Out of the Comfort Zone
Writer(s): Taylor Ellis
Six months. That’s all it took for Riley Watts’ life to do a complete 180. Today, he looks in the mirror and sees a new person—someone he never thought he could become.
Six months ago, Watts searched for acceptance in anything he could find to drown out the problems in his life—alcohol, drugs, parties—they all left him feeling empty, he says. Nevertheless, his habits persisted.
Watts worked long hours at a summer job in order to save hundreds of dollars, mainly for the booze and drunken nights he planned to have on his first college spring break at Panama City Beach.
These plans changed for Watts last fall, when he began his freshman year at Ball State.
Through a random interaction, junior Abby Jean Ray told Watts that everything he had been searching for—acceptance, love, security; they could all be found in Christ.
Because of this one girl’s willingness to step out of her comfort zone, Watts says his perspective shifted.
“If it weren’t for someone initiating an uncomfortable conversation with me, I would probably still be searching for answers,” he says.
So now he’s paying it forward—giving up his comfort in hopes of seeing someone else’s life do a complete 180.
Today, as he stands on one of Panama City’s many beaches, his stomach is in knots. He’s about to do just what Ray did for him, only in the middle of spring break, on a frenzy-filled beach.
Now that he’s finally there, he looks around at the people he planned on partying with and tries to muster the courage to spit out the words he’s been rehearsing in his head.
The guys he’s approaching see him coming. Finally, Watts introduces himself. “Would you mind taking this survey to answer some questions and talk with me about your spiritual beliefs?” he says.
The guys stare at him for a second and then at each other in disbelief. Meanwhile, Watts stands frozen, still clinching the survey in his hands. Seconds later, to his amazement, they actually agree to participate. As he listens to their stories, his nerves finally calm when he is able to share with them the reason for his new life—his relationship with Jesus Christ.
Watts is just one of thousands of college students who went to Panama City Beach for an alternative spring break trip called Big Break. The trip, hosted by CRU, a campus Christian organization, gave 26 Ball State students the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones by sharing their faith with thousands of other students.
But why would a group of college students want to sacrifice their spring breaks, comfort and reputation in exchange for possible rejection and fear?
It took an atheist to push Robert Jones out of his comfort zone.
Pen Jillette, famous atheist and member of the magic duo Pen and Teller said something in a YouTube video showed during a CRU meeting that Jones will never forget.
In the video, Jillette said, “How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, there’s a certain point where I tackle you, and this is more important than that.”
Jillette’s bold statement left an impact on Jones and motivated him to go on Big Break for the second time.
“It was a slap in my face. This guy called me out, and he doesn’t even believe in God,” Jones says.
Jones admits that sharing his faith isn’t always easy— he has faced his fair share of rejection. During his first Big Break in 2011, Jones had a girl tell him that she was there to have sex, do drugs and drink and that he needed to get Jesus out of her face.
Rejection can have many ugly faces—this is what the women who went on Big Break experienced. Some, like Bridget Floyd, a freshman majoring in psychology and sociology, weren’t ready for the derogatory comments they heard.
“We had guys say to us, ‘We just came here to have sex—so if you want to come to my room and talk, I’ll tell you where it’s at later tonight.’ “Being a tiny freshman girl, that was kind of scary,” Floyd says.
Jordan Thomas, a sophomore art history major, says that she had people make fun of her and try to flirt with her while she was sharing her beliefs. In these moments, Thomas says she had to remind herself that it’s not really her they are rejecting.
“Whether or not they reject [the Gospel], it’s up to them,” she says. “It’s essentially not my message, it’s God’s message. They aren’t rejecting me if they reject what we have to say.”
It’s All in the Approach
Bible-thumpers—that’s what a lot of people might see Christians as, says Thomas. But that little word and all the negative connotations that come with it motivated Thomas and the rest of the Big Break team to share their faith by listening, instead of the usual speaking.
“We don’t want to force our beliefs down people’s throats. We want to listen to what they believe and then ask for permission to share about our faith in Christ. We wanted to approach the whole thing with love,” she says.
Floyd says many people thanked the students for listening and were grateful that they weren’t just trying to convert them.
Anthony Pequinot, a junior construction management major, didn’t expect to have someone encourage him to talk to more people.
“I talked to a guy who said, ‘I’m set in my ways and I’m not going to change, but I hope you change at least one person’s mind out here today,’” he says.
Students were able to make an impact; during the course of their Big Break, 3,959 spiritual conversations took place and 124 people accepted their message.
No Perfect People Allowed
We’re far from perfect—that’s the whole reason Christ came to die, says Jones.
And there’s no pretending to be perfect with this group—broken, messy, and sinful are words they use to describe themselves.
Ann Marie Mohr, an intern with CRU, says that followers of Christ are no better than anyone else on that beach. The difference—they have accepted that Christ came to die for their imperfections, she says.
None of the students that went on Big Break claim to have it all together—in fact they actually boast in their weaknesses.
“When I am weak, Christ is strong for me, I have to rely on him for everything, every single day,” Thomas says.
She also thinks that one of the biggest misconceptions about following Christ is that you have to clean yourself up before you can accept Him. But that’s not the case.
“In Scripture it says if you believe in Christ, God will forgive you. Not if you stop everything you’re doing and clean yourself up and then believe. It just says believe. And when you believe that’s when your life begins to become transformed,” Thomas says.