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Ministry Begins Third Year in Silicon Valley

by tom campisi, managing editor

Two years ago, Christian Union expanded west by launching Caritas, a ministry to students at Stanford University.

Since 2002, Christian Union has focused on influential colleges in the Northeast, with a presence at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale.

Impacting students in California’s Silicon Valley fits in well with the mission of developing Christian leaders to transform culture, according to Garrett Brown, Christian Union’s Director of Undergraduate Ministry at Stanford.

Stanford University students (left to right) Carissa Ding, Delali Azamati, and Emily Mendonsa at Christian Union’s Nexus Conference in 2018.

“There may be no more exciting environment for learning and discovery than Stanford,” said Brown. “It’s on the leading edge of significant cultural and technological shifts. Concepts like pioneering, startup, and innovation—these are all words that are part of the fabric of this region.”

Brown, a native of the San Francisco Bay area, has served as a church planter and pastor in the region for over 20 years. He earned a master’s of divinity degree from Talbot School of Theology, and a doctorate of ministry in Theology and Culture from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Brown and his wife, Susan, have three children and live in Redwood City.

Joining Brown on the faculty are Justin Woyak, a Christian Union ministry fellow, and Jim Black, Christian Union’s Director of Athletic Ministry.

In 2009, Woyak graduated from Princeton magna cum laude with a degree in Classics. While at Princeton, he served as the student president of Christian Union’s campus ministry and then as a ministry intern for a year. In 2014, he earned a master’s of divinity from Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, where he also taught college students as an instructor in Bible and theology until 2016. Woyak and his wife, Kate, have two young daughters and a son.

“As an incoming freshman at Princeton, I never thought I would grow in my faith and leadership as much as I did,” Woyak recalled. “I learned so much in my time there about God, the Gospel, myself, and how to encourage and be encouraged by other believers. This was, in large part, because of the ministry fellows and students in Christian Union. At Stanford, we try every day—through Bible courses, one-on-one meetings, prayer, inviting students into our homes, and other events and conferences—to give to students the kind of blessings God gave to me at Princeton. It is a constant challenge and a constant joy.”

Black was the founding ministry director of Christian Union’s ministry at Columbia University from 2011 through 2017. He completed a masters of divinity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and then served as the senior pastor at Alliance Bible Church in Baytown, Texas, for nine years. Jim and his wife, Laurie, have four children. 

With Christian Union Caritas, Black will focus his ministry on the discipleship of student athletes. 

{tweetme}In 2016-17, Christian Union began its work with students at Stanford, leading in-depth Bible courses and exploring how it might serve the broader campus community. During the last academic year, 25 undergraduate students enrolled in Christian Union’s rigorous, weekly Bible courses.{/tweetme}
With a leadership team in place, Christian Union Caritas will seek to gain recognition as a student organization.

“I’m struck by what a rich environment this is for spiritual engagement,” Brown said. “Even though young adults across the nation are leaving their churches in droves, that does not mean they are disinterested in spiritual conversation.”

“Coming into our third year working with Stanford students, we are excited about seeing more and more student ownership and leadership. Several of our ministry team leaders and members are just taking the first steps in their faith, and yet have such great capacity to lead and influence others. We’re also eager to grow in the areas of prayer and fasting—certainly new ground for a large segment of our students—but it is in these timeless rhythms and practices of the church where we will see our students grow.”

One of last year’s highlights, according to Brown, was meeting a freshman with no Christian background who joined a Christian Union Sex and Spirituality Bible course. The student participated in weekly discussions that unpacked God’s design for sex and the implications of living that out as young men. Over the summer, Brown gave him Tim Keller’s book, The Reason for God, to read and study. When Brown checked in with him and asked about the book, he lit up.

“I love it. It feels so… true!” the student said. “I need to re-read the first three chapters before I move on because I really want to understand it!”
“There may be no more exciting environment for learning and discovery than Stanford. It’s on the leading edge of significant cultural and technological shifts.” -Garrett Brown
Brown is optimistic about the future of Christian Union Caritas, while being realistic about the prayer, perseverance, and patience needed to see transformation on a secular and highly intellectual campus like Stanford.

“This can be a challenging context,” he said. “However, I am confident that Jesus Christ began this work. He loves this campus and its students, faculty, and staff, and He will carry it to completion.”