Want to Eavesdrop on a Spiritual Conversation?

Jennifer Abegg

The hallway smells like popcorn and mothballs, but Melissa Ulrich doesn't pay attention as she strolls with her friend Danielle Broberg, a sophomore at Washington State University.

They're looking for an open door.

If her wedding ring didn't betray her, Melissa could pass for a resident in Regents residence hall, like Dani is. More than a year ago, she and her husband gave up their jobs to help college students understand how to have a relationship with Jesus as staff members with Cru.

Melissa and Dani find a cracked door and knock. A brunette opens it.

Connecting with Laura

"Hi, I'm Melissa and this is my friend Dani," says the former kindergarten teacher. "We're getting people's opinions on spirituality."

Melissa enjoys starting these kinds of spiritual conversations and mentoring others to do the same. She never knows what might happen in the conversation. It could end in rejection, or in the best decision of someone's life. She simply likes presenting the option.

Laura invites them in. Melissa asks her why she chose to WSU. Laura admits she didn't -- it was the only school she could afford that accepted her. Her tone is slightly bitter, yet a red WSU blanket is plastered on her wall.

Melissa goes back to the reason they're there. "Do you have any spiritual background?" the cheerful blonde inquires. Melissa always begins conversations with that question, because it gives her insight and helps her transition into finding out what people believe.

Melissa's Story

Melissa's then boyfriend, and now her husband, Bobby, was asked a similar question by a Cru staff member when he was a junior at WSU. Soon after, he rededicated his life to Christ. Bobby explained this to Melissa, and she soon did the same. Then they both got involved in Cru.

After graduation, Bobby worked as an engineer. Melissa taught for four years but she and Bobby longed to introduce college students to Christ and mentor them in the faith. They prayed about it for four years, then they quit their jobs to work full time with Cru.

Laura's Spiritual Search

Laura explains to Melissa and Dani that her parents came from different denominations but never practiced their faith. She scarcely attended church. But just last week Laura visited church for the first time as an adult.

Melissa senses that Laura may be searching for God.

Just before this conversation, Melissa and Dani experienced three thwarted attempts. An athlete said she was on her way to practice, but invited them back later; and two other students declared that they weren't interested. So Melissa suggested that she and Dani stop in the floor lobby.

"Lord, point us to the doors of the people You want us to talk to," she had prayed. The next person they encountered was Laura.

Asking Questions

Melissa gently asks a question that she was asked in college: "What do you think happens when you die?"

"I like the idea of heaven," replies Laura, fully attentive. "But it's not my place to know."

"If you were to die today and stand before God," Melissa asks, "and He asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would your answer be?"

Laura looks at the ceiling to contemplate, then replies, "I'm a pretty good person and I don't treat people poorly."

It's a response Melissa hears often. Last week, when she and Dani initiated a spiritual conversation, a freshman named Allison who lives in the same dorm offered a similar answer. Melissa told her that Jesus offers the free gift of eternal life, and it is not because of what we do. During that conversation, Allison accepted Christ.

Reaching Every Student

Melissa delights in spiritually guiding young women, and works specifically in Regents and another hall. It's Cru's strategy. Several years ago, staff members noticed various niches of students -- in resident halls, fraternities and extracurricular activities -- who were graduating without ever hearing how they could have a relationship with Jesus.

So the Cru staff team mapped their campus into "ponds," various areas of influence, as a way of making sure every student hears the gospel. Of the 500 students who participate in Cru, 100 moved into the dorms or Greek houses solely for that purpose. That's why Dani moved back into Regents -- to meet the new residents, model biblical Christianity and ask compelling spiritual questions.

When Melissa was a college student, she noticed that many sorority women didn't know Jesus. She wanted to change that, even though she wasn't a Greek.

She spiritually trained sorority member Megan Yen. Jesus turned Megan's life around. When Megan graduated she joined the staff of Cru and started a Greek "pond." Now one-third of Cru's participants are Greeks. "It's spiritual multiplication," says Megan. "I'm proof -- it works."

Seeing so many Greek students who have a relationship with Jesus and are involved in Cru is a dream come true for Melissa. She hopes students like Laura will experience the same kind of life change.

Telling Laura About Jesus

Melissa tugs a blue booklet called Would You Like to Know God Personally? out of her bag. As they read through it, Melissa clarifies points and asks questions so Laura understands. The 28-year-old explains how everyone has earned separation from God, but that Jesus died to bridge this gulf.

At one point in the booklet Melissa asks Laura where she thought she stood with God.

 "I don't have a relationship with Christ," she answers. Then she explains that one of her friends is Muslim and another is an atheist, so she doesn't like that people have to receive Jesus. "You just need faith in some form, as long as you don't harm others," Laura says. "No one can say there is one right way."

Melissa explains that truth is exclusive: Her blue shirt is blue, even if someone says it's red. Likewise, there is absolute truth, and Jesus is God's only provision for sin.

Laura says she disagrees.

Melissa thanks her for her honesty. They're not there to argue, just to present the gospel. Melissa asks if she can drop off a book, More Than A Carpenter, since she seems to be searching.

Laura replies, "I'm OK where I'm at."

Melissa and Dani say good-bye, surprised and disappointed.

Continuing the Conversation

At some schools, if a person rejects the gospel message, they may never hear it again. WSU is different. "There will be continued dialogue," explains Malisa Canto, a Cru staff member at WSU. "She won't fall through the cracks just because she didn't accept Christ."

Last school year, 96 students accepted Jesus through Cru at Washington State University.

Down the hallway, Melissa pauses in front of a door labeled "Allison" with a wipe-off board tacked to it. Allison is the one who invited Christ into her life the week before. Melissa jots a reminder about their meeting scheduled for the next day. If Allison grows in her faith, perhaps she will be able to influence others in her dorm for Christ, like Laura.

The conversation with Laura may not have ended the way Melissa or Dani hoped, but it was not a failure.

Years ago, Cru's founder, Bill Bright, taught, "Success in evangelism is taking the initiative in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God." Melissa and the staff members still emphasize that today. That's why Melissa and Dani will soon be back in the same hallway, looking for another open door.

Links: Washington State University's Cru Web site


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