Finding faith on and off the field

 

(Courtesy of Jenny Peter)

“I in them and you in me–so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Taken from John 17:23, that verse is the motto of one of the newest faith-based organizations on campus, Stanford United. Described as a “student-initiated, Christian-athlete fellowship group” on its Facebook page, Stanford United is the brainchild of Taylor Skaufel ’11, who started the group in spring quarter this last year.

Already a member of a Bible study group with the football team, Skaufel observed that there was a lot of demand for a similar organization among his fellow athletes, and he decided to act on that enthusiasm.

“I wanted to create something that you could come to if you had never been to Bible study before, if you just wanted to learn about Jesus,” he said.

Despite the relative abundance of faith-based organizations on campus, Skaufel said newcomers often find it difficult to approach the already tight-knit groups. That’s where he stepped in.

“Stanford United really got started because, for a lot of the Christian groups here, people felt uncomfortable going if they weren’t already a part of the group,” he said.

To start the group, Skaufel invited one member from every Stanford athletic team to a meeting. After gauging their interest levels, he had those team representatives invite members to attend Stanford United’s first meeting with the hope that it would make joining the group easier for many students.

“Having someone personally invite you goes a long way,” Skaufel said.

Ben Johnson ’12 has been a member since the group’s founding. A runner for the cross-country and track teams, Johnson met Skaufel in a similar Christian athletes’ organization. The two became friends, and when Skaufel decided to found his own group, Johnson was quickly asked to join.

“Taylor told me he was founding this group, Stanford United, and that I should join,” Johnson said. “I did, I helped out where I could and here we are today.”

Stanford United, unlike many similar organizations, is not based around specific sermons or other explorative lessons. Instead, meetings are scheduled around personal testimonies of faith that are shared by the members.

“It’s a lot of sharing of what God does in your life, personally,” Skaufel said. “For people who’ve grown up in the Church or not grown up in the Church, I feel like you hear a lot of sermons on things, but what you don’t really get is what He is doing in people’s lives.”

Jen Yen ’11 also joined the group in its inaugural days. During the second meeting, she stood up and shared her own story about life at Stanford, from struggling to accept her role on the tennis team to trying to learn how to “be real” with herself and God in an intense college climate. The best surprise, she said, was when her teammates from tennis showed up to hear her speak, even the girls who weren’t Christian.

“They really got to see a whole new side of me,” she said. “Jesus is just such a big part of my life, and it was cool that I got to share that with them.”

The group aims to help clarify Christianity for its members in addition to acting as a general support system for everyday life.

“Really, one of the main goals of the group is to clarify what “Christian” is, what we believe and why we believe it, and to really care for others,” Johnson said. “We try to figure out who Jesus is and how he helps us, and we help each other and express our faith.”

Group members have reported positive experiences across the board.

“I’ve been really blessed by what’s come of it,” Skaufel said. “By all the people sharing their stories and just everything you get out of that.”

“We have a lot going on with sports, with school, and if we’re having a bad day, we can meet and everyone is just there to support one another,” Johnson added. “That’s what I really love about Stanford United, the level of caring people have for each other.”

Additionally, the wide pull of the group ensures that a diverse community is formed, one that the members normally might not get to experience.

“One of the best parts is to see people, to come together in Christ and just to put aside our differences,” Yen said. “Honestly, if it weren’t for the group, I don’t think that all of us would be hanging out together, so it brings people from all over.”

Although Stanford United describes itself as a Christian athletes’ group, Skaufel emphasized that the organization is not solely for athletes.

“We started it with athletes, because that’s where I saw a big need,” he said. “But there are definitely people who are not athletes.”

During the spring, the group met about once a month, a schedule that will continue into next year. Currently, however, Stanford United is hosting weekly Bible study sessions for interested undergrad and graduate students. The group is focusing on the question “Who is Jesus?” for study this summer.

“There’s this saying that Jesus was a man in the world but not of the world,” Skaufel said. “We’re looking into what that means.”

Skaufel will officially be finished with school at the end of the upcoming fall quarter, after which Stanford United’s management will fall into new hands. However, he is confident that the group will live on.

“There’s a lot of people I know who want to keep it going,” he said. “It’ll be in good hands.”