NATIONAL CAMPUS MINISTRIES PRESENTS AWARD & AN OPPORTUNITY FOR RECONCILIATION WITH THE PAST
At the recent 50th Annual National Campus Ministries Seminar held at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, an award was presented to Jim Bevis, a pioneer in campus ministry among the Churches of Christ, marking not only a lifetime of achievement, but also marking a reconciliation with the past for the National Campus Ministry Association of the Churches of Christ (NCMA). Bevis is a native of Florence, Alabama, and serves as President of CSR Ministries.
“Over the years there has been a lot of disconnects in Campus Ministry,” said Milton Jones, President of NCMA, and a minister at Northwest Church of Christ in Shoreline, Washington. “I asked myself: Could our ineffectiveness in reaching our goals have anything to do with our disconnects?”
Knowing that the only way to learn from the past was to go forward, Jones believed God was calling for greater unity, a reconciliation. He had been told by some in the brotherhood in the past never to mention two words together. Those words were “campus” and “evangelism.”
In looking back, over three decades ago, Jones recalled a national campus ministry in Lubbock, Texas, that had put those two words together and had begun to see drastic changes in the advancement of their work with students. Until this “evangelistic” ministry, campus ministries were considered by most to be only a “home away from home” defensive operation for students.
Bevis said, “The original campus ministries of the Churches of Christ were developed as ‘holding actions’to protect their students from the secular campus, rather than invade the campus with Jesus Christ.”
Campus Evangelism, headquartered in Lubbock, Texas, in 1965 under the congregational oversight of the Broadway Church of Christ, made the attempt to go on the offensive within the secular campus community, rather than take the defensive posture to simply hold ground. They began an outreach which would later be perceived as a threat by many. They preached grace, as it had not previously been preached. They recognized God had children outside the Churches of Christ. They introduced small groups and broke the race barrier. They had a strategic plan for evangelizing their campus, and all campuses. They planted campus ministries, and worked with existing campus ministries. Within five years they reached over 40,000 students on over 400 campuses. They had two national Campus Evangelism Seminars, in 1966 and 1968, both in Dallas, Texas. Over 500 attended the first, and over 1500 attended the second. They went on to hold many regional seminars in places like Oklahoma State, University of Florida, Atlanta, Georgia, Nashville, Tennessee, Michigan State and others. They believed they could win the world for Christ.
“Who were those who did that… believed that?” Jones began to question. The answer he was given: They were run out of town, out of the brotherhood. They had become legends. But due to “brotherhood pressure,” had closed their doors in 1970, only five years into their groundbreaking work. Many of the conservative among the church had determined they were too liberal and were leading toward denominationalism.
A critic said that those in Campus Evangelism were excited about the “moving of God,” gave testimonies, allowed women to pray, met in small groups, and were urged to let go and let God take full control of themselves and their ministries.
Jones recognized that campus ministers of days past had said many unkind things about Campus Evangelism. He felt this had generated an adverse effect on the campus ministries of today among the Churches of Christ. He deeply desired to see a lifting in the oppression and heaviness over this ministry. He learned from reading Nehemiah that revival comes when there is confession of personal sin and confession of the sin of our ancestors. So Jones took the initiative to contact Bevis, a key leader in Campus Evangelism, feeling that the Lord had laid it on his heart to be an instrument of healing.
Beyond the initial reconciliatory contact, a decision was made to present Jim Bevis with the Stephen Eckstein National Campus Ministry Award. Eckstein, who led the Church of Christ campus ministry at a university in New Mexico for many years, is considered to be the grandfather figure for campus ministries within the Churches of Christ, making this the highest honor given in Campus Ministries.
“When Milton Jones first contacted me, I was overwhelmed by his overture and by the wonderful grace and mercy of God in moving our brother to take this initiative,” said Bevis. “So I agreed to accept on behalf of Campus Evangelism, my wife, and the two co-directors I had in the Campus Evangelism ministry, Rex Vermillion and Charles Shelton, both of Amarillo, Texas.”
In his conciliatory remarks the evening of the award, Jones addressed Bevis and his wife Anne saying, “You were ahead of your time. We were far behind where God was leading. Because of that, we have been wandering for a long time. We’ve been wanting to do this, but we have been wandering. It is time to go to the Promised Land.”
“Some evil has been done to the Bevises,” Jones added, telling the audience of approximately 300 campus ministers and student leaders that he had expressed to Jim his sorrow and had requested forgiveness which was freely granted. “I am sorry,” said Jones, “I ask for your forgiveness, and I am glad to build on a vision that was yours that went before me.”
During his acceptance of the award, Bevis said to those present, “I accept your confession. I forgive you, and I believe the Father will honor Milton’s obedience and your participation in this spiritual experience.”
Although it has been forty years since Campus Evangelism first came on the scene, and thirty-five years since the visible ministry was shut down, many former students whose lives were impacted by Campus Evangelism still feel that impact today.
