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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Training Ground

By John W. Kennedy
Sept. 30, 2012

It seemed brutally unfair.

After years of sexual activity outside of marriage, the young woman made a commitment to sexual purity when she became a Christian. Then, following a company party, she accepted a ride home from a man she trusted. He raped her, and gave her a sexually transmitted disease in the process.

Today, Kay Lewis is vivacious, humorous and outspoken. But when she talks with students at North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo and Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM), she is honest about past pain.

She teaches that God can restore purity, transparently talking about the rape, relating how two older male relatives molested her for six years while she was growing up, and telling students she cohabited for four years before becoming a Christian.

It’s the kind of talk a godly parent might give a wayward teen, and for Kay and husband Brad, parental roles feel natural. They lead Chi Alpha ministries on both campuses as though they are Mom and Dad.

Brad says 1 Thessalonians 2:7,8 guides their ministry: “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (NASB).

“These verses correct my attitude every day,” says Lewis, 54. “A lot of people want to impart the gospel, but not impart their lives.”

That philosophy would certainly resonate among leaders and students at any one of the 304 U.S. Chi Alpha chapters. Since J. Calvin Holsinger started the first Chi Alpha group in 1953 on the campus of Missouri State University (in Springfield), campus ministers and student leaders have been creating a family atmosphere through the Assemblies of God-sponsored outreach to secular colleges and universities. Within that accepting environment, thousands of young people have discovered and embraced the gospel.

But Chi Alpha offers more than a salvation invitation. Life’s toughest issues get a Christ-focused fair hearing, and students encounter honest, unflinching answers.

Soon after the rape, Kay started attending First Assembly of God in Fargo and began volunteering at the church. During pastoral counseling, a pastor asked if she had forgiven the man who assaulted her. She had not, and the pastor explained that to truly follow Christ required that kind of forgiveness. When Kay attended a revival service at the church, she went to the altar sobbing uncontrollably, and felt a perfect peace and cleansing come over her as she realized she truly had forgiven her rapist.

Her doctor later confirmed she had been miraculously healed of the STD.

“God took away my bitterness, anger and hurt,” says Kay, who was able to naturally deliver two children, Daniel and Rachel, now teenagers. “There are lots of people hurting, but God restores purity.”

Relational restoration

Brad and Kay do double duty as Chi Alpha campus pastors at NDSU as well as MSUM, campuses separated by the Red River and only 5 miles apart. Although Fargo is North Dakota’s largest city, with a population of 105,549, many of the 14,000 students on the NDSU campus grew up on a farm or in a small town. A fair number of Moorhead’s 8,500 students, meanwhile, are from the Twin Cities or surrounding suburbs.

Campus involvement is among the busiest of any Chi Alpha chapter, with 600 students attending worship services and/or small group meetings during the 2011-12 school year at Fargo, and 300 students doing so in Moorhead.

Why are the two Red River Valley schools drawing such crowds? In large part it’s because of 44 active relational life groups on the two campuses, meeting in dormitory rooms, apartments and homes.

The Lewises teach on serious topics: purity in dating, biblical financial principles, relationship evangelism, and baptism in the Holy Spirit. Brad says the Holy Spirit has been foundational to transforming his life, so he passionately teaches on the topic.

Last year 130 students on the two campuses were baptized in the Holy Spirit, more than 10 percent of the total reported on all Chi Alpha campuses nationally.

Established relationships and spiritual mentoring don’t evaporate with graduation. Brad has a habit of checking up on former student leaders five years after graduation to see if they are influencing their workplaces for Jesus. In his two-dozen years as Chi Alpha leader, 100 students he has mentored have gone into full-time ministry.

Brad Lewis grew up in Wheaton, Minn., 80 miles south of Fargo-Moorhead. He graduated from North Dakota State University with an animal science degree and went on to obtain his master’s in beef cattle genetics. He planned to raise livestock for a living. Instead, he ended up nurturing people.

While in eighth grade, Lewis heard stories from a cousin who attended charismatic prayer meetings in Staples, Minn. Accounts of physical healings piqued his curiosity. Yet when he entered college, Lewis kept his religious convictions close to the vest, hiding his Bible because he didn’t want to be teased.

But his world changed one day when an uncle asked if Lewis sensed a calling into ministry. Lewis’ purpose in life suddenly manifested. He visited the prayer meetings in Staples for himself, and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Rather than being embarrassed by his faith, the then-19-year-old student couldn’t keep quiet about the Lord, often leading devotions in his dorm late into the night. He asked God to use him to reach the unsaved.

Lewis is a deliberate speaker, with a calm, reassuring voice, and speaks directly to students’ spiritual needs.

