fruit that remains
Inspiring your readers to share Christ
Exciting stories can encourage your readers to communicate faith effectively to nonbelievers.  This MTI blog series features examples that you can use as models, or even republish yourself.  Drawn from Enrichment Journal, a pastors magazine that ran Rusty Wright’s series on Reaching Secular Universities.

Have you ever shared Christ with someone you never expected to see again?  Perhaps you met in a cafeteria, a dormitory, on a bus or at a social event. Maybe you wondered how–if at all–God would use your brief encounter.  Here’s a story that might encourage you.

In 2003, I received an email from Bert Watson, who told of our 1973 conversation in his first-year-student dormitory (residence hall) at Georgia Tech:

“You came to see me on a Thursday, but I had an exam and asked you to return on Friday. You shared the Four Spiritual Laws with me and I responded by saying I had ‘done all that.’ Before you left, you asked, ‘What do you think about heaven?’.  I answered, ‘I hope I am going there,’ to which you quickly and emphatically replied, ‘Bert, God wants you to know!’.”

Bert recalls that he then escorted me to the door, thanked me and said goodbye.  He continues:

“The Lord used that statement in a powerful way. For the rest of the day, our conversation played over and over again in my mind. My roommate and friends were away, so I went to bed early.  As I lay on my back facing the ceiling, I wanted to pray.  But before I could open my mouth, God clearly told me, ‘You have never received Me as your personal Lord and Savior.'”

“All I could say is, ‘That’s right!’   My spiritual eyes were opened. I was a sinner; and I was lost.  I jumped up, grabbed the ‘Four Spiritual Laws’ booklet, and read it cover to cover. That very night I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

Bert went through a spiritual roller coaster for the next couple of years.  He transferred to Texas A&M University to be close to his hometown friends.   Emotional struggles sapped his interest in academics and soon he dropped out of A&M to sort his life out.

Bert speaks with joy of the people God used to help him learn to walk closely with Him.   A Houston church assisted his spiritual development.   He led several people to Christ, including “the meanest man I knew.”  He enrolled in the University of the South in Tennessee, where a believer helped him learn to trust the Holy Spirit to empower his life.   A couple of weeks later at a Christian camp in Georgia, Bert felt God’s prompting to the ministry: 

“God clearly spoke to me saying, ‘I have called you to become a minister of My word.’  I responded out loud, ‘Lord, if that is you, you are going to have to prove it.’ Two minutes later, the people in charge of morning devotions approached and asked me if I would speak at the 7 A.M. devotional the next morning. Only recognized ministers did the devotional.  That was my first sermon; and I stayed up until 4 A.M. preparing!”

After this, Bert studied further to prepare for ministry and joined a small, dynamic church where, under the influence of godly mentors, he grew rapidly.

Ministry, Pain and Reconciliation

Bert received more opportunities to speak, teach, disciple others, and spread the Gospel.  He saw God work in his emotional and relational life:

“I was so hungry for the word that I would often read 20 or more chapters of the Bible a day.  I soon found myself in active ministry, leading people to Jesus, speaking at camps, exercising gifts of the Spirit, and discipling new believers. During this time, the Lord also exposed the root of my emotional pain and completely healed me, leading to a wonderful reconciliation with my father.”

Bert soon became convinced that God wanted him to work with young people… in Africa!  In 1983 he began over 30 years of ministry there.  He taught, discipled and trained emerging leaders in South Africa.  During his tenure there with Youth For Christ, he oversaw a massive high school outreach that saw over 140,000 young people indicate decisions to trust Christ as Savior.

His lifelong dream of fostering leadership development led to the birth of “Leading Edge Christian Ministries.”  Bert has traveled widely training both emerging and experienced Christian leaders.  He’s also consulted for “nation-changing” projects and worked with Bruce Wilkinson in one of the largest abstinence-based HIV/AIDS interventions ever undertaken in AIDS-ravaged Africa.  In addition, he’s mentored emerging leaders and worked on developing an innovative leadership degree program for South African Theological Seminary.

Bert and his wife, Surette, have many reasons for gratitude to God.  Reflecting on his exciting ride with Jesus, Bert says, “God has been very good to me.  We have been privileged to see a lot of fruit….” 

“As the Lord has renewed my mind over the years,” he continues, “my worldview has been profoundly affected.  One very important principle that I have learned is that ‘life’ is in Jesus; and it is only in Him that we are ‘complete’ or made full. No other person or thing can do this.  Apart from Jesus, we are nothing and can do nothing.  How do I experience this ‘life’? Jesus taught, ‘It is the Spirit who gives life.’  When we submit to His Lordship and allow His Spirit to lead, teach, and empower us, we discover what it really means to ‘live’.”

Echoing John 15:16, he says:

“I thank God that He chose me and appointed me to bear fruit that remains forever.”

Not all “chance” encounters end up like this.  We are responsible to be faithful; God works in hearts.  God can use us – you and me – to bear fruit that remains.

Lessons for Reaching Secular Audiences

What lessons for secular campus outreach might Bert’s story hold?

  • God’s Word Works.   “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.  It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NLT).  In 1973 at Georgia Tech, God’s word worked in Bert.  His word, sown in students’ hearts, will bring about His purposes.
  • Trust God to follow up.   We should, of course, seek to be faithful to contact spiritually-interested people.  But personal follow-up isn’t always humanly possible.  God is the best follow-up worker.  Sometimes we sow seeds; sometimes we water; sometimes we reap.  Always, God is the one who causes the growth (John 4: 35-38; 1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
  • The Holy Spirit can work wonders.  Bert’s spiritual journey seems guided by God’s Holy Spirit.  At key points, the Spirit brought people and circumstances across his path to nudge him in the right direction.  And, as Bert notes, “It is the Spirit who gives life” and Who should guide and empower us.  Sometimes amid details of ministry it can be easy to forget the One who is both the enabler and the purpose of ministry.  Focusing on Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, brings real life.
  • Go where students are.  Students, of course, hang out in dormitories, Greek houses (homes for men’s and women’s Greek-letter social organizations – fraternities and sororities), cafeterias, and open plazas.  Bert and I spoke privately in his dorm room, a place where he could feel comfortable.  Communicating with people on their own turf can help open hearts.
  • Be persistent about His tasks.  Campus ministers talk to many people.  Managing details of timing and logistics plus remembering names and interests can be daunting.   None of us can contact every person.  Ask God to give you wisdom to know His work for you.  Jesus told His Father, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4 NASB).
  • Take the long view of ministry.  In God’s providence, seeing results sometimes takes time.  Realizing this can help relieve pressure and discouragement.  I left Bert’s dorm room not knowing of his continued interest.  He left Georgia Tech after that term and next appeared in my life thirty years later.   Encourage your students to take the long view of ministry.  As they serve Jesus and minister alongside you, they are sowing seeds for decades in the future and for eternity.
  • Spiritual multiplication holds manifold possibilities.  The late Robert Schuller noted that anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but no one can count the apples in a seed.  God has used Bert to touch thousands of lives and, through those he influences, countless others.  Students you contact today can have similar influence.  The words you speak, the counsel you give, the outreaches you plan, the discipleship you foster … all this can bear fruit many times over.
  • We are to be faithful.  Paul wrote that people should “regard us…as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2 NIV).  As we are faithful to fulfill the tasks He gives us, He will bring fruit that remains.

by Rusty Wright, an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents.  He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

Originally printed in Enrichment Journal in a column by Rusty Wright on “Reaching Secular Universities.” Reprinted with permission.

Photo by Subtle Cinematics on Unsplash

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