

    What does this have to do with wrestling with God? Well, while I have been preparing for the year, I also have times where I avoid thinking about these things with God. I have this tendency (maybe some of y'all can relate) to value productivity over prayer. I would much rather work on a spreadsheet or make some phone calls instead of praying. I know, that sounds bad - but that's where I'm at. Even when I do spend time talking with God, I find myself wanting a quick fix, an easy solution. So I get discouraged and try to avoid really facing Him. During our online TNF service last week, we talked about Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with God. I was convicted in that moment - I hadn't been taking my fear and trepidation to God. I wasn't engaging with Him and therefore I wasn't going to find peace or change. So I've been trying to engage with the Lord more. Not to feel better or get answers on what we should do, but just to be with Him and to let Him reshape me as He wants to. I'm learning to value that time in prayer and listening to God over the things I could be getting done. God's kingdom work is often slow, small changes over time because heart change is a process. But our God is loving and knows us well enough to know what we need and how much conviction we can take at one time. Praise God he is patient and walks us through change!

    How are y'all doing in this season? How has the Lord been encouraging you? Is there any way I can be praying for you? Let me know!


Ways to Pray:
- Please be in prayer for all college students right now. Some of them are really struggling with the uncertainty of their classes, living situations, and jobs. Pray that this season will be one of all of us finding our stability in the Lord and not in our circumstances.

 
Love y'all!

Reagann







Monday, June 15, 2020

May: Bittersweet Endings

Happy June! 

I've always been a bit nostalgic when it comes to beginnings and endings, firsts and lasts. I take note of every last meeting of the year, every last Bible study with a student, the end of year parties, and the graduations. I also love the start of a new season, especially summer. Summer for our staff means a different pace to spend time fundraising, reflecting on the last year and planning for the next, and investing in our staff's pastoral development. I really love getting to take a step back and engage with ministry in a different way.


One of the lasts was our staff's end of year dinner! We got to be together (mostly at a distance) to celebrate the year. This was also Kristen's last day on our Denton staff. She moved over to the Collin team starting this month so I still get to work with her, just not as closely.

   

We started off June with our own SICM alternative! We wanted to be able to give the students we invited to SICM a chance to grow in their leadership skills so our staff put on our own Summer Leadership Training. So we got people together over Youtube and Zoom for some really great talks and Zoom discussions. I'm so excited for the leaders God is raising up in this generation!


Our church is still meeting virtually so we sometimes sit outside for church. Is anyone else loving the weather?


Jon and I started a garden! Gotta jump on that quarantine hobby train. This half has herbs and tomato plants. We just planted flower seeds on the other side and they're already starting to sprout! It's so fun to watch them grow. This is kind of corny but is this a tiny bit how God feels as we grow?

All in all, what a great start to the summer! God is faithful and walking through this season with our ministry.

Ways to pray:
- Obviously, there is a lot our country is working through with racial tensions. Our students are working through these things too. Please pray for them to seek God's wisdom and heart and for us as pastors to help point them to Jesus.
- I am 80% fundraised - whoa! Thank you guys for your support and prayers. Could you continue to pray for me to raise $600/mo? This would get me to that goal!
- Summer can be a tough time for students and there is so much uncertainty with what next school year will look like. Please pray for them to press into community and to seek God, especially in uncertainty.



Love y'all and praying for you,
Reagann Smith


Thursday, April 30, 2020

April: Zoom Calls and A Doggo

Y'all think I'm kidding but my update is solely Zoom calls and my doggo - because that's how I've spent the last month! 
But seriously, happy May! I've been praying for y'all often and I hope y'all are making the most of this time. Ministry has still been in full swing - just from the comfort of our various couches! In a lot of ways, things have felt pretty normal for me. I've gotten to meet with so many of the people I've been building relationships with this year. I've even been able to add some really fun things to my routine that have made this time even sweeter! Here's pictures to prove it!

Staff meetings are going strong with many a shenanigan. Last week included Kristen changing everyone's names on Zoom without them noticing.

TNF is still a blast! We've been streaming a short sermon through Twitch before we break up into small discussion groups through Zoom. These discussion groups have been so fun! They're completely random so I love getting to interact with students I don't normally see! One week, my group was fascinated when someone said the length of your foot is the same as the length of your forearm. So we put it to the test!

