James Kerr came to the United States from Scotland to play soccer at a junior college, feeling confident and proud of himself. Too proud, by his own admission - not long into the season, a coach pulled him aside and said, "You're not as good as we thought you were going to be, so we need to decrease your scholarship to give money to better players." This set James on a path he thought was about improving his game, but God had bigger plans...
James realized that his teammate, Dennin, seemed to be exceptionally disciplined and skilled - Dennin got up early, worked hard, and improved greatly - so James started to connect with him. Dennin was a Christian, which moved him to work so hard, but James wasn't particularly interested in religion, having grown up in a non-religious household. Nevertheless, the friendship with Dennin, and the ensuing hustle, proved helpful, and James grew a lot. Eventually, he transferred to Texas Wesleyan University to join the team there.
Again, James came to this new team very confident in himself. This worked out fine for a couple years, because the TXWES soccer team was not performing well, so James stood out as a strong player. Because of his prominent position on the team, James enjoyed going out with friends, spending time with girls, and doing many of the sorts of things college students like to get up to. He would describe his personality at the time as characterized by pride, impatience, and selfishness - he did what he wanted to do, and he was easily angered if others didn't get on board.
A little over a year ago, a teammate who lived across the hall began telling James about this weird roommate of his: It was a guy named Matt who would wake up at 6am to do breathing exercises and reading in the quiet morning hours - practically unheard of among college students. James came to see the spectacle of this odd student, and quickly recognized some of the same traits he had seen in his former teammate, Dennin. Matt was a baseball player and a hard worker in school, in the gym, and on the field.
So James connected with Matt in the same way he had connected with Dennin: to have someone to help push him toward better habits and skillful growth. But soon James learned Matt's secret: he wasn't working hard because he wanted to make good grades, get stronger, or win games - he was working hard because he was a follower of Christ, and his faith informed every area of his life, pushing him toward excellence in all things.
It turned out, Matt wasn't just waking up early to do breathing and read - he was waking up early to spend time in scripture, prayer, and meditation. God was the very top priority in his life, and he wasn't interested in James working with him unless James would also learn about Jesus.
James shared with me about the first time he agreed to go to church with Matt, certain he would have to struggle to pay attention and make it relevant to his life. Instead, he was instantly shocked at how much of what he heard actually applied to him and mattered. This evolved into regular church attendance, Bible study, and prayer as Matt discipled James and helped him see how Jesus saves us both from sin & hell, as well as from a meaningless life on earth. God used Matt in incredible ways as a good spiritual friend to James, and God worked on him by beginning to free him from his tendencies to pride, anger, and selfishness.
I was on campus in April 2021, near the end of the semester, when I overheard a student telling his friend he wanted to spend the rest of his campus cash buying food to give to the homeless - this instantly set off my radar, and I started a conversation with that student, Matt, and his friend, James. I did my best to connect with them, but so near the end of the school year, it was hard to do. At the end of that semester, Matt finished at TXWES and moved out of state. (After just one season on the team, he was voted as the best teammate - this is a testimony to his exceptional character as shaped by Jesus.) I wondered how I could stay connected with James now that Matt was gone.
Summer 2021 came and went, and early in the Fall semester, CONNECT set up a table in the student center to try meeting new students and sharing about our ministry. One day, James came straight up to the table. I hardly recognized him, having only met him once, but evidently he had been seeking me out. He told me that one day prior, he had messaged Matt asking for help getting in touch with me. This was no doubt God's Spirit at work.
So James and I began meeting regularly, picking up where he and Matt had left off. During one of our times together, James said plainly, "I want to be discipled." Our connection transformed from a weekly study time to true life-on-life discipleship, often getting together several days a week in different settings and with different groups, talking about life, studying scripture, praying together, or hanging out with CONNECT folks.
If you met James now, you would be hard-pressed to find the prideful, selfish teenager he once was. As he seeks Jesus, James's life is increasingly characterized by humility over pride, patience over anger, and selflessness over selfishness. He works hard in classes, and earns his spot on the field, he loves to talk about God and God's work in his life, he is in a godly relationship and is a great friend to others, and he is more concerned about growing in spirit than in skill.
This all started because of guys like Dennin and Matt, who were living out their faith completely. They weren't specially trained; they weren't preachers, teaches, or pastors; they didn't go to seminary or lead in ministry organizations - they were just college students who made the decision each day to totally live for Jesus, and it bled over into their academics, athletics, and friendships. Any of us can do the very same - live for Jesus boldly in every area of life. When you live out the gospel, you will lead people to Christ!
Please pray for James and his growing faith, for our discipling relationship, and for boldness to share Jesus with others!