Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Image via WCU Cru

Cru, which is Campus Crusade for Christ, a national religious organization with the mission of a caring community that is passionate about connecting others to each other and to Jesus Christ. Cru celebrated its 50th anniversary at West Chester University last fall. 

The organization as a whole has been around for over 70 years, and was started in 1951 by Bill and Vonnette Bright. The Bright’s vision for starting the Campus Crusade for Christ was mainly due to their passion for ministry on college campuses. According to their website, they started their first Cru chapter at UCLA and ever since has spread across several other colleges throughout the United States.  

On October 9, Cru at West Chester had their 50th celebration of ministry on campus. The celebration happened on the weekend of homecoming and Cru invited alumni from West Chester who had previously been involved in the organization and also graduated in the same year as it started. At the dinner, an alumni shared about a student who had an article in the Quad written about her. From the article, Jannah was very involved in the organization and her parents said she cared about people deeply. Unfortunately, Jannah passed away in 1996 due to a car accident right before graduation. Everyone who knew her at the reunion, said she was the most compassionate person they had met. WCU Cru’s goal is to reach people for the purpose of community no matter what religion you are or what you believe.  

The chapter was started in 1972 by founders, Sam and Nan McCullough. They, however, passed away, so I had the privilege of speaking with Jim Rhodes who directed Cru in the years of 19821992. Prior to WCU, Rhodes mentions the McCullough’s started at the University of Penn downtown and gathered over 85,000 students in the summer of 1972 in Dallas, Texas at a conference called Explo72. It was the largest Christian event to date in the United States.  

After this big event, the McCullough’s moved out to West Chester and started the campus ministry here. They directed Cru from the fall of 1972 to the fall of 1974. They then left to pursue bigger leadership in Cru. After the McCullough’s left, there were two other staff leaders before Rhodes came along. However, prior to Rhodes becoming the leader at West Chester Cru, he was befriended by Bill Bright at a Christmas Conference, and he recruited Rhodes to become a part of staff at Cornell University in 1978. Rhodes led at Cornell until he had the opportunity of serving at West Chester beginning in the fall of 1982. He said, “I chose West Chester because I visited there once for a conference, and I really liked the students and thought the students were socially mature and I was excited to work with students who had a fair amount of people skills.”  

Rhodes believed in the potential West Chester Cru could offer to the University as a whole and when I spoke with him over the phone, one thing he mentioned was the club started out very small: “My first weekly meeting in September of 1982, we had 90 women show up and only two guys, we had to build a men’s ministry from the ground up.” Through countless work and obstacles, Rhodes and his team made Cru a big part of campus organizations. From the McCullough’s to Rhodes, Cru at West Chester has grown in size and at his time at West Chester, he says they had a tremendous movement and in 1983 they took over 100 students to a Cru winter conference in Kansas City called KC83. “That really started the movement at West Chester, and it grew from there,” Rhodes says. WCU Cru’s mission has expanded throughout all the years it’s been active with more and more students leading in Cru and fulfilling its mission which is to reach people with the gospel.  

From the 1980s to 2022, the legacy of the Cru ministry at West Chester University as Rhodes says was like the story of Bethlehem at Christmas in that small space. When Rhodes started, West Chester was known as West Chester State College, “a small little country school that nobody paid much attention to, and yet from this little place in southeast Pennsylvania have come all of these leaders who have touched the world for Christ.”  

Aside from Rhodes, who led for 10 years at West Chester Cru, I spoke with Jon Ruch who is the current staff leader who’s been serving for 11 years now. Ruch joined staff with Cru after meeting alongside a staff leader during his sophomore year at West Chester who helped him grow in his faith in Jesus and says it was the most impactful experience in his life and was the main reason he wanted to join staff with Cru. Prior to attending Cru on campus, he had some knowledge about Christianity, stating he had grown up in the church that “preached the gospel the way to know God is through what Christ did for us on the cross and that our faith in him and his death was to remove the guilt of our sins off of us, a relationship with God was accessible through what God did for us.” This is the main mission of Cru, to reach students with a caring community and share with them who Jesus is and what he can offer to people.  

In being a part of Cru staff, Jon and his wife, Amanda, say that “Cru has been the best avenue for us to walk down to use the gift and strength God’s given us to reach college students for the gospel.” Through people like Rhodes and Ruch, Cru has touched the lives of so many people for the gospel and encourages people who are questioning their faith and spirituality to come and see what the organization is all about. It welcomes all walks of life whether you are a believer or not, it’s a great place to go to find an authentic community.  

Eve Rhoden, Vice President of Cru, described how she started coming to Cru because she was seeking community when she started here as a freshman. She says that in today’s society “we’re experiencing a lot of social anxiety and students at Cru are concerned about making you feel welcome.” Like Rhoden, many of us are wanting to find long lasting friendships with other people in college and through Cru, students can find that community they’re looking for without having any prior knowledge to Christianity or religion.  

Through Rhoden, Rhodes and Ruch, West Chester Cru has moved in many ways throughout campus whether that was 50 years ago or only a year ago, its mission to reach people for the gospel has shown through all the years that spirituality is a real thing and can be found right on campus. Cru offers a safe space for students to gather and discuss life and any questions one might have about faith and religion. Cru’s 50-year celebration was all about seeing God’s faithfulness to his people throughout many generations of college students and many more to come.  

Anna Sweeney is a second-year Communication Studies major with a minor in Journalism.

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