First Newsletter!

Yay, I got my first newsletter written and sent! If you’re interested in receiving them, please tell me your email, and I’ll add you to the mailing list!

…And I’ll probably remember to post the url’s here, so here it is:

https://mailchi.mp/9d721a03ce4c/first-newsletter

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My IV Announcement Letter!!

Yay! Here I go beginning the string of official public announcements/updates about my work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship!

Without further ado:

Zach’s IV Announcement Letter.pdf

I’d love to hear back from you all and start a conversation about IV, my work with them, or just ministry in general!

Many Transitions Much Excitement

During the past 14 months, life seemed to crawl at a snail’s pace, but now that I’ve found a good ministry fit, those months feel like very little time at all. It reminds me of doing plank exercises. I’d only plank for double digit seconds, but the time during it seemed like foooorever.

But now I’m finding my place in life! My little, tiny cog in the great scheme of God’s plan for the world! I’m not really sure who’s benefiting more in this relationship, but I’m taking that as a good sign! I love spending more and more time with the OU (University of Oklahoma) students and the IV (InterVarsity) staff! I feel served by them. I earnestly hope (and according to their feedback) I am serving them.

Since I’ve been brought on as full-time staff with IV (beginning as a 1-yr intern for the 18-19 school year), I guess this blog has transitioned from me searching for my mission field to updates on how my time with IV is going… And it’s going well!

There are many new and exciting transitions this internship is prompting! Because IV staff are expected to be fully funded via financial giving, I’ll be doing a lot of MPD (Ministry Partner Development)(IV prefers this over the term “fundraising” because “fundraising” is a broad enough word that it could invoke feelings of begging for a handout or that the givers are seen as some sort of impersonal ATM… I don’t really have enough experience to agree/disagree with this choice, but I very much trust IV leadership, so I’ll roll with it.).

And because I’m transitioning into full-time work with IV at OU, it makes a whole lot of sense to move close to campus (I’ll miss my parents’ farm some, but it’ll only be about a 40 minute drive away).

And because interns typically don’t start drawing money from their account until August, I decided to look for a part-time summer job to allow me to move to Norman earlier. And it seems like God provided with this too! I’ve been hired for a summer job at a marina pumping gas for boats at a nearby, popular lake. I’m mildly shocked they still hired me despite telling them some scheduled events will prevent me from working the proposed schedule… But, I just estimated the days, it looks like I’ll only miss 2 of 29 work days, so I guess that’s not too crazy?

tl;dr: I’m excited for several new things: move to Norman, work a part-time, summer job at a lake, and start doing full-time college ministry!

Excited to Pursue Two Different Mission Fields!

Since the beginning of October, I’ve been volunteering with InterVarsity’s (IV) college ministry at the University of Oklahoma (OU), and it has been great! There are well over a hundred students that participate (ranging from just attending to being a Student Leader responsible for running a piece of the ministry activities), so there’s pretty much always someone that wants prayer, listen to their struggles, study the Bible, share a meal, or just help set up dozens of clipboards, printouts, name-tags, dishes washed, etc.!

IV is a giant organization. It spans across the country and partners with international organizations throughout the world. Yet, already, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with several people in the “upper-echelons” of their leadership. I use quotation marks there because they were exceedingly humble, focused on trying to expand and develop God’s Kingdom (as opposed to, say, the IV Empire), full of love, full of patience (something I need more of and people who interact with me need more of), they literally sat next to me to share a meal, and I genuinely felt like they cared about me as the person I am instead of angling their time spent with me for some sort of gain. Two things they did not do: 1) They did not lecture me about the kind of people they are looking for, or how I should expect to “climb up the organization’s career ladder,” or even that they felt compelled to give me solutions to my life. 2) And after I told them I’m currently looking into two different career paths (full-time IV or just part-time volunteer while pursuing teaching college math), they did not try to convince me to the effect of, “Well, we’re really looking for committed Christ followers who will go all-in and not be wishy-washy about doing ministry,” or what have you. I felt like they listened, were not trying to persuade me, and wanted to encourage me regardless which choice I make! Furthermore, in one of their presentations, they mentioned they want to develop curriculum for developing “bi-vocational” volunteers. That means there’s not as much stress in my decision-making because if I pursue IV only as a part-time volunteer, they have already realized the possibility and have already been working on providing the appropriate structure for it!

And the other big possibility I’m pursuing is that of being a college math teacher! Back in college, I enjoyed the year of algebra tutoring I did for OSU’s Math Dept. I also enjoyed my math classes quite a bit, but I went for the engineering degrees because I figured, “It’s easier to get a job with an engineering degree than a math degree.” And seeing as I got a scholarship and engineering job lined up years before graduating, I don’t seem wrong… Yet looking back, I regret pursuing a better chance at getting a job instead of pursuing the classes that interested me more.

