Students share how lives changed at Surge

By Ellie Lambert, Photos by Christian Challenge | Mar 7, 2024

Students worship at Surge, Christian Challenge’s annual discipleship retreat.

Conformity into the image of Christ is the lifelong pursuit of the Christian until we see Jesus face to face. This process of sanctification is often spurred by discipling others, making discipleship one of the greatest impacts one can have for the kingdom. It is the heart of Christian Challenge to instill this belief in the lives of college students at Surge.

This year, 198 students gathered from 16 college campuses across Arizona for Surge, Christian Challenge’s annual discipleship retreat, at Granite Hills Retreat and Conference Center in Prescott Feb. 16-18. Campuses gathered for three days of preaching on God’s Word, worship and small group discussions, which served to inspire spiritual growth and authentic community. This year’s teaching at Surge pointed students to seeing God as the true center of one’s worship. Chuck Newkirk, lead pastor of Church on Mill in Tempe, was the guest speaker.

Maddie Reimus, campus missionary at Arizona State University Tempe and Challenge discipleship team member, shared the importance of a discipleship retreat and how students from various spiritual backgrounds benefit.

“If we believe that God’s Word does God’s work and that it’s really God’s Word working on students’ hearts, then if we put the Word before a non-Christian, then they have an opportunity to respond to Jesus. And if we put the Word before a Christian student, they have the opportunity to grow,” Reimus said.

Maddie Reimus (holding papers), Christian Challenge campus missionary at ASU Tempe, leads a discussion at Surge.

Creating a Word-focused retreat accomplishes heart change in both the believer and the non-believer, encapsulating the meaning behind discipleship: conformity to Christ.

“The first step of discipleship is deciding to follow Christ. So, we can accomplish that at a discipleship retreat because it is the point of entry,” Reimus said.

Throughout the years, students’ lives have been transformed by this catalytic event. At last year’s Surge, Arizona State University student Ayushman Thakur gave his life to Christ.

“Seeing people enjoying being under God and Christ made me realize this is the true purpose of life, and true source of joy in all adversities,” Thakur said. “Last year at Surge I was overwhelmed after seeing that many people in God’s Word.”

Thakur gave his life to Christ that first day of the retreat and attended this year’s retreat with the goal of learning how to share his faith and disciple others.

“In this year’s Surge I learned how I also have the skills and abilities to understand the Bible and share it with others,” Thakur said. “Coming from a non-Christian background, this really helped me with my conversations with my friends who are also non-Christians.”

Thakur is an international student from India and grew up in a Hindu home. Within the first week of college he was greeted by Brandon Reimus, missionary at Arizona State University Tempe, where he heard the gospel for the first time. Since then, Thakur has been faithfully growing as a disciple of Christ and desires to bring other students into a loving relationship with Jesus.

Brandon Reimus (left), Christian Challenge director with Church on Mill in Tempe, talks with Ayushman Thakur at Surge.

Jesse Minjarez, student at South Mountain Community College, also gave his life to Christ at last year’s Surge and notes how focusing on conformity to Christ has given him the confidence to grow as a leader.

“My leadership has definitely changed a lot in a way that can only be described as more biblical through the teachings of Christ,” Minjarez said. “Being patient is the one thing God has blessed me with and is helpful in leading in today’s world.”

For Northern Arizona University student Ethan Windle, developing as a follower of Jesus grew his heart for the mission field.

This past January, Windle was a part of a team from the Challenge chapter at Northern Arizona University that partnered with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to reach the students and community there.

“It’s amazing because you go there and it’s not with the attitude of a tourist but with a mind to serve the Lord,” Windle said. “You go to learn the culture there and the people and partner with churches to evangelize.”

Ethan Windle (second from left), student at Northern Arizona University, says participating at Surge has helped him grow as a follower of Jesus.

Windle recounted how the opportunity to step outside his hometown and serve others increased his heart for the gospel. Since the mission experience, Windle has been aspiring to serve as a student leader with his Challenge chapter and develop his skills as a disciple leader, particularly in leading a community group on campus.

“It has definitely encouraged me to be in the Word more and in prayer as someone who could be in a position where I am asked questions about Jesus. I always want to be ready for that,” Windle said.

For many, discipleship is the first step in one’s process of growing in conformity to Christ. Surge serves as the catalyst to inspire that spark and provides the tools necessary to develop as disciples.

Ellie Lambert is a campus missionary with Christian Challenge and a member of Mercy Hill Church in Phoenix.

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