December 21, 2020
PITTSBURGH — In late January, Pete Ware, Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO)campus staff at California University of Pennsylvania, made this promise to students and university staff members, over and over. “I’ve made a commitment that I’m not going to try to be strong during this time for anyone. Because I don’t feel very strong right now. But I will be weak with you. I’ll emphasize that again: I WILL be weak with you.”
Like most colleges in the U.S., California University moved online in late March. Ware and his student leaders pivoted to online Bible studies and frequent text check-ins. When Cal U announced in late July that no one would return physically to campus in the fall, Ware was disappointed but not defeated.
A new group of student leaders assembled in the fall, meeting for online prayer every Monday night and reaching out to classmates via text and social media. They split their large-group meeting into 20 minutes of teaching and 20 minutes of discussion in Zoom break-out rooms—creatively calling it “STAND’s 20-20 at 9:20.” It was not like meeting in person, but they still got to know freshmen and other new students, sought God in the Scriptures, and prayed together.
And then, only a few weeks into the fall semester, tragedy struck: Jamain, a senior football player known as “Juice,” was widely loved on campus for his kindness, initiative, and enthusiasm. On a Tuesday morning in September, he died suddenly.
Ware got the call to help break the news to students, and he was asked to help lead Cal U’s online memorial service. On September 10th, students, faculty, administrators, and Jamain’s family gathered online to remember this beloved young man. Ware opened the time in prayer and closed the service with a short reflection, recalling a Bible study that he, Juice, and another teammate had gone through together—a study that looked in particular at how this world is not the way it ought to be.
“As I got that dreadful call, my thoughts went back and forth from anger to despair, and I thought about how this isn’t the way it is supposed to be,” Ware reflected. “My heart sank as I lost someone I loved, and I felt angry because I wouldn’t be able to be in his presence again here on earth. I just liked being around my man Juice.
“Juice didn’t find hope in his ability, though we know he could move some weight and clog up that defensive line. He didn’t find hope in his friendliness, though we all wanted to hang out with him. He didn’t find his hope in his intelligence, though he was bright and thoughtful. He didn’t even find hope in how good of a person he was, though we’d all be okay with him dating our daughter. He put his hope in Jesus because he knew he wasn’t good enough. We know Juice wasn’t perfect, but he put his hope in Jesus who is.
“I share this, not just because I’m a preacher and I have your ear for a few minutes, but because I believe it’s what Juice wants you to hear now. I believe he, because of his professed faith in Jesus, is healed from his personal brokenness now, and he wants you to have that hope that is beyond the brokenness of our world.”
After the service, the athletic director asked Ware to facilitate a sharing time with student athletes, and so they processed and grieved together. During the call, students noticed that there were 77 participants—Juice’s jersey number.
Ware continues to pray that these 77 student athletes, and many other students and staff at Cal U, will come to see the “hope that is beyond the brokenness of the world,” shining even and especially in the darkest places. Jesus, the Light of the world, will not be overcome.
The college and university campus is the most strategic mission field in the world, with only 2% of students being reached with the Gospel. CCO partners with local church congregations to help students feel a sense of belonging. A community is formed between the CCO staff and students, who are invited into the lives of local congregations. Through this community of fellowship, CCO is able to minister to the students in a life-changing way.
To interview Dan Dupee or for more information about Coalition for Christian Outreach, contact Media@HamiltonStrategies.com, Marjorie Pratt, 610.584.1096, ext. 107, or Deborah Hamilton, ext. 102.