RUF @ IUP:  Oliver Pierce

More than just a ministry on the university campus, RUF seeks to be a ministry for the university. We strive to serve in this unique stage of a student’s life in the world they live in, exploring together how the Lordship of Christ informs every area of life.

About Oliver

Oliver and his wife Kim have been married for eight years and both grew up in Knoxville, TN. They have two daughters Emilia and Julia. They spent the last four years in Philadelphia while Oliver was working on his MDiv at Westminster Theological Seminary. Oliver was first involved with RUF as a student during his undergraduate studies at Middle Tennessee State University. After graduating MTSU with a BA in English and Philosophy, Oliver interned at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Murfreesboro, TN, serving primarily with RUF at MTSU in addition to leading Trinity’s Youth Group.

While at Westminster, Oliver served as a pastoral intern with the college ministry at Tenth Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, PA, doing outreach and bible studies at colleges such as University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, and Temple. Oliver and Kim are excited for the opportunity to pioneer a new RUF at IUP alongside a new PCA church plant!

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A Season of Change

July/August 2020 Update

As with the rest of the country, the circumstances at IUP and Indiana have been rapidly changing over the past two months. As soon as we begin to make plans, another change comes our way! Just last week, IUP announced that they will only be holding in-person classes for incoming freshman this fall. While there was wisdom to that decision, its last minute nature was frustrating for upperclassmen. As I’ve reached out to many of them, they are wrestling with the decision to stay at home or to move into apartments they have already leased. There is much disappointment and anger in the air.

Though it can be frustrating that the LORD has put us in such a season of uncertainty, it is an opportunity for creativity and growth. God is at work, even as we have to change plans on the fly or wear masks as we discuss Scripture and pray for students.

I've seen this many times as I've been strategizing for the fall and inviting input from our students. One student decided on her own to write out all of her ideas for the fall semester and suggested we create a document online where everyone could brainstorm. Another student reached out to me out of the blue asking about Resurrection Indiana and wanted to volunteer to run sound once we start meeting again for services. On my end, I've been trying out new ways of connecting with incoming freshman through social media and have had some fruitful conversations as a result.

Most recently, I’ve been going on walks around campus with two students (pictured above) who are in Indiana over the summer. As we've discussed plans and prayed together, I have been floored by their creativity and their excitement for the fall. One of them told me: “We’ve been equipped and now it is time for us to start reaching students too.” This wasn't mere talk: this student has already been inviting incoming freshman from the area to RUF!

Praise God with us for how He is still at work in the hearts of students in this difficult season!

"RUF is a family that helped me through my loneliest and hardest transition in life."

Another last minute change was the cancelation of the student organization fair normally held at the beginning of the year. However, IUP's Council on Spiritual & Religious Life, of which I am a member, was given a few slots during orientation to share about spiritual & religious life at IUP. I suggested that we each make a short video clip about our ministries to show during the orientation. As I set to work on RUF's clip, I reached out to students and asked them for a quick answer to the question "What is RUF?" Not only did their answers make for a great video but I was encouraged by them. I was particularly struck by one student who said "RUF is a family that helped me through my loneliest and hardest transition in life.” Hear more from our students in the video above!

Further Prayer Requests

Pray for freshman outreach

Though some guidelines have been made known, there is a lot of uncertainty still about what outreach will actually look like this fall. When we set up our table in the Oak Grove on the first day of classes, will students even stop to talk with us and hear about RUF? When we play volleyball and basketball in the campus quad, will that still be an opportunity to connect with freshman?

The U in RUF means we want to serve IUP. Observing COVID guidelines and protocol will be important in this respect. But we are still called to reach students for Christ and equip them to serve. Pray for the Lord’s favor on us, that we would be bold and wise, as shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves in how we reach out to students (Matt 10:16). Pray for us especially now as freshmen begin to move in this weekend! Pray overall that the LORD would surprise us with how many new students we are still able to connect with even with these restrictions.

Pray for the sanctification of our students

Though we may not be able to gather new students as easily as we could in a normal semester, this semester could be an opportunity to more intentionally disciple our core group of students returning from last year. Pray they might grow in both their biblical theological understanding and their character this semester. Pray especially for Elliot and Rain, two students who have gone through our bible study leader training and will be apprenticing this semester with the goal of leading a study on their own in the Spring or next Fall.