“We don’t do a lot of pin the tail on the donkey,” he says. “Seekers aren’t all that sensitive; they’re desperate.”

Unlike most Chi Alpha pastors, the Lewises don’t need to raise missionary support because Brad also is a full-time staff member at First Assembly of God in Fargo, where more than 1,000 people worship on Sunday mornings. He serves a variety of functions at the church, including heading up altar ministry and premarital counseling. He also is in charge of the Sunday night service, called “The Shift,” which attracts an average of 300 young people.

Discipling leaders

Dave Schuster, a 2011 MSUM graduate, joined the Fargo-Moorhead Chi Alpha team full time in August. Schuster grew up attending First Assembly in Fargo, and knew Brad Lewis for years before going to college. With a home-schooled background and somewhat reserved personality, Schuster didn’t consider himself leader material. Lewis thought otherwise.

Initially, Schuster balked when Lewis asked him to lead a small group. Besides being shy, he thought he didn’t know the Bible well enough.

“Brad saw latent potential in me that I didn’t,” says Schuster, who received his Assemblies of God ministerial credentials in June after completing Global University courses.

This fall, Lewis and Schuster alternate in leading services on the two campuses, both on Thursday nights. Moorhead students meet in a former dance club in the basement of the student union. Fargo students have the comfort of gathering in a student auditorium containing 308 cushioned chairs, and the group has two meetings to accommodate everyone.

Ryan Ham, a 24-year-old student leader at Moorhead, says Lewis is a father figure to those without fathers, able to direct “orphans” to the Lord.

“He teaches us to share our lives with people, and not halfway,” says Ham, a speech language pathology major in his senior year. “Brad really brings out things in people they didn’t know they had. I didn’t think I would ever stand up on stage and speak into a microphone.”

Leaders nurtured under the Lewises’ leadership are becoming mentors themselves.

Whitney Leedahl says attending meetings as a first-year NDSU student changed her life because of group leader Tanya Meyer serving as a role model.

“I never saw a young person who loved the Lord so much,” Leedahl says of Meyer. “I got rid of the compromises in my life.”

Now a licensed AG minister, as well as a hospital nurse, Leedahl, 25, supervises women small group leaders. She hopes students who begin attending Chi Alpha meetings as broken and impure partiers finish the year filled with the Holy Spirit, praying and living for the Lord.

“My main goal is that they live radical, Spirit-filled lives so they can love students they are in contact with,” says Leedahl, who plays keyboard during worship. “We want to see students get connected and truly experience Jesus.”

Husband Nate Leedahl, a hospital pharmacist, coordinates the Chi Alpha life groups for men. Nate, who also has AG ministerial credentials and studied through Global University, preaches once a month at a Chi Alpha service.

As with others, Leedahl — who hasn’t seen his father in two decades — says Brad Lewis saw potential in him and encouraged him.

Before being called into ministry as a sophomore, Leedahl says he primarily wanted a lucrative career that would allow him to buy a luxurious house. Now his passion is ministry.

“Ministry doesn’t have to be confined to the context of college,” says Leedahl, 25. “The burden for the lost remains after graduation.”

Year-round passion

Even on a summer evening, 125 students recently showed up for a midweek Chi Alpha service in Fargo. Clearly this is a highlight of the week for many attendees, who arrive early and stay long after the gathering is officially over in order to fellowship.

The naturally reserved Schuster leads worship exuberantly, smiling broadly as he sings and plays guitar. Leedahl preaches fervently with nary a note. He is jocular and engaging. Tonight he preaches a meaty message that includes admonitions to men to refrain from looking at pornographic websites and for women to avoid dressing provocatively to seek attention.

“Impurity is enjoying someone else’s brokenness,” Leedahl tells the teen and 20-something men in the room. “Impurity compromises our eternity with Christ. Repentance requires removing the source of sin from your life.”

Leedahl shares how he had to end an unwholesome relationship with a girlfriend after he accepted Jesus as his Savior. He stresses to the students that they must take the first step in cutting out sin in their lives, whether that’s a laptop, an iPhone or a girlfriend.

Willpower alone won’t stop the cycle, Leedahl warns, but only a right relationship with God and a team of accountability partners. The cause of wrongdoing needs to be replaced with a new obsession — holiness and purity — Leedahl says.

Meanwhile, Lewis is comfortable entrusting the service to his capable young followers while he works the crowd, introducing himself to unfamiliar faces. He is always on the lookout for the next unsuspecting leader for the Lord.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and is grateful he had the opportunity to visit North Dakota for the first time to produce this article.

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