|A Brief History of the WPI Christian Bible Fellowship – By Chuck Vogt
The year was 1972. I was starting out as a freshman at WPI with the goal of becoming a chemical engineer, but with a dream of starting a Christian Fellowship on campus. I had been a follower of Christ for almost 3 years and I had seen many so called “Christian” kids go off to college and one year later show no evidence of Christ in their lives. I did not want to be one of those cases.
WPI had no established Christian Fellowship group on campus, but that was soon to change. Little did I know the Lord would use me to help launch a movement that has continued now for 36 years.
As I reflect on what has happened at WPI over these years, I can only see this as an amazing work of God. One of my favorite verses is Lamentations 3: 22, 23.
The Lord’s lovingkindness indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Thy Faithfulness! (NASB).
That word: Lovingkindness, otherwise translated mercy, or love, is from one of the most amazing Hebrew words in scripture. The word is CHESED. It’s a word that cannot be translated into English in a single word. It combines the ideas of unswerving fidelity and constancy with rock solid integrity and trustworthiness. It is a selfless, loyal, faithful love that expresses itself with abundant, extraordinary or uncommon goodness. It is similar to the Greek word AGAPE, but it seems to be much richer in history.
Other than my roommate, the first person I met on my dorm floor also was named Chuck, and turned out to be a Christian. It was a great relief to have a Christian brother in less than 2 days. Chuck Dickert only stayed at WPI for one year and went off to Christian university to become a teacher. He thought he wanted to be a pastor, and so was nicknamed “Pastor” on the floor, but he ended up with a teaching degree. He was a big help to getting things started. As a matter of fact, he discovered a local church and through him I met two other Christians (twin brothers Rick and Dave Peterson), and a married couple who lived across the street from campus Sue and Steve Draper.
It was this small group that started to meet in Sue and Steve’s apartment (and it literally could only fit the 6 of us) After that we found a room on campus to meet.
At the end of my dorm hall, there was one room that had a small sticker on the outside door that simply said “ The eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not sweat it.” The whole sign was about 1 square inch in size. Chuck knocked on the door and we explained we saw the sign on his door. Were either of you Christians? The one Christian turned out to be Craig Parker, and he was to become a good friend and still is to this day.
We tried to have some fun as well. One day we all piled into Steve Drapers car and took a trip to Spags where we had a contest to find our way around the store and get prices on various things sold there. (Yep – we really knew how to have a good time back then).
We also had a retreat in Jaffrey NH combined with the Framingham State Christian Fellowship. That was my first time up Mt Monadnock. ( I recently climbed up Mt Monadnock with my wife and it seemed to take a little longer, so I think the Mountain is taller than it was back in 1973!)
Some amazing things happened that year. Somehow we organized and established an organization on campus. I have to let you know that the name “CBF” was my idea. The thought was very simple, we were Christians, we were totally committed to the truth of the Bible and wanted that to be the basis of whatever we did, and we wanted Fellowship because it was pretty tough going and we needed Fellowship to encourage and help each other out in this journey we called Following Christ on a campus that wasn’t overly sympathetic to our cause.
I think it was in the spring 1973, that I attended a one day Navigator Conference somewhere in Worcester. My sister knew an ex military guy from her school and a car load came up so they could attend this conference. After the conference we went to Friendly’s and this guy started to share the gospel with the waitress! I’d never seen anything like that before. He was actually living what they were talking about at the conference. Some of my fellow believers at WPI couldn’t understand why I would go to a Navigator conference. We never heard of them, but it was my first contact with the Navs and it would set in motion some direction that radically changed my life.
Fall of 1973 was a different start. We were organized, established as a campus group.
It was a tough year for me personally. I lived in a one room apartment with two other guys and about 50 guy from my Freshman floor who were always there. I was struggling and I found a real friend in Steve Draper who met with me for prayer and encouragement.
I also had the opportunity to share the gospel with my neighbor and he received Christ. I learned that I didn’t know what I was doing and tried to help him to grow in Christ. He started out with some zeal, but didn’t do well overall. I wasn’t sure what I could do to help him other then spend time, go running together and encourage him to join our fellowship.
In Fall 1974 we had about 35 students come consistently to our Thursday night fellowship meetings where we would sing together, pray together and teach each other from the Bible. We also started to make some visits to students who showed some interest in the dorms and tried to reach out. The idea of small groups for Bible Study started that year.
I was the CBF coordinator. We had a core group of 7 of us trying to lead this Fellowship and have an impact on campus. By spring 1975 we had about 20 students attending.
We seemed to be running out of steam, not sure what to do.
I was suppose to be leading this Fellowship, but I didn’t know what to do. Sometime during this time, the Lord sent Bill Cassedy to Worcester as a Christian Ed director in a local church. Bill was a former Navigator and I remember mentioning to him that I would like some advice about campus ministry.
Little did I know the difference that would be. In the 1975-76 year, there were about a dozen of us who met with Bill for help and training. We became fanatics. We would meet at 5:00-7:30 AM on Thursday mornings, then I would meet with him 1:1 for an hour or two before starting my classes. What I learned from Bill changed my life.
