In 2011, a freshmen from Maryland starting coming to RUF. A few older RUF students had met him playing soccer on campus, and invited him to grab Sonic with them after. Lonely, and a little wide-eyed, he accepted. He wouldn't have necessarily called himself a Christian yet, but he knew he needed friends. Next thing we know, he starts coming to large group and hearing the gospel for the first time. Our guy intern at the time, Matthew Trexler, noticed him and asked him to hang out. They started hanging out a lot. And that's how Mark Leyhe met Jesus, and for the first time saw a way out of his guilt and shame. I asked Mark if he would share his story for you to read and hopefully be encouraged by:
The Gospel of Jesus is not simply taught and discussed at Reformed University Fellowship at the University of South Carolina, but it is lived. Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus constantly entrenched in the messiness and brokenness of this world. Jesus displays his love for sinners through grace and intimate relationships. Jesus confronts the sin of his people in a manner that empowers them to repent and glorify God. This is far from the view of Jesus I possessed before attending RUF; where I discovered and experienced the true character of Jesus as described in the gospels. During my first semester at USC, shame and guilt consumed my conscience. My life was far from the perfect and tidy fairytale I envisioned. I felt alone and hopeless as I struggled to maintain control. I didn’t know what a campus ministry was, but when a group of RUF students invited me to large group meeting, I figured it was better than another lonely night of playing video games in my dorm room. I remember nothing remarkable from my first night at RUF Large Group except for a staff member asking to meet up for lunch. Over the following months, I regularly met with the staff member forming a wonderful relationship that is as strong as ever over six years later. He listened to my troubles and sat with me in my sorrows. He would share stories of Jesus and ask me what I thought of them. Despite my resistance to repent of the idolatries causing me so much pain and distress, he offered patient love and grace throughout. Overtime, God’s work through Sammy’s sermons, meetings with staff, and other circumstances, I chose to put my faith in Jesus and count Him as my Lord and Savior. I initially felt completely free and content. The Lord closely protected me for a season and I felt so distant from trouble and turmoil. I thought Jesus had answered my problems forever by plucking me out of my messy and idolatrous life forever. Within months of professing my faith, I was deep in the same sin patterns from before I became a Christian. The consequences of my choices this time were extremely severe. I was petrified to discuss my circumstances with anyone, including my always supportive and loving parents. Struck with fear, I went to leadership at RUF and asked for help. Sammy and his staff responded with love, grace and compassion. The good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection frees the staff at USC to understand, forgive and direct students towards the cross. Throughout my time as a student, I found myself continually manufacturing idols and failing to repent. Thankfully, the Lord blessed me with the mentorship of Sammy Rhodes and a wonderful community at RUF willing to speak truth into my life and confront me when necessary. By my senior year at USC, I was engaged, leading a bible study, ministering to students, and preparing for graduate school. On the surface things appeared great, but in reality, my life was in shambles. Sammy and my other friends at RUF continued to walk along side me and direct me towards the cross. My physical time with RUF has since passed, but what I gained from participating in the ministry will stay with me for eternity. This ministry showed me the character of Christ and the importance in abiding in Him. RUF has not only been pivotal in my salvation, but also my personal development in leadership, the health of my marriage, my mental health, my career, my friendships and much more. Before meeting the community of RUF at USC, I knew very little about God and Christianity. I believed even less. I am extremely grateful for God’s work through RUF at USC. Before meeting this group of faithful servants, I had never heard the Gospel. Sammy Rhodes and the RUF staff respond to the grace of Jesus by worshiping and serving. This overflows into the ministry and is demonstrated when they daily enter the messy lives of students in order to proclaim the love, grace, and saving work of Jesus. I am extremely thankful that the staff recognizes the eternal implications of the ministry and is motivated to share the good news of Jesus Christ with sinners like myself.
I could tell you a whole other story about Mark's wife Lindsey. One day soon. Needless to say they met in RUF and it was such a privilege to marry them in 2016. She has a beautiful story, too, of how Jesus used RUF in her life to grow her in truth and grace. But I just wanted you to have a picture of what I mean by the "giving the gift of RUF."
Mark and Lindsey are now in Charleston where Lindsey works for Boosterthon, and Mark is finishing up PT school at MUSC. They lead a life group at a local PCA church there, Two Rivers. They make me understand John in his Third Letter just a little bit when he said, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in truth." Because of the love and grace of Jesus in their lives, Mark and Lindsey are indeed walking in truth.
I hope this encourages your heart like it does mine, to hear stories of Jesus saving and changing lives forever. This is what your gift does. It makes room for students like Mark and Lindsey to hear the gospel, to grow in grace, and to follow Jesus to go serve and love the local church. If you want to be part of this beautiful work, make your way to https://givetoruf.org/Donate/0021 and give a gift that there might be so many more like Mark and Lindsey, who can share stories of Jesus at work in their lives, both in college, and long after!