Thank you for all your support and prayers!! We love you guys! -Kim, Emilia, Julia, and Oliver

May/June 2020 Update

What a difficult past couple of weeks we’ve all been through! As our attention has been drawn to all that is going on nationally and globally, we’ve been thinking of and praying for many of you all. In light of these challenging times, I’m glad I can start off this update with some good news! Our daughter, Julia Abigail Pierce, was born on June 4th at 12:48pm. Today was her due date but she wanted to show up a few days early! We are praising God for a great delivery and healthy baby and mom! Thank you for your prayers and celebration with us.

Summer RUF: Theology Thursdays

We continued, as usually as we could, to reach and equip students online for the rest of the semester. Many of us struggled with some Zoom fatigue as the semester wrapped up in May. However, our spirits had a reboot when another RUF campus minister at WVU reached out to me and a few other campus ministers to suggest partnering together for an online summer event we’ve called Theology Thursdays. We’ve taken seminars that are normally done at RUF summer conference, which was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19, and set them up online. Students from IUP, WVU, Rowan, and even Bogota National University in Columbia have joined us each Thursday to learn together! In a time where people have been weary of video calls and social distancing, it was particularly refreshing to have some fellowship in Christ even with students in a different hemisphere!

For the past three weeks, we’ve had two four week long seminars running, one on Biblical worldview and another on the authority of Scripture. After that we will begin a two week series and I will be teaching one on anxiety and depression. We have been encouraged by the seminars so far and especially by all the great questions students have been asking.

Students and the Headlines

Though the news headlines have often seemed far away from day to day life in the tiny town of Indiana, PA, I have continued to hear how our students are being affected by all that is going on back home. One student was working in a retirement home that had several COVID cases and sadly a few deaths. Another student who was back home in Philadelphia working at a grocery store was transferred because it was looted in the riots.

An African American student who has attended RUF events occasionally this semester reached out to me asking me what I thought about all the protesting and rioting. I lamented with her the havoc our sin has wrecked upon the world and affirmed the call to pray and work for a society in which we increasingly heed the call "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with (our) God" (Micah 6:8). My words were well-received and we had an encouraging conversation.

Please pray for wisdom for the many moments like this where I have opportunities to bring the truth of Scripture to bear on the national and global issues that students are wrestling with. Pray at the same time we might keep the focus of our ministry on Jesus Christ and the hope of the gospel. Jesus is the ultimate hope for the prejudice every heart is prone to, “for he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14).

Further Prayer Requests

Pray for Fall Plans and Freshman Outreach

As the fall semester gets closer, I am excited at the prospect of seeing students in person again. IUP recently announced that they will be meeting in-person in the fall yet with many social distancing policies in place. Pennsylvania has moved into its more open "green" phase and that has increased my hope of fruitful ministry in the fall. Soon we will be having planning meetings this summer and I’m excited to have some of our students involved with our outreach! However, I am anticipating this semester may not be a typical semester. As we have learned this year, we "do not know what a day may bring” (Pr 27:1).

Please continue to pray that this virus would die out and not resurface during the fall, especially in a way that might hinder our mission to reach and equip students. Pray for wisdom for us and our students who will be involved with outreach, particularly for creative ways to still connect with students while staying safe.

Pray for Resurrection Indiana

A unique aspect of my call to start RUF at IUP is I am also closely partnered with Resurrection Indiana, a PCA church plant. Resurrection was set to launch monthly services mid-March at the YMCA when the shutdown began. I have been encouraged by how the church planter, David Schweissing, has innovated and continued to connect with the Indiana community through online trivia nights, book clubs, and even a night of painting instruction from a local artist. However, it is undeniable that the shutdown was a setback for the church plant. Our family longs to have a more normal Sunday worship gathering and a more established Church community here. We still trust the LORD is at work and can accomplish these things in his timing but we know this may continue to be a time requiring prayerful perseverance.

Pray that the LORD might work beyond what we can ask or imagine in these challenging circumstances. Pray that non-Christians we are continuing to build relationships with might repent and believe the gospel! Pray that our love for the lost of this community in particular might continue to grow. Pray we also might find rest in God ourselves as we bear the burdens of others. Pray for the LORD to send other Christian families and individuals to labor in the harvest with us since there are so many who are harassed and helpless.