GSW Wesley Foundation sees rapid growth, strong leadership
By Kara Witherow, Editor
For Georgia Southwestern State University junior Jessica Montanye, the Wesley Foundation is a home away from home.
Without the foundation of the campus ministry and the support she finds there, she probably wouldn’t be attending church today, she said.
“If The Wes wasn’t there …. I would have probably left the church.”
This fall, the campus ministry welcomed 85 students at its kickoff event and is averaging more than 60 students at its recently restored Tuesday night worship services.
The rapid growth has been incredible, says Wesley Foundation director Johnny Updike.
“God is alive, the spirit is moving, we are growing, and we are hungry for more,” he said.
While the numbers are important, they aren’t everything, he says.
“Numbers are important because they show fruit and reflect a person, but you want to see fruit – spiritual growth – and that’s really what’s so phenomenal because it’s happening every week.”
One of Updike’s first priorities when he began as Wesley Foundation director was to build a leadership team. To do so he had to find and develop leaders. He was amazed when students began approaching him asking to serve. He knew the Holy Spirit was at work.
“We had to build and develop a leadership team; that was the first thing,” he said. “We had to get people who were all in.”
In charge of outreach, Montanye has served on the Wesley Foundation leadership team for about a year and a half. As Updike sought leaders, Montanye felt called volunteer to serve.
“I felt the urge to be a part of (the leadership team), like I could give more of myself than I was,” she said. “I felt like I could and should help people, and that’s why I became a leader.”
Another priority for Updike and the leadership team was to make the Wesley Foundation’s on-campus house, ‘The Wes,” a home-away-from-home for students, a place where they felt loved, accepted, and welcome.
“We asked God to make the Wes Home a place where people could come and feel as if they were home,” he said. “Our kids feel that, they believe that, and that’s what’s allowed the growth to take place.”
Updike, who has been involved in student ministry for 20 years, also serves as the full-time director of youth ministries at Americus First United Methodist Church. The congregation; the church’s senior pastor, Daryl Brown; and the Pastor/Staff-Parish Relations Committee fully support his ministry with the Wesley Foundation at Georgia Southwestern State University and are supportive of the ministry with their time, their finances, and their prayers.
The church’s support, along with the partnership of district and other United Methodist congregations, is vitally important as the ministry seeks to witness to and serve students.
“Today’s students have more stress and more worry on them than any other students in history; studies reflect that,” Updike said. “We are there to … give them a home away from home and be their church family when they’re at school.”
For Montanye, having a second home and family were critical when her mother passed away this past summer. As she dealt with her loss and grief, friends from the Wesley Foundation checked on her, making sure she was okay.
“I never knew how much The Wes meant to me until my mom died,” she said. “They’re really like a family and the Wes House is really like a home to me. They’ve been a big part of me getting stronger and I appreciate every moment.”
As a student leader, Montanye says she wants to show others the same love that’s been shown to her.
“As a leader I want people who have struggles or pain to be able to come and feel like they have family and a home,” she said. “The Wesley Foundation has definitely helped me grow in my faith and grow to become a better leader to other people. We’re hoping that we keep attracting people and reaching people who need Jesus.”