MARYVILLE – Musicians in the fine arts Bible study at the BSU at Northwest Missouri State University have been faithful in sharing the gospel with their peers – even leading one atheist, by God’s grace, to faith in Christ.
MARYVILLE – Payton Beucher didn’t expect to find himself back at Northwest Missouri State University (NWMSU) in the spring of 2023 after a three-year gap that included multiple school transfers. He also didn’t expect to find Jesus. But he did, on both accounts.
As Payton was preparing to move back to Maryville to study clarinet at NWMSU, God was leading Brooklyn Ellis and Zach Ringo to start a Fine Arts Bible study. The two close friends had both been Music Education majors and shared the experience of being a believer in the time-consuming world of fine arts.
“We didn’t feel like we had the opportunity to have a lot of community,” Ellis says. She and Ringo were both involved in the Lighthouse ministry, but their complicated music schedules made it difficult to participate. They’d held an informal Bible study the previous year with two other classmates, Josh and Coy. But they knew there were other believers in their department who hadn’t found a source of Christian community on campus. “We talked about the idea to create our own, working around the schedules of music people and making it accessible,” she says.
After a defining moment sitting in the car one night discussing this with another music major friend, they decided to start a Fine Arts Bible Study. None of the three had much experience leading something like that, so they went to Campus Missionary Jason Yarnell for advice. He offered guidance and provided them with a Gospel of John study material to use.
They started meeting weekly in the BSU’s prayer room to pray and began inviting people to the study. They didn’t want it to just be a community for believers, however. “We had an open-door policy for anyone who wasn’t a believer,” Ringo says. “These are the people we are around all day, every day. We see them in almost every class, in every ensemble, everywhere.”
Beucher was one of the friends they invited. “My initial instinct was to say thank you but decline,” he says. He’d been raised in an agnostic home and had virtually no spiritual upbringing.
“I ended up being very atheistic for many years,” says Beucher. “I was struggling with many mental health issues at the time, and in general was just angry and unwilling to ask myself questions about life beyond the surface level.” After finding treatment that improved his mental health, he felt ready to re-examine what he believed. That, on top of the death of his grandfather last summer, pushed “the nagging feeling of wanting to find truth” to the forefront of his life.
Instead of declining the invitation, Beucher said yes. “The general mind state I found myself in was one of openness,” he says. “I had already been re-examining my beliefs and knew deep down that I wanted to search for truth, and everything that had happened in my life at the time gave me the push I needed to go and listen. It really felt like I had been led back to Northwest, and now it felt like I had been led to this Bible study.”
Bracelets with a meaning
Throughout the spring semester, the group studied John on Friday afternoons in the Fine Arts building with anywhere from six to fifteen students in attendance. As Beucher wrestled with the meaning of truth, Ellis and Ringo were realizing the profound but weighty opportunity in front of them. Many of their peers have had negative experiences with church and Christians, but “they are people we already have built a rapport with,” says Ringo. “If we can be that good example of Christ, then they might want to come check something out.”
Fine Arts departments on college campuses are notoriously tight-knit communities. Students eat, breathe, work, and play together. “Because we were surrounded with them and interacting with them daily, we might be the most that some people interact with faith,” Ellis says. That realization challenged them to hold themselves to a higher standard and represent Christ well to their peers.
“The Lord convicted me that the way I carry myself is important,” says Ellis. She bought a bag of bracelets that said “HWLF,” meaning “He would love first” in response to the question, “What would Jesus do?” Those who wanted to took bracelets to wear as reminders that their actions, reactions, and attitudes have an impact on how others perceive Christ. “People aren’t always going to react well to the gospel,” Ellis says. “But you don’t give people the excuse to throw it back in your face.”
Wrestling with questions
Beucher came week after week. He also started attending Lighthouse BSU. “He expressed pretty openly that he hadn’t had much exposure to Christianity. That was sort of baffling to me,” Ellis admits. “When I think about people in our country, I always think they’ve heard the basics of Christianity. There was so much he had never heard of. We spent a lot of time exposing him to the basic ideas of Christianity.”
Beucher would take those ideas, reflect on them, then return with thoughtful, probing questions. The believers in the group could sense the Lord was working, so they allowed the conversation to follow his questions. One particular week, they were discussing the attributes of God. Something struck Payton deeply. “He went off on a rabbit trail, and we went on it with him,” Ringo says. “We could all see the gears turning in his head.”
In a supernaturally shared sense of unity, the group intuitively determined “to go down this trail because there’s an answer at the end of this,” remembers Ringo. Finally, they came to that answer—the gospel. One group member, Ari, drew the bridge illustration and explained the gospel.
Ellis and Ringo could see Beucher’s search for truth intensify after that. One night after the Lighthouse’s weekly worship gathering, Beucher sought out Jason Yarnell. Through their conversation, he realized a profound flaw in his thought process about faith. “I had it in my head that there would be a point—a certain amount of reading done, things learned, questions asked and answered—that I would feel confident putting my faith in Christ,” Beucher recalls.
But his conversation with Yarnell showed him that “that point, that specific moment when you’ve heard enough to make an informed decision, doesn’t really exist as I thought it did,” he says. “There will always be more questions, more reading, more listening and thinking to be done. And if that’s the case, that I’m not ‘filling up a progress bar to conversion’; then what am I waiting for?”
Surrendering to Christ
Shortly after that day, Ellis received a text from Beucher saying that he’d pulled over on the side of the road and given his life to Christ. “If that specific moment I thought I was progressing towards isn’t some place in the future, then that moment is actually right now,” he realized as he was driving. “It was actually Good Friday that day…that I put my faith in Jesus.”
Watching their friend come to faith was a beautiful and unexpected joy for Ellis and Ringo. “Talking to Payton and seeing how God was working in his life even before he came to Northwest, this was just the final push before he fully came to Christ,” Ringo says. “It was really crazy to see his growth.”
Beucher is getting baptized at the end of the summer and plans to stay involved with the Fine Arts Bible study and with Lighthouse BSU this year. He’s thankful for the journey that led him to Christ, even though it involved pain and hardship along the way. He longs for others to experience the hope and healing he has.
“In music, and the fine arts in general, there are a lot of people who are hurting and angry and lost,” he says. “I know this to be true because I was one of them not too long ago. I am continually trying my best to be a light with my faith in a place that is very much in need of it.”
Spreading the Word
Beucher, Ellis, and Ringo share a burning passion to share Christ with their peers. Neither Ellis nor Ringo are music majors anymore, but both are still deeply involved in the music department through ensembles and marching band. As they move into the fall semester, their goal is threefold: build community, have personal accountability, and provide the opportunity for people to have exposure to the gospel.
“The goal is to get people to come, expose them to Christianity—to the gospel—be available to answer questions they may have, be present, and be a good ambassador for Christ,” says Ellis.
There’s an opportunity before them, and these three students and their believing friends are committed to maximizing it. “It’s our job to go out into the mission field and spread the Word of God,” says Ringo. “This is the mission field we’ve been placed in.”
Article also published in the MBC Pathway. Reposted with permission.