I learned how to feed myself on the scripture. I learned how to share my faith and follow up a new believer. I learned how to lead small groups, and I developed my gift of teaching.
Here was a man who prayed for me, and invested in me I learned the power of 1Thess 2: 8 (Having thus a fond affection for you we were well please to impart to you not only the gospel, but also our own lives because you had become dear to us)
I learned from Bill, that Discipleship is nothing less than pouring your life into someone else. If you are not doing that, you are not making disciples. It is really that simple.
How you do that will vary with your personality and style. Small groups are my most effective tool, but no matter what, you minister most effectively when you are intentionally relational. When you share your life with someone else.
My Senior year was a tough year. I had to learn to deal with a lot of academic stress. I failed the competency exam twice before coming out on top of the rankings in June. I was leading the CBF fellowship, but my real joy came from meeting one on one with three guys. I started praying that God would give me one guy to follow up in Christ, and He led me to Joe Strillchuck. I stopped by his dorm room almost every afternoon to help him learn to follow Christ. To understand the basics of getting to know Christ through the Word and prayer. Joe was an adventurer, who found very unusual circumstances to share the gospel with others. He traveled behind the iron curtain, worked on a whaling ship, led a group of people on bicycles across the country, all with the passion of making Christ known to people who wound not hear otherwise. Then I had the opportunity to share the gospel with Tom Girotti. Tom was living with Ken Fast and saw how Christ really made a difference in Ken’s life. Joe started the discussion and I joined in and Tom accepted the Lord. What a joy to see him grow. He went home for the summer led his brother and best friend to Christ and later other members of his family. Later one of my roommates Wiebe asked for help, and we started meeting one on one. There really was no greater joy than seeing others grow in faith.
Whether you find one on one your best tool, or small groups, be sure to relate to each other in a way that helps, encourages and builds up others. Be sure you are part of a team because no one can do it alone. We need to be part of a team and the key to effective campus ministry is an effective team. A good team is really key to any effective ministry.
It was in my senior year that I was part of a ministry team reaching out to WPI students.
There was a special camaraderie that is really pretty rare. The Lord has done some amazing things since then.
That original group was not all WPI students, but all were involved in the CBF ministry.
Craig Parker is now leading the North East Nav collegiate work. Kim Colich is a translator for Wycliffe Bible Translators in Papua New Guinea, Eric Stolte is the Canadian President of the Navigators. Steve Draper is a Shepherd to Nav college staff in the North East.
Most of the history of CBF, had been quietly training and reaching out to friends to make Christ known. Men and women have graduated from WPI, gone to industry and become salt and light in their work places. Perhaps there is not greater calling in life than to live for Christ in the world that is controlled by Wall street, and motivated by a lust for power, influence or some notion of success. There is a desperate need today for scientists and engineers who not only work with excellence, but know who they are really working for.
When I left WPI, I started work at Kodak, and continued to get training with the Navs in New York. For about 7 years I worked at UofR and RIT to develop my skills, spiritual gifts and to discern my calling. I worked with the Nav staff in NY state and they got to know me and understand my gifts and calling. My ministry then shifted to a local church where I’ve been part of the leadership team for many years. I teach, lead worship, lead small groups, and work to develop leadership. What I learned at WPI continues in a different context, but with the same Biblical principles.
Each of you have had some involvement with CBF, and God has kept this ministry going for over 36 years! The impact of people walking with Christ because of CBF is not known. There are 1000’s of people who know Christ because of men and women who got help and training while here at WPI. That will continue to happen year after year for which we should all be very thankful. Take advantage of this time in your lives to get the help you need and grow in Christ and make Him known.
Let me suggest a few practical steps you can all take.
Growth usually takes place in small steps. That’s usually because we cannot take the big ones. But wherever you are you can always take one small step. Make a commitment to take the next step. Perhaps you sense the Holy Spirit prompting you to take some action. Do it.
Maybe you have never read through the Bible. Make a commitment to read from the Bible every day. Just 10-20 minutes a day is a good start.
Maybe you have never been in a small group Bible Study. Join one.
Perhaps you are in a group now, learn how to lead one. Offer to help lead the discussion.
Find someone who can help you grow. Or look for someone you can come along side and help. Pray for God to give you one person to encourage in Christ.
Look for opportunities for training and growth. Consider taking part in a Navigator summer training program. Spend a summer in Vermont,
Develop a habit of worshipping in a local church both here in Worcester and wherever home is. Take advantage of Biblical teaching wherever you can find it.
Find a mentor, and then learn to mentor others. Do this is every area of life. I have had mentors throughout college and after. Both in the workplace and in the church. Make sure you develop accountability in your life, so you don’t fall away from Christ.
The World doesn’t really offer much. The American dream does not compare with knowing Jesus Christ. In a world that lusts for material stuff, for power and influence, it cannot offer you anything that lasts. The Lord put us in this very time and place, not to get trapped into the world’s way of thinking, but to make a difference. To bring the values of the Kingdom of God into whatever place in the world you happen to be.
The fact that you are here at WPI is evidence that God wants to change your life forever. You will never be the same again.