Additionally, since graduation, I have informally tutored several friends and acquaintances with their various math classes. I have enjoyed it immensely! (Even to the point of saying “doing math problems is therapeutic to me!”) In talking to them about their classes and teachers, they have suggested I should be a teacher, and I feel like I could become a pretty good teacher! As for the ministry component, I feel like becoming a college math teacher would bring me to a missions field where I can effectively reach out, not just to a lot of students, but also to college faculty!

So next steps, right?

In pursuit of IV staff, I will be continuing to volunteer a lot of hours at OU. Since I started too late last semester, this will be my first semester helping with the New Student Outreach which is a very big part of IV’s outreach. Additionally, sometime in January, I plan on attempting to do ministry fundraising! Even as a volunteer, I have an account with IV, so ministry partners can donate to my account, and those funds can be used for a wide variety of expenses: costs to attend staff conferences/retreats, purchase books for myself and students, or even just gas money to help me drive around the state to visit with students on their break. I figure if God wants me to do this full-time, he’ll provide some good, clear signs.

In pursuit of being a college math teacher, I will rewrite my resume, write some cover letters, contact the various colleges in OKC (and nearby towns) to figure out if I already meet the requirements to apply for their adjunct teaching positions for their Math-Prep (Pre-Algebra) classes, or if I’ll need to take a teaching certification test (some of the listings are ambiguous). I’d rather teach any subject from Algebra to Calc 3, but most (probably every) colleges require a master’s degree for teaching at that level. But before I go spending the years, money, and effort on a master’s degree, I figured teaching a semester of Pre-Algebra will give me a better idea if I would enjoy a career in collegiate teaching!

Of course, the over-arching disclaimer to this post is that it’s pretty common practice for the Holy Spirit to say, “Yeah, I know you’ve made plans for your future, but here’s something I want you to do instead that’s completely unexpected!” So through all of this, I’m trying to still be praying and mindful of what God wants me to do!

God Preempts Me Being a Hypocrite

The past three or so weeks have been hard, emotionally. I’ve slowly been growing more and more frustrated, bitter, and burned-out. I have a large number of acquaintances and surface-level friends, and I’ve been trying really hard to develop those relationships into something deeper so I can pour myself into them, and they into me… But no success. We’re talking well over 20 times of asking, “hey could we get dinner sometime,” a mass invite to everyone to go on a hike next weekend, or even just a text message saying, “how’s life going? Is there anything I can pray for you?” And I’ve gotten a mixture of no response, “no, sorry, I’m too busy with x, y, or z,” or my favorite, “sure I can!” and then a few hours before we’re supposed to hang out, “so sorry! But something came up I need to do, so I can’t make our thing.”

It appears to me that all these 20-somethings are too busy for others. They’ve scheduled so much stuff, and are so dedicated to their schedule, they don’t have time for deep, healthy friendships.

So before I get to explaining the post’s title, let me quote this amazing, amazing, great book I’ve been reading. Third Culture Kids by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken.

(This is about when we move to another place and are a newcomer there.) “Even with an initial warm welcome, we may discover it’s not as easy as we thought it would be to make close friends. Circles of relationships among our new acquaintances are already well defined and most people aren’t looking to fill a vacant spot in such a circle. It’s easy to become resentful and begin to withdraw.”

So as I’m having a quiet time Sunday morning, I think God gave me clarity about my situation. Here I am complaining about my new Christian friends not loving me “in deed and in truth,” (see 1 John 3:18) but yet I have been pursuing more and more stuff to fill up my own schedule! Thanks be to God for revealing this before I, too, turn down someone else who wants to talk on the basis of, “sorry, I’m too busy!” So I realized I need to make sure to keep some time in my week open for developing relationships! So I needed to cut some stuff out of my week. The three big time commitments are InterVarsity (college ministry), Spero’s The Common (refugee ministry), and my church (specifically, serving on Sundays, attending their various seminars/trainings, and being part of a small group). After praying and thinking about it, I decided to drop the one which was causing me to feel the most depressed: involvement with my church.

Since then, I’ve felt so much better! So much more peace of mind! God is so good!

So quick update: I should be volunteer staff with InterVarsity as soon as all the paperwork gets processed! I’ve been trained to back up the trailer they use to haul all their equipment for Thursday night’s big, weekly event. I am about 90% sure I won’t run over anyone now, so that’s good 😉 . I’m still helping the refugee kids with their homework, and teaching the adults English! And now I have more free time to invest in my family as well as have time where I’m available for whoever wants to hang out and talk! God is good!

My Testimony

(Disclaimer: This is my first post on this blog that isn’t specifically an update on my ministry pursuits… But I want to post my testimony here because I’ve been sharing it with a lot of different people, but about half the time either me or the person I’m talking to has a time restraint that prohibits telling it in its entirety. So by posting it here, I can at least just share the url for them to read it later at their own leisure… Though I wouldn’t say this covers it 100% as I will leave a few details (like names of people/places) out because the reader could potentially be anyone.)