Steve Franklin, a former student at the University of Florida, now with a PhD living in Atlanta, Georgia, said, “I became a Christian my senior year in high school. Upon entering college I began to ‘drift’ because of my spiritual immaturity and no real direction. When I met Jim Bevis and became very involved in the Campus Evangelism movement, my spiritual life experienced renewed growth with evangelistic fervor, focus and passion. Campus Evangelism was definitely a major chapter in my spiritual journey, helping me to grow in my personal relationship to Christ and teaching me to reach out to my collegiate peers with the Christian message of love, hope, purpose and personal relationship with Jesus.”
“The same Holy Spirit that worked in those tens of thousands of students in the 60’s and 70’s is still alive and doing His work, even today,” said Bevis. “Through these four decades since Campus Evangelism, we have crossed paths with many of these former students whose lives were impacted by His grace and who are still living for the Lord Jesus.”
Franklin added, “The Campus Evangelism experience was an incredible blessing in my life and did a lot to ‘grow me up’ in Christ. I have been married now for 37 years with two children, both married, and two grandchildren, all of whom love the Lord. The Campus Evangelism movement was one of those early events in my Christian walk that greatly influenced and shaped the ensuing pages of my life in Christ.”
Bevis, who knew the award’s namesake, Eckstein, both inside and outside the Churches of Christ as an acquaintance, said he was humbled by the award and that it stands for him as a visible and symbolic expression of love and sincerity. Bevis noted that reconciliation is happening on every front: The African American Church with the Anglo church, the Native Americans with those of European descent, brothers in Christ with sisters in Christ, Charismatics with non-Charismatics, Instrumental Churches or Christ with the Acapella churches.
“You and I are living in a Season of Reconciliation,” Bevis said. “It’s in the air! More importantly, it’s of God, and it’s high on His agenda.”
Bevis noted his belief that, with their prophetic declaration and act, Campus Ministries would be released from anything holding them back from rising to God’s highest calling on their individual lives and ministries. He said that this event would minister life to each respective party.
Recognizing that they had made many mistakes along the way themselves, Bevis asked that the campus ministries of the Churches of Christ forgive Campus Evangelism of any past offenses as well, adding, “God used us, often in spite of us, to spark a fire that burns even today.”
Bevis said they take some comfort in a statement attributed to the late Ruel Lemmons, author of Editing The Firm Foundation and one of their friends in places of influence who, in his own way said, “You boys put a crack in the sectarian wall of the Churches of Christ from whch it has never recovered.”
“Praise the Lord if this is true, and I believe it is,” said Bevis in conclusion. “And to God be the Glory for the great things He has done, among us all, as late as tonight.”
While reconciliation from this recent award strengthens the healing of past wounds, it is not the first step taken to recognize the powerful influence Campus Evangelism had during its brief years. Bevis was designated in [year] by the Christian Chronicle, a national Church of Christ newspaper, as one of the 100 men and women who had influenced the Church of Christ the most in the 20th Century. Bevis, Vermillion and Shelton were also invited by Dr. Douglas Foster, a distinguished professor at Abilene Christian University, to visit the school in 2005 to do an oral history of Campus Evangelism on film for the Archives of the Cambell Stone Movement.
It appears it has taken time, but things have come a long way from the hurts of the past.
In her journal as a twenty-four-year-old wife of a Campus Evangelism pastor, Anne Bevis had noted the purpose of Campus Evangelism as being aimed at young people in their most explosive years. “College days seem to unleash great amounts of energy within young men and women,” she wrote. “The sad thing about all that fantastic strength is that it is not being used to evangelize other young people. The six million people on the U.S. campuses could take the world for Christ, and will do so if and when we take Christ to them.”
“After several seminars, and many lonely nights, and when Campus Evangelism began to become well known, and well attacked by those who needed to have another cause under their belt,” she wrote, “I became aware of how little it takes to ‘tick’ some folks off and how unchristian some folks can get.”
But even in the midst of her own struggles, Anne seemed to find growth toward a reconciliation through God. “Anne Bevis learned she couldn’t count on herself for the answers,” she wrote. “Seems like for a while my faith would be shakened so deeply by people I believed in, and it hurt so badly, but all of a sudden I found myself studying more, questioning more, and most all praying more [in the last few years of service in Campus Evangelism] than in all my lifetime.” She added, “The real joy is to see young and old alike being made aware of their heritage in Christ and to hear people with tears in their eyes say, ‘this has changed my life.’ I’ve seen many find a meaningful faith. The future is totally in God’s hands, and we are trying to be receptive to His will.”
Jones commented that Jesus’ instructions to his disciples were to: Love one another. Love one another as you love yourself. Love one another as I have loved you.
“The purpose for such love,” said Jones, “was evangelistic.” It was an identifying mark that people could see among the followers of Jesus, and that love would actually move them to come to Christ themselves.
“When the world sees division, gossip, backbiting, and other such practices,” said Jones, “they conclude that these aren’t Jesus’ disciples.”
With repentance can come restoration and reconciliation. At least it has for this group of believers who have healed the wounds of the past with an award and marks for the future.