We just had our last official core this week! Even though I would have preferred to finish out the semester with these girls in person, everyone really has made such an effort to stay in touch and connected to community. I was sad that we wouldn't get to meet together, especially since we had just gotten to a point where everyone was becoming friends. But God really has brought so much good in all of this. We've been able to have so many conversations about what it looks like to honor God with everything we do, even with less structure. 
Blue Belle Really likes to be in my lap so sometimes she becomes my desk.

Scribblio has been such a fun hang out after core and TNF! It's essentially a way to play pictionary with a group of friends online. We've been pairing that with a zoom call so we can keep chatting while we make the wildest guesses.


Our corefa team has been working so hard to keep the ball rolling, to minister to the people in their core and really anyone they've met this year. These students have been so faithful to God's kingdom building!
One of the fun, sweet things I've gotten to add to my day is a daily Zoom call with girls from my core. We spend about thirty minutes talking about Scripture. We just finished reading Luke and now we're in Romans!
I also talk with Coral and Jess every morning for about thirty minutes to help our days start out with prayer and encourage us to use our time well. It's been so sweet to get to know them even better in those little glimpses every day! These two things every morning for 8-9 (these girls get up early!) are easily the best part of my work day.
Happy Easter! 
Blue Belle fell asleep like this during church.


Isn't she freaking adorable??
Overall, it really has been a great month and I can't help but praise God for all the ways he's provided for me and the people around me. How are you doing? How has God been providing for you? Is there any specific way I can be praying for you? I'd love to hear from you!



Love y'all!
Reagann Smith




Tuesday, March 31, 2020

March: A New Way of Ministry

I hope this update finds you well. I've been praying for y'all, that you would be resting in God's peace and security in these more uncertain times and that He would make His constant presence known to you. Obviously, a lot has changed over the last month and campus ministry has had to change with it - but God has been so good and is still doing His kingdom work. So, here's what we've been up to!

Pre-coronavirus quarantine

Having a dog is great for ministry! My peer team loves having our time constantly interrupted with Blue Belle begging for cuddles and pets!

Crystal tends to fidget a lot so playing with blue Belle's ear kept her hands busy while we talked.

Blue Belle wanted in on our peer team discussion. We're starting to read a book together called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. This season is a great to to read a book!

On one of our last days before switching to virtual everything, Coral and I wen to the dog park for some strong tugs with Blue Belle.
We also had a fundraiser for SICM students. A few students and I made our community pancakes with all the toppings! It was so sweet to see everyone come out and support these students. Obviously, SICM is a little uncertain right now. No decision has been made to cancel as of right now as everyone waits to see how things continue to unfold. 



Claire had never made pancakes before - but she killed it!


How my ministry has changed

At UNT and TWU, schools basically didn't come back after Spring Break. The week after Spring Break was an extended week of no classes as the schools figured out what steps to take. We tried to do as many of our normal things as possible that week. That Friday our staff made the call to go completely virtual. So, our one on ones, peer team meeting, cores, and Thursday Night Fellowships needed to flex a lot. Last week, as the schools switched to online, we had our first run at that ourselves and it actually went way better than I expected! Students have been so patient and understanding as we make those adjustments and those video call platforms has been an incredible resource! For TNF, we did a live-streamed mini sermon over Twitch before breaking up into smaller Google Hangout groups for discussion. Y'all, we were totally expecting that to be a hot mess, with so much confusion and technical difficulties. But it really wasn't! People seemed to know what was happening and technical issues were really minimal. The smaller groups seemed to really facilitate connection among people who don't regularly talk, because everyone was mixed up. It'll get smoother as we go, but so far so good! 

Our core over facing uncertainty and looking to Jesus.

Our small group at TNF talking about Philippians 3 and what it means to count everything as nothing compared to knowing Jesus intimately.

Overall, God has enabled our ministry to be flexible and make changes necessary to continue ministering to these students. While I don't want to discount the fear and sickness in the world, I have seen God's sovereignty more and more the last couple of weeks. It seems like he's slowing us down, prompting us to reflect on so many things. I've been thinking through what is necessary to do ministry - and it's not a lot. Community can happen in isolation, especially with the technology we have access to. I've already seen God providing for the students who will struggle financially. My peer team is also going through this spiritual disciplines article, and we have time to start practicing some of those disciplines, to build tools for seeking intimacy with God. This extra time has been such a blessing, although difficult. 

