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Thursday

On campus in Bozeman, Montana

The campus at Montana State University in Bozeman is busy with students walking to class and riding bicycles over patches of snow. Students with backpacks go in and out of stately brick buildings, including the library where many are studying, reading newspapers and working on computers. A corkboard bears flyers advertising everything from parties to Buddhist meditation seminars.

Outdoors, on the central mall, members of University Christian Fellowship (the name for the Chi Alpha group here) are tuning their guitars and preparing for a time of open-air worship, preaching and evangelism.

This is their Spring Invasion, a time of focused outreach, says Dick Schroeder, the jolly, bearded leader of UCF. Schroeder believes relationship evangelism is the key to reaching college students.

"We’re dealing with postmodern thought," he says. "The old apologetics do not work. But people respond to the spirit in which you’re speaking. They respond to authenticity."

The UCF students start singing, then perform skits. Other students walk by with backpacks, briefcases and plates of salad. Some ignore the message. Others stop to listen. Some mock: "Shut up!" Others smirk and laugh.

Dick starts preaching, hands in his pockets, face beaming.

"The solution for a guilty conscience is relationship with Jesus Christ. We can’t undo the effects of a dirty conscience. There’s no amount of good works. All you have to do is come to Jesus. He says if you come to Him and admit that you’re wrong, He’ll give you newness of life … Jesus can turn you into the person God has destined you to be."

The UCF people start conversations with several students. One wants to know how to prove God is real. Another, dressed in a suede jacket and wearing headphones, states his beliefs forcefully. They seem willing to give the gospel a hearing.

Schroeder and his wife, Joy, have been here for 25 years. Dick was saved while studying engineering at MSU, and God called him to the campus. "God spoke to me from Psalm 2:8: ‘Ask of me, and I will surely give the nations as thy inheritance,’" Dick says. "Then it was like God took a yellow marker, circled the campus and said, ‘Take the campus as your inheritance, and I will send people to the nations from MSU.’ Now, 25 years later, I’ve seen substantial fulfillment of the dream. People from here are influencing nations."

Landon Garsjo, 20, is a sophomore studying pre-veterinarian biology, and one of 120 students who are part of UCF.

"I grew up in the church, but God was not real to me," she says. "Both my stepfathers served time in prison. I got saved between high school and college, but knew that if I were to change I would have to get myself into a Christian group. I saw a flyer for UCF and came to the meeting. Immediately, someone befriended me. That made the difference for me coming back."

Garsjo was baptized in water and in the Holy Spirit during a UCF retreat. Once painfully shy, she now helps with evangelism and dramas.

"When I first got saved, I never imagined I’d be where I am," she says.

Matt White, 18, wants to study computer animation. He was raised in a Christian home and homeschooled from kindergarten through high school.

"For four years I coasted through church," he says. "Then I jumped into UCF. They take God very seriously. In college, especially on a secular campus, you’re either one of us or one of them. UCF loves the people around them, but they don’t become one of them. They try to get them to become one of us. For a long time I didn’t have Christian friends. Coming here has pushed me from accepting my parents’ faith as my own, to wanting it for myself. This has been a time for me to put the past behind me and go for God. I’ve been figuring out my purpose in the body of Christ. That’s something I’ve always wondered about."

Training Rangers in Pensacola, Florida

Loud rap music pulsates through the air. The sun is descending over the Attucks Court Housing Projects. In a classroom at nearby Fricker Recreational Center, 23 boys await the start of the Royal Rangers meeting. As Commander Mike Simmons goes to the podium, the boys — most 11 years old or younger — sit up straight. Silence seizes the room.

"Aten-hut," shouts Simmons.

The boys stand and snap to attention.

"Whose army are we in?" Simmons asks, drill sergeantlike.

"God’s army," the boys yell back.

For nine years Simmons, a police officer, has been running Royal Rangers outreaches in Pensacola’s projects.

"God has worked through the Royal Rangers program," he says. "If you can make inroads with these guys while they are children, you can make a difference in their lives."

"The most significant thing that happens in our church happens on the streets where people from our church are touching other people," says Jim Hale, pastor of Pensacola First Assembly of God. "For many of these kids, this is their only chance to meet Christ. The seeds sown can’t be replaced by anything else — so we keep sowing."

On a ball field, the boys march in lockstep. Half of them wear the olive drab shirt and bright blue beret that make up part of the Royal Rangers uniform. Simmons says if a boy comes three weeks in a row he earns the right to wear the uniform for an evening.

"I am getting my uniform next week," says a 10-year-old boy. "I will feel proud when I get it because I’ll finally be a Royal Ranger, and when I am 14 I can be a Trailblazer."

Terry, father of two of the boys here tonight, says Royal Rangers is making a difference in the children’s lives.

"Some of the boys only come for the uniform," he says. "But the uniform gives the volunteers a chance to tell the boys about Jesus."

The boys file back into the classroom against the backdrop of distant sirens. Inside, Simmons and the other volunteers discuss last year’s camp-out before a devotional is shared. When the meeting ends, the uniforms are returned to the lockers. As the boys pile into the church vans, 12-year-old T.J. explains why he comes each week.

"I get to learn about God," he says, "and how to camp and tie ropes, but mostly I come to learn about God."

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