At a Cru® weekly meeting, University of South Florida students huddle as they guess the drawing in a heated game of Pictionary.

Representing Jesus Regardless of the Results

words by

Lizzy godden

photos by

Guy Gerrard

published in

June 2024

Students crouch over each other and eagerly shout, their voices filling the space and echoing through the vacant rows in a room designed for 100 people. As each team’s chosen artist sketches their clues, the pressure intensifies. Second-year education major and Cru® student president Lia Compton stands over them, watching intently. In the final moments as both artists frantically point to their wild configuration of lines, another student finally yells out the right answer.

Laughter and applause erupt as Lia waits for everyone to file through the center aisle to sit before she shares about upcoming events. The weekly Thursday night Cru meeting has just begun.

Lia hanging out with Cru students before the Thursday night meeting. University of South Florida Cru ministry Lia Compton (in white cardigan, with laptop) and her friends meet in the Marshall Student Center to wait for the Cru® weekly meeting to start. This building in the middle of campus has plenty of room for students to study, hang out and grab food.
Lia watching others participate in games Lia (left) enjoys watching others participate in games during the Cru® weekly meeting. Lia considers Thursday her favorite day of the week because she leads a discipleship group and attends the weekly meeting.
At the Cru weekly meeting, they break up into small Bible Studies for most of the time. University of South Florida Cru ministry During their weekly meeting, students divide into small groups to discuss questions about Scripture. Here, they cultivate deeper relationships with both each other and God, and they gain experience in leading small group discussions.

This is what Thursday nights look like as 25 students gather in the Marshall Student Center at the University of South Florida. After participating in a game, students watch a short video from a staff member featuring a Bible passage and then discuss it in small groups. Often, when the hour-long meeting ends, some students stay together for a game night, late night study session or line dancing.

Along with the weekly Thursday meeting, Cru students meet for small group gatherings, paintball and video gaming socials. The four USF Cru staff members and 10 student leaders explore creative ways to reach students for Christ.

Lia Compton, University of South Florida Cru ministry Cru® student president Lia first became involved with Cru as a freshman and immediately fell in love with what she describes as the ministry’s gentle, welcoming approach to Christianity. Since attending leader training in spring 2023, she has built more community with staff members and student leaders.

Cru leads a university-wide welcome event


At the start of the 2023-2024 academic year, Cru hosted “Taste of Tampa,” a welcome event that brought in almost 2,500 students during USF’s “Week of Welcome.”  

Staff members and student leaders coordinated with six local churches, more than 70 volunteers, the Marshall Student Center and USF Dining to provide a memorable experience for incoming freshmen.

At the event, volunteers gave participants a green and gold “Go Bulls!” lanyard, which students used to navigate through and sample from the various restaurants promoting themselves. If curious students followed the Cru Instagram handle printed on the lanyard, they could also access a site with valuable gospel resources.

The MSC Plaza at USF with three life size bull statues, University of South Florida Cru ministry USF first trademarked Rocky the Bull as its mascot in 1974. One of the university’s traditions is to celebrate his birthday during the annual USF Week in April.
Cru-lead USF welcome outreach event with survey follow up with local volunteers At the Taste of Tampa welcome event, incoming freshmen browse the tables of local vendors and organizations. Each student could sample any five food items and also receive products from participating organizations. Students could even take part in a dunk tank, bungee run and inflatables.
Cru-lead USF welcome outreach event with survey follow up with local volunteers Cru® volunteers wearing yellow shirts hand out details about Bridges International™ — a ministry of Cru to international students and scholars in the U.S. During the Taste of Tampa event, volunteers also passed out spiritual interest surveys, which nearly 400 students completed.

As Lia volunteered at the Cru table at the event and welcomed students, she recognized that the event meant more than free food and games. Lia realized that while any club could have hosted Taste of Tampa, the Cru team was doing so as image-bearers of Christ, while making sure that every student they greeted also walked away with a lanyard that could unlock the gospel.

From 2,500 to 25


During the two hours at Taste of Tampa, 400 students filled out a spiritual interest survey to indicate whether they had a relationship with God or wanted to develop one. A team of staff members, partner church volunteers and students contacted each respondent individually. But the team received little response, and their kickoff meeting saw fewer new people than expected. For several months following the event, 25 people consistently attended — about the same size as the movement had the year before.

Paintball outreach at Camp Gilead, Polk City, Florida. Students from USF and Bridges students from University of Tampa came. Students lean into their competitive side during this Cru® paintball outreach. The staff team and student leaders plan creative events like this to draw in new students who want to experience what Cru has to offer.
Paintball outreach at Camp Gilead, Polk City, Florida. Students from USF and Bridges students from University of Tampa came. During the paintball outreach, teams work together and get to know each other by exploring the best strategies to beat the opposing team.
Paintball outreach at Camp Gilead, Polk City, Florida. Students from USF and Bridges students from University of Tampa came. Students traveled to Camp Gilead in Polk City, Florida, for paintball. Upon arrival, they eagerly suit up in protective gear before embarking on an action-packed day.

