Four guest speakers led Oklahoma Baptist University's Focus Week Feb. 9-14 to draw students' attention to building stronger relationships with one another and with God. Pulling from their personal experiences, the speakers brought to life the theme for this year's focus week chapel series emphasis, "The Mercy of God."
Mercy of God for new beginnings
Marian Jordan, founder of Redeemed Girl Ministries, shared during a chapel service on Monday, Feb. 9, how her own plan for a self-centered life was replaced by God's plan to use her to build a ministry where women can share with one another about real issues they face each day.
The author of "Sex and the City, Uncovered," Jordan said she never conceived in her life that she would question following God. But she said she found herself living a wild, party lifestyle. By age 24, she began to feel captive to a lifestyle she no longer desired. She faced depression and other consequences of choices she had made.
"Finally, I called out to God," she said. "I just said, 'Help.' And from that one small, simple prayer, the God of mercy ran to my rescue. I call my ministry 'Redeemed Girl Ministries' because that's what I am. God has redeemed every single aspect of my life."
Jordan warned students that while God is sovereign, Satan is at work in people's circumstances. Referring to the biblical story of Job, she said that when people's lives bring God glory, Satan tries to diminish that person's effectiveness. The Bible says that though he endured incredible tribulation, Job did not sin, nor did he blame God.
"Your (challenge) might be unemployment one day, it might be cancer, it might be singleness, it might be infertility, it might be heartbreak, it might be your family falls apart - it might be any number of things," she said.
"Your circumstances can thwart your worship, or your worship can change your circumstances."
Jordan also led Girl's Night Out, on Feb. 9 for women at OBU and in the Shawnee community. The event included a time of worship, snacks, fellowship and a candid discussion with Jordan.
Mercy of God for the poor
Jimmy Dorrell, co-founder and executive director of Mission Waco, challenged OBU students to step outside the boundaries of the Shawnee campus and build relationships with people in need in the local community during 905 (student-led worship) on Tuesday, Feb. 10, and during the chapel service on Wednesday, Feb. 11. He shared how, as a college student at Baylor University, he lived within an area of Waco referred to as the "Baylor bubble" - an area involving the campus that ignored the impoverished and marginalized people of Texas' fourth-poorest city. As a 19-year-old who had been shielded from poverty, one day he visited and area of town called "No Man's Land" and came face-to-face with the reality of the situation.
"I was confronted with the reality that people lived not only overseas in poverty, but right here in my own local community," Dorrell said.
Through the difficulties of working with a center that ministered to children who had been removed from their homes, he learned firsthand how to build relationships of love with people in need.
"For the first time in my life, I had to put up or shut up," he said. "I had to work with children and teenagers who had their hearts broken. Their mommas and daddies who should have loved them the most had rejected them. ... Those three years changed my life more than seminary or graduate school, more than anything I've ever done."
Dorrell and his wife traveled to the poorest areas of the world for four months, but felt God lead them back to work in Waco. They bought a house in the poorest area of town and began building relationships with the people who would one day help lead their ministries. Through this experience, the Dorrells learned true charity - giving what they value to people in need - and compassion.
Today, Mission Waco continues to expand its relationship-based, holistic programs among the poor and marginalized people of Waco, mobilizing middle-class Christians toward "hands-on" involvement. Their work includes a poverty simulation, where people can experience firsthand what it means to live in constant need. Dorrell contends that ministering to such needs - exhibiting charity and compassion - is putting Christian faith into action.
"I want to challenge you right here in Shawnee to go out and visit this community," Dorrell said. "You've got poor people. You've got people in need. You've got folks that are hungry, people who have been marginalized, people who walk the streets and have no where to go."
"How long has it been, friends, since you've cried for the world?" he asked.
Mercy of God for relationships
Jeff Sanders spoke at the final Focus Week chapel on Friday, Feb. 13, on the topic, "Friendship with Benefits?" Sanders and his wife, Mary, Christian marriage specialists at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., also led a marriage retreat for the OBU community.
Sanders recounted his story of living a "divided" life - living one way for the public to see, and another way in private. He said while many people perceived him on a course for success, in reality he was on a course for disaster, and his life began to implode. His relationships began to suffer with his parents, his sister, and even the family dog.
At age 21, he said he realized that Jesus loves him just the way he is. After a lifetime of work, he said he now has healthy relationships with his wife of 22 years, his three daughters, and even the family dog.
Sanders told students he has identified several cultural distortions which hamper people from building solid relationships with one another. First, he said people misperceive that the degree of a person's personal influence and power is what's really important. On the contrary, he said, Jesus demonstrated intolerance for being in the limelight.
Christians, he said, can fight this distortion to build healthier relationships by not only knowing when seeking attention truly is important, but also by seeking opportunities to be with people who are different.
"If you need to belong to a group or individual whose acceptance is more important than being true to your beliefs, there is work to be done," he said, noting resources on campus for students who might need such help.
Sanders said people also hinder healthy relationships with the distortion that people are replaceable, and by "avoiding the hard stuff and junk in our lives" when relating to one another. He spoke of the importance of valuing people by understanding the history and heritage, and by being willing to confront difficult topics with honesty.
"Telling the truth is the antidote to this cultural distortion," Sanders said. "We work overly hard to protect one another from challenges. Jesus isn't afraid of letting us sit with the hard stuff. ... Sometimes we insulate ourselves from ever telling the truth or sharing the hard stuff."
Sanders reminded students that regardless of the difficulty, it's worth it to work on relationships.
Through the keynote speakers, Focus Week provided students with the encouragement to build and mend a personal relationship with God, to reach beyond the comfort zone to minister to the poor, and to address the "hard stuff" of interpersonal relationships.