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University of Oregon


'Discipleship is relationship'

By Ashli K. O’Connell

There’s hardly a cloud in the blue sky above Eugene, Ore. — unusual for a Saturday in April. It’s still and quiet at the University of Oregon, where a small group has gathered around a campus swimming pool. Suddenly music fills the air as campus pastor Jack Hammond leads the 30 or so gathered in joyful worship choruses.

Campus pastor Jack Hammond baptizes Troy Mucken in a University of Oregon swimming pool.

 

Many in the group have driven two hours from Portland to be here. Others have come from the dorms. All are here to support 19-year-old Troy Mucken, who is about to be baptized.

As Hammond and Mucken descend into the waters of the makeshift baptismal, tears are visible on several faces. This event is the culmination of years of prayer. "I had been praying for Troy since my junior year of high school," says freshman Tara Leedy. "The baptism was as awesome as any I have ever seen."

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University of Oregon: ‘Discipleship is relationship’

After the baptism, the group explodes in applause.

"It was very special," says Mucken. "God brought everybody I loved together to see me get baptized, and it was such a beautiful day. It was the support I needed."

Mucken has come a long way since his high school days in Portland. He did not grow up attending church, though he had many Christian friends and admired the genuine joy he saw in their lives. Because of those relationships, he grappled with the idea of making a commitment to Christ, but didn’t do it.

"I wasn’t sure I was interested in being a Christian," he says. "It was hard. I didn’t know how it would affect my relationship with my other friends."

He worked on Sundays and turned down invitations to church. "Money was too important to me. I wouldn’t miss a chance to work." What he didn’t know was that his Christian friends and many of their parents were praying fervently that he would find Christ. They had been praying for years.

In June of Mucken’s senior year in high school he made a last-minute decision to apply to the University of Oregon. "I had planned all along on attending Portland State," he says. "But some friends talked me into UO. I couldn’t believe I was able to get in." In retrospect, Mucken sees it as a move of God. "That’s something God did to bring me to Him."

Once on campus, Mucken began hanging out with some friends from high school who had become involved in Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship. He attended occasional social events with the group and began building a relationship with Hammond, who was rebuilding the Chi Alpha ministry from scratch.

"Jack never put me on the spot, which was important to me," says Mucken. The two developed a fast friendship as Hammond and the Chi Alpha students continued to pray for him.

Mucken was finally drawn to church on Super Bowl Sunday. A party had been planned after the service, and Mucken agreed to attend for the first time in his life.

He was overcome with emotion during the service. "I almost started crying during worship," he says. "Then I almost started crying during the preaching."

He went back the next week. And this time he made a decision to follow Christ for the rest of his life. He had found for himself the genuine happiness he had seen in his Christian friends.

"It’s so much easier to get through the days now knowing that I have God on my side," he says. "There’s just something different about every day. I have that happiness now."

Since that life-changing Sunday in January, Mucken has immersed himself in the UO Chi Alpha group — a group that started in the fall of 2000 with no students.

Hammond, 28, and his wife, Renee, first came to Eugene in 1998, certain that God had called them to serve at the University of Oregon. Two weeks after moving into an apartment that they couldn’t afford — and not knowing a soul in Oregon — Hammond was rushed to the hospital with an acute case of Crohn’s disease. He spent two weeks in the hospital and was in bed recovering for the next three months. "This is how our lives in Oregon started," he says. "Renee and I still ask ourselves why we stayed."

Once Jack was back on his feet, the Hammonds spent two years itinerating to raise their budget. In the fall of 2000, they were ready to launch their Chi Alpha ministry.

Hammond’s passion for reaching students stems from his own college experience, when he came to Christ through a Chi Alpha connection as a freshman at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. "I was in my dorm room and two gals came in and invited me to Chi Alpha," he says. "I thought it was a frat party, so I agreed to go. It was a powerful service and I literally thought I had walked into a cult." He left with no intention to return.

But the next day a Chi Alpha intern visited his dorm room and offered to explain some of the things Hammond had seen. "I was curious enough to talk to him," he says. "I got involved in a small-group Bible study, and eventually I was confronted with the issue of who Jesus was and came to realize that there was no one else He could have been except who He said He was."

Hammond now uses that same style of relationship evangelism to reach students at the University of Oregon.

Starting from scratch, Hammond used every method in the book to begin meeting students. Initially he invited 67 students to meet with him for coffee; 34 took him up on the offer. From that group, six students indicated an interest to be involved, and three followed through.

Those three students embraced Hammond’s vision. They focused strongly on building relationships. "A phrase we constantly use is ‘discipleship is relationship,’ " says Hammond. "We believed that if we loved one another, students would come to find God. We didn’t focus on programs, the meeting room or sound equipment, just investing in relationships. And the Lord added to our numbers daily."

Hammond, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, is working toward a second bachelor’s degree so he can sit side-by-side with the students he is trying to reach. He and Renee bought a home next to the university so students have easy access to them. He meets with students regularly for coffee to talk one-on-one.

The Chi Alphans meet weekly in cell groups, where they share praise reports and prayer requests, worship together and study the Bible. After Sunday church services, many of the students gather at the Hammonds’ home for lunch. They talk about the Sunday service together and then often head to the park for Frisbee or a game of baseball. Cell group members commonly get together throughout the week, finding in each other emotional and spiritual support as well as a respite from the demands of college life.

"My goal is to equip these students to grow their cell groups," says Hammond. "To help them love each other and be productive in the kingdom of God."

Students like Mucken and Leedy share the vision and believe with Hammond’s leadership and God’s help they can do something significant on the University of Oregon campus.

"Chi Alpha means lasting relationships," says Leedy. "A lasting relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And also with my friends in Chi Alpha as well as my campus pastors and their families."


Ashli K. O’Connell is assistant editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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