Junior Christian Ministry and Formation major Maisey Redman spent last summer doing what she loves: spreading the gospel, leading worship nights and hosting evangelism training sessions as a youth group leader for the evangelical Christian organization Carry the Love.
Over the course of the summer, she worked as a leader at three of the group’s youth camps in California, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii and enjoyed the experience. When she noticed that Wheaton College had a ‘Missions in Focus Week’ planned for February, she thought that Carry the Love’s focus on training the next generation of missionaries would be the perfect fit for the week’s events. She worked with the Office of Ministry and Evangelism to invite Carry the Love to campus during the Feb. 21-27 Missions Week, where the group led multiple worship nights and evangelism training sessions for Wheaton students.
“What motivated me to invite Carry the Love was a burning desire for other people on campus to not only experience, but truly know the love of God,” Redman said. “ that we would spend less time soaking up messages and sitting around, and instead be activated and awakened to our call to go and be sent, either to the nations or recommissioned into the communities we are in, such as Wheaton.”
The Carry the Love event is one of several spiritual initiatives that have taken place on campus this semester. Student-led overnight prayer vigils are another recent development, the most recent of which occurred from March 25-26.
Carry the Love — which is affiliated with the missional community Circuit Riders and the Christian training organization Youth With a Mission — was founded in 2014 and is based in Huntington Beach, Calif. According to their website, the organization seeks to “build grassroots teams that focus on uniting believers unto activation and outreach” by touring across universities and partnering with students to lead worship nights, host evangelism training sessions and promote Christian outreach. This spring, the group has hosted events at many universities including Columbia College, Texas A&M University and Georgetown University, as well as overseas in Dublin, London and the capital of Latvia.
Jared Falkanger ‘13, ‘19, the Director of the Office of Ministry and Evangelism, said that once he realized that Carry the Love wanted to visit campus, he approved of the idea because the organization’s mission aligned with Wheaton’s vision for Missions Week.
“I had worked with students a few years ago to plan some programming with Carry the Love and was comfortable doing so again because their mission is to ‘reach a lost generation with the message of Jesus and activate believers to a lifestyle of love and evangelism,’” said Falkanger. “This mission of activation was in line with our desire to have students and campus consider the call to be missionally minded in all aspects of their life.”
Carry the Love’s programs for Missions Week included multiple worship nights with a charismatic flavor, a message by one of the Carry the Love leaders, a time for prayer with the leaders and a call to accept Christ as Savior. During the Wednesday night event, several students began to dance to the music, and the session ended after Carry the Love employees asked people to take off their shoes as a symbol of agreeing to go anywhere that Jesus calls them to.
Haley Vaughn, the graduate assistant for the Student Evangelism Cabinet, helped Redman promote Carry the Love’s events on campus. “I felt the Lord’s presence in the room and felt encouraged by Carry the Love’s zeal and passion for Jesus,” said Vaughn, who attended one of the organization’s worship nights. “I believe Carry the Love’s influence that evening inspired several students to recommit their lives to Jesus, commit to serving in the mission field, or reconsider where the Lord might be leading them.”
In addition to leading worship nights, Carry the Love also hosted evangelism training events during the week. Separate men’s and women’s sessions — entitled “Men Who Lead” and “Brave New Love,” respectively — were held on Feb. 24, and included conversations with Carry the Love employees, a message and small-group prayer time.
Lauren Newhard, a senior Christian Formation and Ministry major, attended the Brave New Love session and felt particularly impacted by her interaction with a Carry the Love employee.
“The most beautiful part of Brave New Love was being prayed over by a Carry the Love staff member,” said Newhard. “She walked me through prayers of repentance and forgiveness for things such as control, comparison and fear or anxiety. It was beautiful and I felt incredibly seen by God through her words and her prayers.”
Other students did not react as positively to the messages given by Carry the Love. Thomas Fromke, a junior economics major, attended one of their evening events. Though he acknowledged the “good intentions” of Carry the Love, Fromke was critical of what he viewed as the group’s hyper-focus on global missions over other areas of Christian life.
“I believe that Carry the Love is coming from a genuine want to see people go into ministry and to spread the Gospel,” said Fromke. “However, I believe that the way they are pushing people into cheapens the grace that God gives us and can be very dangerous for new Christians who may think that they need to earn purpose through ministry.”
Another new spiritual initiative on campus this semester stemmed from the leadership of Wheaton students, rather than from the College’s collaboration with Carry the Love. Senior English major JY Yoon, the student chaplain of prayer, worked with other Chicagoland campuses and church pastors to organize multiple overnight prayer vigils.
One of the vigils was held from 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 25, to 6 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26. Roughly 450 students attended the vigil from Wheaton and other Chicagoland campuses including Moody Bible Institute, Calvin University, College of DuPage, University of Illinois Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Loyola University. The event was also live-streamed on YouTube and received more than 10,000 views.
“People from Moody and Calvin and local church pastors started reaching out,” said Yoon. “They heard that Wheaton has been praying for revival, and they wanted to join.”
The vigil started with 30 minutes of prayer focused on Ukraine and the war with Russia. Junior Elaina Marchenko, a Bible and theology major, was asked to lead this portion because she has family in Ukraine. She commented on the spiritual effect of uniting with students from other schools for prayer.
“It was good to gather people from Wheaton and other campuses to intentionally pray for revival and to recalibrate our hearts,” Marchenko said. “I hope students wake up from any lukewarmness they may be treading in with their faith.”
The night was entirely student-led, and students could choose to participate in individual prayer, large group prayer or small group prayer. The structure also allowed time for worship and several talks that focused on revival in the Chicagoland area. The talks were led both by students and by the chapel guest speaker for Missions Week, Mathew John. John, who is the pastor of missional outreach at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, Calif., delivered messages during Missions Week chapels from Acts 16 and 17 and encouraged believers to provide a Christian witness to people of other religions.
The inclusion of John as a speaker at the vigil was not originally planned by the vigil’s organizers. As the Chaplain’s Office explained in an email, “JY and his planning committee decided to ask Dr. John to be part of the prayer vigil once they were aware he would be in town.”
Freshman Sophia Emmert attended the prayer vigil for five and a half hours despite needing to attend to other activities.
“The plan was not to stay that long because I had homework to get done, but the picture of Jesus came to mind where he is asking the disciples to ‘Stay awake and pray with me,’” Emmert said. “I felt that there was a strong urgency to pray.”
Junior psychology major Eduard Ban also attended the vigil, staying until 3 a.m. He expressed his desire for the overnight prayer vigils to happen more often.
“Wheaton students want it more and more,” said Ban. “We have chapel three times a week, and then we go to church, and then we have DSG, and we get into a routine. This gets us out of it, because it’s the whole night. It’s new and refreshing. It’s important to get out of that routine.”
The Chaplain’s Office and the student chaplains say that going forward they plan to host vigils monthly. The most recent occurred from March 25-26, and another is planned for April.
Yoon expressed his hope that the prayer vigils will spark a spiritual revival on campus with lasting effects.
“Revival always entails repentance,” said Yoon. “Repenting from lukewarmness, from apathy, from secret sins. You can get a few good speakers to come and speak at this revival event and make everyone cry, but that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for a true proclamation of the Word that will truly set a holy conviction on the hearts of the people that come, and that’s something that can’t be extinguished easily.”