When J.R. Foster entered RTS/Charlotte in 1996, he and his wife, Eliza, knew in their hearts that God was calling them to campus ministry. And today, almost three years later, they will soon find themselves doing just that for Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) on the sprawling campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee. J.R. remembers the confusion and spiritual searching of his collegiate years and is grateful that someone took the time to lead him to Christ and disciple him.
"I think a great number of college students are like I was - in a transitional, unsettled time in their lives," says J.R. "They have endless questions and are just beginning to hammer out their values and faith commitment in life. College students tend to be thinkers; I am a thinker and wrestler, too. I'd like to be involved in students' lives as they begin to nail down what they believe. I want to see changes occur during those crucial years."
Because of his intense involvement with Reformed University Fellowship at Clemson, J.R. believes that RUF has a lot to offer. He likes their emphasis on the church. The ministry works hard to involve students in a local church, so when they graduate they will be more likely to remain active in a congregation.
"They also fit the ministry to the student, instead of forcing the student to fit the mold of an existing framework," J.R. explains further. "RUF staffers see their jobs as 'biblical pastoring.' They try to meet the student where he is, working with his gifts, weaknesses, and areas of struggle. Many other ministries simply plug students into existing Bible studies instead of asking each one, "What are your needs? What areas do you need to grow in?"
James Elkin, Mississippi Coordinator for RUF, can't wait for J.R. to get started. "The Lord seems to have perfectly prepared him for campus ministry," he says. "We are delighted to have him work with RUF."
"WHAT DOES HE HAVE THAT I DON'T?"
Perhaps one reason J.R. will be so effective as a campus minister is his ability to empathize with the struggles of many college students. When he arrived at South Carolina's Clemson University in 1989, he had primarily three things on his mind: getting rich, dating pretty girls, and having a good time at a school with a great football team. By choosing accounting as a major, he took his first, tiny step toward wealth, and by joining the party scene he took a big leap into meaningless existence. Outwardly, he was the life of the party, but by the end of the first semester he had begun to think, "Surely there's more to life than looking for the next good time!" and was writing to other schools to transfer.
"I didn't have peace about life, and I was hurting terribly," J.R. remembers. "I understand now what Proverbs 14:13 means when it says, 'Even in laughter the heart may ache.'"
His parents suggested that he give Clemson another semester and join a fraternity, which he did along with his future best friend, Tim Senn. But it was a temporary salve for a deep spiritual wound. Although he was elected pledge class president because of his obvious leadership skills, he continued to spiral down spiritually.
The summer after his freshman year J.R.'s family moved to Texas, where he became involved with a college group at his parents' church. There he met a Christian girl and began a relationship that prodded him to consider his own lack of faith.
God was still at work on his heart when he returned to Clemson for his sophomore year. A new fraternity pledge lost his mother that December, and when he returned for classes in January, the student had changed radically. J.R. noticed the boy dropped out of the party scene and became a regular at a fraternity Bible study which J.R. had begun attending. During a group prayer one night, J.R. heard him thank God for the eighteen years of life the Lord had given him with his mom.
"At that moment, what theology I had crumbled to pieces," recalls J.R., "because I realized through that friend's prayer that he had a relationship with God. I had never seen that before, and for months it really caused me to wrestle with the idea of a personal God. I knew if that had happened to me, I wouldn't be able to thank God, nor would I be able to see any good in it. I might even be mad at God. Over and over I wondered, "How does he do it?"
During the next three months, J.R. searched and questioned and gradually noticed that he was becoming more spiritually involved. Looking back, he realizes that God was drawing him closer, slowly and personally, without any force. And J.R. gratefully responded.
WORKING OUT HIS SALVATION
By the end of the spring 1991 he had come to an understanding of the Gospel. Meanwhile, a mini-revival was going on in his fraternity. Several of his friends also became Christians, beginning a rich time of fellowship for J.R. That summer he took two of his Christian fraternity brothers, including Tim Senn, with him to Saranac Lake in upstate New York, where his family had been vacationing for some twenty years. There they worked in restaurants at night and studied the Bible and fellowshipped during the day. For J.R. it was a time of formidable growth and challenging relationships.
Senn, now Youth Pastor of The Bible Church of Little Rock, Arkansas, remembers that J.R.'s natural vision and leadership ability intensified when he became a Christian. "He always had a hunger for the Lord and a desire for others to know Him. He is trustworthy and faithful, two qualities that will serve him well in ministry; his sincerity is appealing and winsome and will draw students to him."
During his senior year he was introduced to RUF, since Eliza was heavily involved in the ministry. Under the tutelage of campus minister David Sinclair (RTS '97), J.R. really took off spiritually, learning the imperatives of the Bible and developing a love for God's Word and His church. He also learned how to study the Bible and apply it to his life.
After he graduated in 1993, he remained at Clemson to get a master's degree in Student Affairs and Higher Education, preparing to be a college administrator. But while working on his masters, he worked for Clemson's athletic scholarship fund and developed an interest in fund raising. So after he and Eliza married in 1995, he went to work raising money for a ministry in Charlotte.
But after about nine months, he realized that his heart was not really in his job. He didn't enjoy fund-raising and eventually decided that he should move on, but to what? Finally, Eliza pointed out, "J.R., at one point you talked of seminary. Why not now instead of waiting twenty years?"
A TRUSTED MODEL FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
God seemed to bring seminary and campus ministry together at one time. J.R. looked at his gifts and abilities -- English degree, master's degree with a heavy emphasis in counseling, and fund raising experience -- and realized he had the necessary background to raise support and work in a campus ministry. So he and Eliza entered RTS in 1996.
While at RTS, J.R. was the Youth Pastor at Back Creek Presbyterian Church in Mount Ulla, North Carolina, near Charlotte. Senior Pastor Alex Coblentz said the congregation was distressed when the Fosters left and would have loved to find a way to entice them to stay.
"J.R. was a wonderful role model for our young people. He did a superb job in leading our older youth and young adult group. He also was a gifted preacher, with marvelous poise and presence in the pulpit. He and Eliza are friendly and open and will be sorely missed by our congregation."
Dr. Frank Kik, Professor of Practical Theology at RTS/Charlotte, echoes the high praise for J.R. "He is an outstanding young student and preacher. God has blessed J.R. with exceptional pulpit skills that allow him to deliver his sermon without letting the mechanics get in the way of his message from God's Word."
Things could have been so different. Instead of boldly stepping out to help bring others to salvation, J.R. could still be aimlessly drifting in a spiritual wasteland. He understands how critical those years are and knows that God will surely use him and Eliza on the Florida State campus to bring more sheep into the fold.
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