HAYS, Kan. (BP) — This is probably the last thing any of Bethany Wood’s college friends would guess she’s doing in her “grown up” years: mother of five, foster parent, direct sales business owner, photographer, arts council, community Bible study, 4-H and a lay leader in her local church.
“That’s a lot of adulting,” Wood jokes. She didn’t enter Fort Hays State University heading this direction. “I started living a life that was not pleasing to my Savior.”
Wood grew up in a Christian home. But like many who go off to college, she got swept up in parties and pushing the limits of her early adulthood at the Kansas university, 180 miles west-northwest of Wichita.
Then some friends took her to a Christian Challenge small group where she learned she could “never go so far away that God wouldn’t love me.”
What she learned through Christian Challenge during the next three years has stuck with her — more than a decade later.
“Christian Challenge taught me that ministry can happen anywhere,” the 30-something Wood said. “My husband and I wanted to help kiddos in the foster care system. We fostered a number of children and ended up adopting three beautiful sisters, choosing to love them ‘as is’ just as Christian Challenge loved me.”
Hearing the stories of Christian Challenge alums continuing to apply lessons learned in college to their everyday lives makes Carin Cochran smile. She’s worked with students at Fort Hays for 25 years as the ministry’s director.
Gifts from churches in the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists to the Viola Webb Missions Offering help support ministries like Christian Challenge at FHSU and other colleges throughout the two states.
Cochran sees the gifts to the mission offering as a long-term investment, impacting students well into their “adulting” years.
More than 800 students have been involved in FHSU’s Christian Challenge small groups, learning of a God who loves them and learning to be “disciple-makers,” taking the love of Jesus with them wherever they go.
“We have former students all over the world. Pastors, youth pastors, worship leaders, children’s directors, small group leaders, college ministers and those who are quietly making a huge difference in their churches and communities,” Cochran says. “It is humbling and overwhelming to think of ways God is using countless people who have come through Christian Challenge at FHSU.”
Melodie Glasco, as a high school teacher, says she loved and prayed for her students as Jesus loved and cared for her, encouraging her graduating seniors to get involved with a Christian group at their university. Having brothers and sisters in Christ going through the same “growing pains” was exactly what she needed as part of Christian Challenge from 2000 to 2005.
“I shared a bit of my testimony and the importance of being surrounded with likeminded believers,” Glasco recounts.
“Now, as a mom and Air Force wife who moves frequently,” she adds, “I’m often reminded of the importance of Christian fellowship that Christian Challenge modeled.”
For Megan Menton, short-term mission trips with Christian Challenge helped her learn to share the Gospel through daily activities and to love people where they are.
Menton, a six-year participant in the ministry while earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, now uses her discipleship skills on a daily basis as a wife, mother and speech language pathologist.
“The way I was taught to meet people where they are, love them genuinely and prayerfully lead a conversation are things I use to this day with students and coworkers,” Menton says. “The way I learned to share my faith through storytelling is the way I attempt to share with my son, even though he’s only 16 months old. Stories are powerful across culture and age!”
Jeremy Hughes always had the desire to follow God but he didn’t know how until FHSU’s Christian Challenge helped him. During his five years in the group he learned how to study the Bible and mentor others.
And he gained a heart for the nations. After his first trip to China, he was hooked.
“Ever since then, my heart for seeing people come to know the simple Gospel only grew,” Hughes says. “That time of training and investment was invaluable. The vision and emphasis on making disciples that make disciples shaped how I made life decisions and who I married.”
Hughes now teaches in East Asia, loving a people he was first introduced to through Christian Challenge.
Christian Challenge isn’t just a four-year experience, Wood says. Many in her small group stay in touch and still challenge and encourage each other in their walk with Christ.
“I can’t begin to describe the joy and pride I have in seeing them [former students] make an impact for God and be a part of His plan,” Cochran says. “It doesn’t end when they graduate. It’s just the beginning.”