I'd love to know, how has God used this time to minister to you? Is there any specific way I can be praying for you? 


Love y'all lots!
Reagann Smith

Friday, March 13, 2020

February: Showcase and a Surprise

Wow, March has really gotten away from me already! I'm so sorry my February update is late, but here it is! I'll be keeping this update to stuff that happened in February, but I also have a surprise at the end from this week! Since February was so short, Showcase overtook the month! Remember, Showcase is our yearly fundraiser to help send some of our students to SICM - a disciple-making leadership conference up in Washington. We put on a show packed with various musical and comedy performances given by students, FOCUS alumni, staff, and people from outside our little community. We also put on an art sale where people donate their art - paintings, calligraphy, woodwork, crocheting, food, and more. Showcase was such a success this year! We still aren't sure exactly how much we raised. but I'll update y'all on that next month. But I heard multiple times how this show was our best one yet! We had a lot of great performers and they worked so hard to serve these SICM students. Here are some pics Sean Do captured of the show.


Sweet Clarissa, a Denton leader who brings so much life and energy wherever she goes.

Sirak, one of our staff members over at Richland and a very talented musician.
Ana (middle) performing with her mom and aunt.

The art show also went well! I worked with the team on this so I felt incredibly invested (and only a little stressed) in this part of Showcase.  We had a lot of really gifted artists donate some great pieces and we sold almost everything! It really was pretty challenging and intimidating for me to be one of the main people running this part - this was my first year doing that. But I was so encouraged by everyone's willingness to jump in and help, and they were so sweet too. We had a lot of the SICM students volunteer to help out the show. What a hard-working, grateful group we have this year!

This isn't the best picture but Aaron Hollingsworth made this piece for us to raffle off. We ended up making $1,200 off this piece alone!

Ashlie, a UTA student hand-painted these Bibles and journals!

 
This piece probably went the fastest. This is a Bible Project poster, signed by Tim and Jon themselves! 
My sweet mama made delicious cupcakes! Thanks mama!
Overall, what a sweet, encouraging, exhausting day. Thank you to everyone who was able to pitch in in some way - that means so much!

Speaking of SICM students, meet Bo. 
I just had to share this story with y'all. Bo is an international student we are sending to SICM. I've been working with him on fundraising but it's a little complicated because his parents are back in Hong Kong. They send him lump sums once or twice a year to cover his schooling and housing but it's hard for him to plan out his finances this way. He doesn't know really anyone in the US except for people in FOCUS to ask for help fundraising. So I walked him through his budget and what he was spending. We found that he could save a decent amount if he would severely cut down on eating out (typical for college students). He's been so motivated to save up money that he said he wouldn't eat out at all. After a fundraising session with a number of students, we all went out to Chick-Fil-A for lunch. Bo decided this would be his last Chick-Fil-A for a while. This is him very sad, eating his last few bites of chicken. He was being dramatic and funny here - this kid definitely makes me laugh! Since then, I think he's stuck to his plan for the most part, at least only eating out a third of what he used to.

If you would like to support these SICM students and help them raise the money they need, feel free to go to anyfocus.org/sicm and donate to the Denton campuses. 

Surprise!
I know you've been anxiously reading to get to my surprise! Here she is! Meet Blue Belle, the newest addition to our family. She is a 3 year old blue pit mix and I'm already obsessed with her! She is so sweet and cuddly, not aggressive at all, and a great listener. So far, she seems great with people and dogs and responds really well to our commands when she knows what we want. She's settling in great!





Ways to Pray:
- Pray for our SICM trip in May. Obviously Coronavirus is a concern and something we're keeping an eye on. Pray firstly, for those sick to get well and for a quick dissipation in general. But for the trip, pray that we would not have to cancel the trip and that things would calm down. Pray for worried parents and anxious students to be cautious but not to let fear rule them.
- Pray for students like Bo who are fundraising. Pray that God would provide for them as they learn to trust in Him.



Love y'all,
Reagann Smith