My parents were Christians before my older sister or I were born. So I grew up well-versed in American Christian culture. I went to church most every Sunday. I knew a lot of the Bible stories. I had some head knowledge of who God is and some stuff he cares about. My dad’s work moved us around the country a lot. In late 2001 we moved to Alaska, and by early 2002 we had bought a house to live in. I’m about 11.5 years old at this time. The house was completely empty as we had yet to get the movers to deliver our stuff, and my parents and sister had to run an errand (like to a hardware store or something, I don’t remember where). And so I was asked to stay in the house while they run the errand.

I was reading a kids book at the time. It’s part of the Kingdom Tales series (by David and Karen Mains). It’s a bunch of allegorical short stories that are loosely connected into an overall allegory of God’s history-spanning redemptive plan for humanity. I was old enough that I knew what an allegory was (having read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a couple years prior and discussing it with my parents), and I was clearly aware what I was reading was about Jesus. So when I got the part of the book where the Jesus character makes a deal with the Satan character to trade his life for the lives of the dirty, messed up people under Satan’s rule, the Holy Spirit hit me like a bolt. Alone in this empty house, I laid down and cried because God showed me that I was one of those messed up people that Jesus died for. So I prayed asking Jesus to be the king of my heart, and I consider that moment to be when God saved me!

We were still settling down and looking for a church to call home, so it was a few months later at our church’s 4th of July celebration cookout that my pastor baptized me in a typical, beautiful, leech-infested, Alaskan lake! I didn’t get a leech, but my pastor did! (But he also was in the water a lot longer baptizing more than just me.)

So the general, spiritual story of my life from 12 through High School is that I became a pretty hard-hearted Pharisee. I read a decent chunk of the Bible. Attended church and church events regularly. Almost all my friends were “good Christian boys and girls.” I avoided those sins I thought were the bad ones like porn, drugs, alcohol, and cussing. I was very judgemental and looked down at all those degenerate idiots from my tall, self-built stool of morality (not to mention my supposed superior intellect). In High School I would read my Bible in public not because I wanted to know what was on the page, but that I wanted others to see me. Somehow I got too absorbed in my own morality and intelligence.

So college was a rude awakening (started the Summer of 2008). It took me to a much bigger world than little town High School. I was confronted with the reality that I was not nearly the most morally upright person around. Nor was I nearly the most intelligent person around. It was quite the self-identity shock. Add to it that most of the people around me were not the good ol’ church kids crowd, and so I had a lot to come to terms with… And unfortunately I didn’t turn to God in this change of my life… At least not the majority of my life. Sure, I still occasionally went to church, tried to act more like my old self around my family, and went to a few Bible studies and Christian small groups. But for the most part my philosophy was, “I have a lot of freedom in deciding what I want to do… Let’s pursue things that I think would be fun.” So I call my college years my “prodigal son” years, and I picked up several bad habits (to put it gently).

So after graduation was another rude awakening. I graduated in the Spring of 2013 with a job lined up after graduation. By the Summer I moved to another state away from all my family and friends, and was pretty lonely. At first I tried to replicate the hedonistic parts of my college lifestyle, but it just seemed empty. One weekend morning I was sitting on my couch just thinking about my life, and then the Holy Spirit hit like a bolt again. I actually fell off my couch! And while I’m laying there with my face in the carpet, I felt God saying in a stern voice, “Is this really what you want for your life? Is this how you want to waste it?”… Wow, did that humble me! I kinda just gave a pathetic, timid, loser-sounding, “…no…”

So I realized I need to start living my life for God a lot more. I needed some Christian friends to help encourage and grow me. I also needed a Church home. So I went to the biggest two churches in town and asked to join their young adult Bible studies. I met some good people and made some good friendships! However, I wasn’t sold on those two churches themselves. They had issues that bothered me enough that I wouldn’t allow myself to be under their pastors’ authority. I started going to other churches in town to find where I should be. After searching and still not finding, I talked to the leader of one of those two aforementioned young adult Bible studies. I told him how I was feeling, and he said I should try this small, small church on the edge of town. I went and felt like God wanted me there! So I got more and more involved with this small church of (probably) less than 30 people!