The USF Cru team, including Lia, haven’t allowed disappointment to deter them. No matter what results their events yield, they remain dedicated to changing the way students view Christianity on campus.

For example, Lia has noticed that members of some other Christian groups pose deep, existential questions to anyone walking by, which can be intimidating to students with no spiritual background.

In contrast, Lia and her team focus on presenting a vibrant and welcoming portrayal of Jesus. They hope that this helps students realize Christianity doesn’t have to be a “cookie cutter, hands folded kind of thing,” according to Lia, but rather a transformative, intimate relationship.

As Lia concentrates on showing Jesus to her peers through everyday interactions, she has seen Him work in her life and in the lives of those around her.

Lia brings decorations from her room to decorate the hall table before the Bible Study, including the banner in the background. University of South Florida Cru ministry Lia prepares for her discipleship time — a time when two to five people gather to grow in their relationship with Jesus together. Her desire is to transform the dorm common room to make it feel more like a home by setting up the space with flowers, candy, and a banner.

Every week, Lia and four women meet to discuss what it means to be a follower of Christ and encourage each other in their walks of faith. Ever since she started leading this discipleship group in early January, she’s been encouraged by how their faith has grown.

At the beginning there was more silence than talking in between each vulnerable question Lia asked. Yet that dissipated as the women began sharing their lives openly, just as Lia had done with them.

Lia loves meeting with these women not only to connect personally and spiritually, but also to demonstrate what living out faith looks like on campus. While other leaders meet in the library or other popular spots around campus, Lia hosts her group in the common room of her dorm — an example of what she calls a “public display of affection” toward Jesus.

Lia leading a Bible study in the dorm. University of South Florida Cru ministry.(Left to right) Kaylen, Lia, Jeanessa, Sofia. During her discipleship group, Lia runs an activity she calls “camera roll,” where each person takes a turn showing five pictures from the last year that capture who they are, and why. (Pictured left to right: Kaylen Hasty, Lia, Jeanessa Soto, Sofia Barrios.)
University of South Florida Cru ministry, Jeanessa Soto making some comments during Lia's Bible study. Each week, Lia’s discipleship group discusses topics and lessons provided from Cru® Resources. Here, Jeanessa shares her thoughts about the Bible study.

Every student walking in or out of the common room witnesses this group of women studying and discussing the Bible and having fun with one another, a sight they may not have ever seen before on campus. Lia challenges those in her group by routinely asking if they are showing “PDA” toward Jesus by reading their Bibles, sharing their faith with others or praying before meals.

Lia and her fellow student leaders also continually try new tactics to foster a stress-free environment for spiritual conversations. Recently, they used a dice game: enticing students to roll an oversized die for a chance to win a variety of prizes laid out on their Cru table. In this undemanding atmosphere, leaders find it easier to ask about students’ spiritual backgrounds.

University of South Florida Cru ministry. Lea is going over witnessing ideas she has used on campus with Cory Miller, a cru staff from Tampa (I think). Lia discusses evangelism ideas with Cory Miller, a Cru® staff member in the Tampa Bay area. Cru staff members and student leaders regularly walk around campus to engage students in spiritual conversations.
University of South Florida Cru ministry. Cory Miller and Lia are witnessing to students on campus. Cory and Lia (right) introduce themselves to a group of students and engage in a thought-provoking conversation about Jesus. Some students in the group identify as Christians, while others are uncertain about their beliefs.

Along with these opportunities to engage in conversations, Lia realizes that small acts of kindness, such as checking in with women on her dorm floor or simply holding the door for others, can serve as a testament to who Jesus is. 

“I don't want anybody that I come across to ever get the wrong picture of Jesus from who I am,” Lia says, speaking about her motivation as a Christian. “So now as a college student, I get to walk my campus as a reflection of Christ.”

University of South Florida Cru ministry. Cory Miller and Lia are witnessing to students on campus. While engaging with students in spiritual conversations, Cory and Lia encounter Matty Lunes studying outside. During the conversation, they discover that Matty is a Christian, and she expresses interest in Cru®.

Trusting God with the outcome


Even though Taste of Tampa happened months ago at the start of the academic year, Lia still finds encouragement whenever she spots students donning green and gold lanyards. Seeing this reminds her that God’s presence continues to influence the campus. 

The USF Cru team has already agreed to host the event during the 2024-25 school year — the third year in a row. No matter what the results yield, Lia remains devoted to embodying Christ in everything she does on a college campus where many have yet to know Jesus.

Gaming outreach social. They had about 150 students attend the event. University of South Florida Cru ministry Students gather to play video and board games and meet new people at Cru®’s gaming outreach. The USF team partnered with a Cru gaming ministry to host this event.
Gaming outreach social. They had about 150 students attend the event. University of South Florida Cru ministry Students play the game Exploding Kittens during Cru®’s gaming outreach. Nearly 150 students attended the event.
One of the costumes that people brought to the Gaming outreach. They had a competition during the event, but I think this guy showed up later. A student attends the gaming outreach wearing a dinosaur costume. During the event, students participated in a costume competition.

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