Nexus Conference Inspires Students to Put Faith into Action
by catherine elvy, staff writer
The devotion and courage of King Jehoshaphat was remarkable. Although he had his flaws, the ancient leader worshipped God, readily obeyed spiritual commands, and boldly compelled the nation of Judah to seek the Lord.
Such practices dovetail with some of the key missions of Christian Union, a leadership development organization that encourages college students to honor the Lord, step out in faith, and change the world.
In February, Christian Union Founder and Chief Executive Officer Matt Bennett kicked off the ministry’s 2019 Nexus Conference by asking students to consider the dedication and leadership of Jehoshaphat, a descendent of King David.
“There are incredible benefits to being courageous in the Lord,” said Bennett, Cornell ’88, MBA ’89. “We want to maximize our lives and not live fruitless lives. Worship the Lord and Him alone.”
More than 400 people, including 248 students, attended Nexus February 22-24 at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, New Jersey. This year’s theme centered upon 2 Chronicles 17:6, which highlights how Jehoshaphat’s “heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord.”
Dr. Jimmy Lin, founder and president of the Rare Genomics Institute, was a keynote speaker at Nexus.
Students from Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale participated in the weekend of dynamic worship, prayer, and scriptural teaching. Plenary and breakout sessions emphasized biblical worldviews and thought-provoking topics related to faith and work.
Likewise, undergraduates appreciated myriad insights on ways to navigate career and life challenges, and some took advantage of opportunities to receive prayer and counseling.
Students from nine of the nation's leading universities attended Nexus.
“The conference gave me an opportunity to hear from professionals who were living out their faith walks in their jobs, which was very cool,” said Jadyn Broomfield (Harvard ’21), a native of Detroit who is concentrating in the history of science.
Ben Dormus (Yale ’21), a political science major from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, echoed those comments. “The best part of Nexus was hearing the real struggles of real people, whether that was from my peers or from the speakers, who spoke candidly and pointedly,” he said. “It affirmed for me that God has a track record of using broken people for great things, small and large, and that He can use broken me, too.”
Larissa Oliveira, Princeton ’21, also appreciated “hearing from people in the real world talk about their relationship with God.” The psychology major “loved the practicality and eternal validity of this year’s Nexus.”
In addition to serving as a plenary speaker, Eric Metaxas received the organization’s Christian Leader of the Year award. The Yale alumnus of 1984 is the host of a nationally syndicated daily radio program and a bestselling author.
Linnette Pilar, a Christian Union staff member, worships the Lord at Nexus.
Metaxas implored students to reflect the love and compassion of Christ as they display courage. “The Lord is always the advocate of the ones who have no voice,” said Metaxas in a nod to two of his celebrated works: Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery; and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.
Still, the ultimate example of courage comes from the Risen Lord. “Jesus, on the cross, was the most courageous man ever to live. He suffered for mankind,” said Metaxas. “He did it because He loves us.”
Among other speakers, physician and scientist Jimmy Lin, Yale ’01, discussed his unconventional journey to become a cancer genomics pioneer and rare disease social entrepreneur.
Given the plot twists in his career path, Lin encouraged undergraduates to seek God for direction and to be faithful stewards of their talents. “God has given us intellectual abilities,” Lin said.
Today, Lin serves as a chief scientific officer for oncology at Natera Inc., where he leads the development of diagnostic technologies for cancer. Lin also is a 2016 Senior TED Fellow and founder and president of Rare Genomics Institute, the world’s first platform to enable a community to leverage cutting-edge biotechnology to advance understanding of a rare disease.
Lin encouraged students to tithe their time to serve others, especially with budding spiritual and professional talents. “The habits you establish in college are what lay the foundation for your entire life,” he said.
Among other speakers, Baroness Caroline Cox described her work as president of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust. The Englishwoman founded the organization in 2004 to provide aid and advocacy for some of the beneficiaries of her previous missionary endeavors and to reach out to oppressed individuals in other nations.
Notably, Cox’s aid work has taken her into conflict zones, where she has witnessed humanitarian needs and gathered evidence of human rights violations. She also served as deputy speaker of the House of Lords from 1985 to 2005.
In addition to the teaching in the plenary and breakout sessions, the drama and fun of the annual Spoken Word Bible Memorization Contest, and the united, powerful worship, undergraduate attendees also appreciated opportunities to network with other student believers. “I came to Nexus because I have never missed one,” said Elijah Schultz, Columbia ’19.
This year’s conference provided a “gathering of my family in Christ,” said Schultz, a mechanical engineering major from Hurricane, West Virginia.
A feature of the conference was a 24/7 prayer room, where students and ministry fellows from various Christian Union ministries took turns interceding throughout the weekend.
In his message on the opening night, Christian Union’s founder drove home the paramount nature of abundant prayer and repentance, especially as part of the strategic groundwork to carry out courageous spiritual acts, on campus and in the future.
The Lord “wants you to listen and then move out in strong faith,” said Bennett. “He will guide you and do extraordinary and wonderful things.”