Somewhere between 1-2 years of attending this church, we are now at early November of 2016. The church AC/heater had recently broke. The pastor stood up in front of us and said, “You all know how I hate asking you for money, but we need about $2,000 to fix this. Will anyone give or pledge to give any amount towards it?” And I was sitting there thinking how I could easily write a check for the full amount without making a dent in my bank account because I’m single, cost of living was cheap, my salary was good, and I didn’t have the habit of spending too frivolously (probably up to debate, I’m sure, but let’s not get side-tracked). But then the Holy Spirit quieted me down and put the phrase, “Give until it hurts,” in my heart and my brain. And immediately after that, it reminded me of when Jesus pointed out (to his disciples) the widow who donated her last two coins (Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4). (There were also a couple of Francis Chan videos that were rattling around my brain.) So I spent that week fasting and praying about it, and at the end of it, I called up my parents, pastor, and a few other close Christian confidants to tell them, “I think God wants me to quit my job and pursue ministry.”

We’re now getting into the more recent events of my life (quite a few captured on this blog already), so no need to go into extreme detail… Suffice to say, I started searching for ministry opportunities, and felt like there was a logical time in March (2017) to quit my job, so I did. I moved back to the Oklahoma City area to live on the farm my parents recently purchased and moved to. I help my parents with the farm work. I occasionally help my sister with her family (they also live in the OKC area). And I’m trying to volunteer a lot with different ministries to see what I should be doing with my life. As one friend recently put it, “So you’re just throwing different ministry ideas at the wall and seeing which ones stick?” Exactly.

The Holy Spirit is notorious at leading you in ways you weren’t predicting, so this prediction is likely not indicative of what will actually happen, but my prediction is that I will keep volunteering at different things until I find a ministry that I really enjoy and am passionate about. And then I’ll move into a cheap apartment nearby, grab some part-time job to help pay the bills, and work that ministry until I figure out how to get paid/raise support to do it full-time for the foreseeable future!

Some Things are Happening! Yay!

So my last post was a bit of me being impatient and depressed about having to wait for organizations to get around to bringing me on as a volunteer… And now that some things are happening, I feel like I have to say the following despite it being agonizingly trite and insipid: some things are worth waiting for. There I said some dumb inspirational Instagram fluff… But it is true in this case. I love volunteering with the refugees! Teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) is fun, you make friends with people from all sorts of places and walks of life, and their lives humble you and remind you of how dangerously comfy and complacent you are as an American (I’m a rich, white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant man, no less! All I need is a full head of hair, be a few inches taller, and a little more athletic, and I’ll be at the optimum potential for ultimate happiness, right? (hint: sarcasm)).

I also help tutor the refugee school kids with their homework and reading, and I like that too! Compared to the other school-aged work I’ve done, they’re decently well-behaved (except for sometimes being hyper and needing to go run around outside for a few minutes, but that’s to be expected), and I feel like the parents appreciate us volunteers a whole lot!

Another area where the wait was worth it is college ministry! I had an amazingly encouraging 1-on-1 “coffee talk” (in quotes because I technically don’t like coffee) with a pretty great director of college ministry for the states of OK and AR! I feel blessed and loved by this man for sacrificing multiple hours of his busy, busy life just to chat with me about getting into the college ministry world. I’ve already attended one event since (and am going to another one tonight!), and I’m pretty sure it’s something I should pursue. I don’t currently know if this will turn out to be my life-long, full-time calling or not, but even just “getting my feet wet” in college ministry will grow me in some areas I’m discovering I’m desperately weak in… Which contrasts with helping the refugees quite well! The refugees’ stories and scars humble me and break my heart. The rich college kids’ (I know the stereotype is “poor college kid,” but it probably doesn’t take very much money (whether tied in assets or cash on hand) to put you in the top 50 percentile of wealth in the world… I found one website that says this number is $2200.) stories of struggle tempt me to pridefully think, “Go get some real problems before whining to me…” So yeah, there’s an area of my life that has a glaring lack of compassion, so I’m hoping volunteering with college ministry will help me with this (and similar issues).

In other news, I have made the much needed switch from volunteering with the Kindergarten class to a 5th grade class (this isn’t refugee-related, but an entirely different organization I mentioned in my last post). Both the kids and the volunteers I work with are pretty awesome! Us volunteers are keeping emails going between us to strategize how we can improve our work and time with the kids. And the kids are remembering us, really like hanging out with us, and I think we’re making a positive impact in their lives! Also, this class actually has a teacher (the Kindergarten class is in a sad state of rotating substitutes), and we’re building a relationship with her, and hopefully we are helping alleviate some of the stress in her busy, underpaid, underappreciated life.

In the realm of video game ministry that I’ve been kicking around and strategizing, I think I’m honing in on a marriage of several of my hobbies and interests in a missional way. I want to try spending a few hours a week doing a stream on Twitch. These scheduled times would like open-office tutoring sessions where viewers who need help with math or physics homework can post their problems, and I’ll pause whatever game I’m playing, break out my white board, and walk through solving the problem and what important concepts they need to keep in mind. The missional component is that my About Me description states my love for God and invites people to talk to me about it.

So a lot of interesting stuff brewing these days! Feel free to send me your thoughts and advice! Love ya and God bless!