Mission holds an important place in my heart. As a family, the Gilberts have not only given ourselves to God’s service in mission as a vocation but we also have the great opportunity to know and support several other missionaries. One of the missionaries we know and support is Jessica Warner. I had the privilege of marrying Jessica and her husband Evan last year. Since then, Jessica has graduated from Smith College in Northampton, MA and joined Intervarsity Christian Fellowship USA (IV). If you are not familiar with IV they are a college campus-based evangelistic outreach that seeks to share the Gospel and disciple Christians.
The following is a testimony from Jessica about her journey into mission as a vocation and the importance of IV’s work on college campuses.
We sat across from each other nestled in the corner of our college’s honey-colored dining hall. The warmth I felt was in part due to swaths of steam rising from the buffet beds but came mostly from my anxious excitement. This would be my first attempt at having an intentional conversation about faith with Cassy, a very new friend. To her, this was just dinner but to me it a was a major opportunity. I ate some, listened intently, and offered bits of conversation, praying that it would lead to an open door. I saw my chance and asked the most benign question I could think of, “So what’s your spiritual background,” the warmth I felt now becoming heat in my neck and face. “I don’t want to talk about it,” Cassy said—cold water to my expectation of a deep, hour-long conversation.
Fortunately, this was just the first of many meals and the beginning of inviting her into my life, revealing my faith and my failures, each an authentic and necessary element to real-life discipleship. Hundreds of conversations, dozens of invitations to church, 3 years, and 6 months later this friend eagerly invited Jesus to make His home in her heart and His way in her life.
We also became best friends.
My name is Jessica Jean Warner, daughter of the king, wife to Evan, mother-to-be, student alumna and now campus staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA in Springfield, MA. I began my walk with Jesus at 16 but I did not start to truly seek the lost until I met the compelling community of believers in the InterVarsity chapter on my college campus.
I entered college with a yearning to see people come to know Jesus, but I thought I needed God to speak to me before I acted. I thought that I could just sit in my room and pray; then opportunities would fall from the sky. There were opportunities all around me, but I could not recognize them because of my fear of being ineffective and my false belief that I was waiting for God to tell me what to do. Plus, I was insecure in my ability to articulate the gospel and my knowledge of the Word. Truthfully, I did need to learn some skills but mostly, I needed to be reminded that Jesus already called us to go make disciples. I was on my knees, praying and waiting for a call that He had already given.
My InterVarsity staff minister, Elizabeth, reminded me of this call. She encouraged me that if I put my trust in the Lord to direct and guide me, I did not need a degree in theology nor even a decade in the faith in order to step out of my comfort zone. With each bold step, I would learn to lean on Him and would simultaneously be immersed in opportunities to learn practical skills. Although I did not need to be an “expert” Christian to offer myself to the Lord’s work, I would need to know the truth of His word and how to communicate it clearly. How could I share the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection if I had not studied it myself and could not articulate it with words? There is a clarity and confidence gained when we develop not just the heart but the tools for mission.
It was time to learn how to proclaim His good news verbally, a more vulnerable and risky form of communicating the love of Jesus than mere acts of service and Godly living; So, I set out to be prepared in knowledge of God’s word and in practice of tactful conversational skills, always inviting His Spirit to lead me. The gift that InterVarsity has been to me and my development as a leader is one without earthly comparison. I learned from my campus staff minister every day about not only effective campus ministry methods but what a humble life committed to the Lord could look like. She regularly led our leadership community in scripture study which allowed me to delve deep into InterVarsity’s method of inductive Bible study while being in a close community. Although I did not and still have not become an expert biblical scholar, the Lord has used me in surprising ways. That is the beauty and grace of the Father– He takes us and our efforts at every stage and creates something more lovely than we ever could. It turned out Elizabeth had been correct: Anyone can be used by the Lord.
Along the way, I learned effective ways of starting, maintaining and debriefing conversations around faith. The story of Cassy was my first go at pursuing someone in an equally Spirit-led and methodical manner, in hopes of introducing her to Jesus. We were both new in some way; I had never been so intentional in a conversation and she had never been asked to not only consider the question of faith but to talk about it with someone. That she came to trust Jesus eventually, shows yet again that even though I was new to the ‘how-to’s’, the Lord had something planned and He would do the work in Cassy’s heart. I knew the truth and sweetness of surrendering to Jesus. This was my motivation to press on in my pursuit of Cassy, even through very difficult seasons and conversations. Cassy would persist along with me because like every non-Christian human before her, each created by God to know and love Him, she was walking around with a gaping hole in her heart. Cassy craved to know Jesus too; she just didn’t know it yet.
InterVarsity Campus Staff ministers work on college campuses, equipping students to live intentional lives of pursuing friends and faculty with the Gospel. College is a time when young adults decide what they believe, who they will be and how they will live their lives; having a Christian presence on campus is crucial. InterVarsity is an intelligent and Spirit-led ministry that develops young adults into student leaders who know the word, live it out, and invite others to do the same. These leaders then go out to the world as mission-minded teachers, doctors, lawyers, and occasionally as InterVarsity Campus Staff!
This is my first year on staff but my work with students has not started yet as I am still raising the financial and prayerful support I need to take that step onto campus. While I have the responsibility of raising my budget, you have the opportunity to be a part of this mission! Would you consider financially and prayerfully partnering with InterVarsity?
I am certain there are hundreds more like Cassy on Springfield college campuses who need the same encounter with Jesus. You could be a part of countless redemption and restoration stories.
 Cassy’s name has been changed for privacy.