In 2001, Tim and Melissa Kern traveled to Helena from Dillon Montana with Curtis Cole, campus minister at University of Montana–Western (UMW) to check out Carroll College. Curtis and Delyn Freeman Cole were their XA pastors and mentors who invested years in them as students at UM-W. Tim and Melissa were 26 years old and were toting around their daughter Hannah Kern who was 1 month old. That day, God birthed in them a calling to pioneer Chi Alpha at Carroll College, a private Catholic campus. Pastors Ken Ross, Norm Christofferson and Paul Feuerstein were incredible mentors and supportive of XA along with so many other pastors in Helena and Montana that helped them start XA. Levi Mielke was their first student who transferred to Carroll to help the Kerns pioneer the ministry. Emily Roehm was their first full time associate staff and Haylee Petrusha and Haley Feuerstein were their first students to “give a year” back to XA at Carroll. Keith Elder, district youth director for Montana, challenged and appointed the Kerns to establish XA at Carroll College.
Nick & Haylee Petrusha and their team took over the ministry at Carroll College. Tim and Melissa received national missionary appointment in 2013, to relocate to South Bend, Indiana to pioneer another private Catholic University, University of Notre Dame and they have! They also began ministry at the Indiana University at South Bend and St. Mary’s College.
John Konkel is a Chi Alpha campus pastor at the University of Minnesota. When he started in 2005, he walked by frat row and God placed a burden on his heart. Was anyone reaching out to these guys?
He asked, “How does a campus minister (chaplain) get invited into frat houses, which have a stereotypical reputation for not being havens of morality?” John felt God impressed him to grab a toilet bowl brush, some cleaning supplies, and start making phone calls and knocking on frat house doors.
“I started by just cleaning toilets,” John says. “Then I grabbed a Chi Alpha student, and we spent the summer cleaning frat houses free; we’d vacuum, wash dishes, clean toilets, and while we were at it, we’d build relationships with those guys.”
“I wanted to pitch the idea of having a chaplain to a lot of the fraternities on our campus, but I needed an invitation to attend the yearly frat council meeting,” John said. He started by calling frat presidents, and one of them responded. The frat president wasn’t walking with the Lord, but something had been stirring in his heart to read the Bible. He thought having a chaplain for his frat would be a good idea. He took the idea to his chapter, and they voted on it. They agreed it was a great idea! That was 2007.
“For the next 15 years, every year, I’m permitted to attend the frat council meeting and pitch to all the frats the idea of having a chaplain,” John says. “What I’ve found is that after I make that pitch, especially the last three years, students have contacted me as they’re dealing with things like anxiety, depression, addictions, suicidal thoughts, alcohol — underneath it all is a hunger for Jesus!”
John shares that two years ago, he led 16 frat members to the Lord. Last year, in a unique COVID year, he led 20 to the Lord. This year, he’s already seen 38 frat guys make commitments to the Lord as their Savior in just the first semester!
“I could speak at a chapter last week, my last chapter for the semester,” John says. “This frat has a yearly initiation process and now that includes a spiritual direction night that I’ve been able to lead in the last two years!”
“There are few subcultures on the college campus larger or more impactful than fraternities and athletes,” John says. “On the weekends, a huge chunk of what student life looks like is tied up in sporting events or Greek parties. What if God comes and breathes life into these subcultures? That can transform a university!”
Since reaching out to fraternities by cleaning toilets, John says he has now become the chaplain for many of the fraternities on campus. He can freely walk into a meeting where he is known and recognized. And as a fraternity chaplain, they permitted him to engage other fraternities that don’t have a chaplain.
“What’s really great is that recently I had a frat president contact me after a meeting,” John says. “He wanted to start a Bible study, just him and me. After a while, I encouraged him to invite other frat brothers, and now we have eight guys coming. And when that president transitioned out of leadership, the new president joined our group.”
“Imagine,” John muses, “frats taking leadership in leading campuses to Christ — it’s almost like planting an indigenous church.”
Ryan Foster, is the primary Chi Alpha campus minister at the University of Minnesota, leading the typical Chi Alpha model with undergraduates and small groups, while John Konkel (in the article above) works in partnership with Chi Alpha and focuses on Greek life and athletes.
This is a condensed version of a full article that appeared in the AG News, January 3, 2022, “Chi Alpha Chaplain Leads Dozens of Frat Members to Christ,” by Dan Van Veen.
In high school, I became a Jesus follower. I joined Young Life and was encouraged by the leader, John Hartle, to grow in my faith. John’s roommate was Brady Bobbink. So, when I graduated, John passed me off to Brady, who put me into his XA leadership training group at Western Washington University.
I spent the next 5 years living in residence halls learning to share the gospel where I lived. I studied history and poly sci in preparation to be a high school teacher and coach. But God had other ideas.
Brady asked me to pray about becoming a campus minister. After praying over the next year, I knew how the Lord wanted me to serve Him. I grew a passionate love for Scripture under Brady’s teachings. I also grew a love for missions, and got to lead a XA student missions team to reach First Nations people in British Columbia.
My calling to XA was immediately tested by being offered a job as the assistant to the JV coach for the basketball team. Jesus had already directed me to train to be a campus minister where I could coach university students how to serve Him.
There were four interns my year, and I was privileged to be mentored by Greg Smith (Brady’s first intern). Greg had graduated from Regent College and set about to give me a seminary education. He challenged me to study the entire New Testament and teach an 8-week class on it.
My favorite training was when another intern (Reid Johnson) and I went door to door in Highland Hall, sharing the gospel. Two men became Christ followers, and I led a weekly bible study for them. Reid pioneered the XA ministry at the University of British Columbia, and I pioneered the XA ministry at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Jerry Thomas, a fellow XA, accompanied me.
After a year of being on staff at Christian Chapel Assembly and establishing a XA group of a dozen students, Jerry and I moved back to Washington to marry our sweethearts.
Next, Jerry went to make disciples in the workplace, while Carol and I took over the XA group at Central Washington University. We’ve been there since 1981. It’s been so satisfying watching students become disciples who make more disciples (Mt. 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 5:14-21).
Obeying Jesus is where it is at. Being a XA campus minister is a front row seat, watching Him change and direct students’ lives to transform our world. He gets glory by the alumni serving Him in their local churches; making disciples in the marketplace and around the world.
It’s great knowing that this same story is repeated all over XA Nation as students come to university, become active in XA, find Jesus, and are trained to obey the Great Commission in the power of the Holy Spirit.