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Ray and Vera Treese
Ray and Vera Treese

Ray Treese had his life planned out — he knew well in advance that all his hard work would allow him to spend his retirement years on the local golf courses. And at first, everything was going according to plan, but then . . . .

"The current Chi Alpha campus pastor [supported by the church] at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) resigned," recalls Treese. "The next day, I met with the pastor and we decided that this was too important of a ministry to let slide, so I volunteered to go out and temporarily head up the program."

That was in 1998. Treese, with his wife of 58 years, Vera, supporting his efforts, is still leading the Chi Alpha program ministering to EKU students. He turned 80 in April and is officially the oldest Chi Alpha campus minister in the nation.

Chi Alpha is the Assemblies of God ministry to students attending secular colleges and universities. Treese's continuing ministry on the EKU campus might be easier to understand if he had walked into a "turn-key" operation, had years of experience in ministry to college students, or at least was a credentialed minister - but that wasn't the case.

Instead, the truth was the Chi Alpha group was essentially non-existent, Treese had attended college in his mid-30s and had no familiarity with campus life, and only recently he had taken a few distance education Bible courses.

From the outside looking in, he was not what one might call "the ideal" candidate. Not even close. But God was looking at Treese from the inside out.

"Sometimes people think that God has a checklist of criteria a person has to meet before he or she can serve Him," says E. Scott Martin, national director for Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. "I've come to believe it's often more about the willingness of the heart."

For Treese, an unexpected and unknown world of ministry suddenly was placed before him. He may have been unqualified, but he was willing to allow God to use him.

Once again, if instant success had greeted Treese, his continuing presence at EKU may be easier to understand. But his first year ended with no active Chi Alpha members at EKU.

Year two, Treese saw eight students start attending Chi Alpha, but by year's end the group was once again down to zero. Striking out two consecutive years might have been enough to end any Chi Alpha leader's efforts, but during that second year, he had the opportunity to lead a young man to Christ, bolstering his resolve.

"I still felt that I was where God wanted me to be," he says. "I was determined to stay the course or until God told me to quit."

In his third year (2001-2002), things finally began to turn around. The group finished the year with 10 people in it. Treese says that from that first group of 10, 3 of those students went into full-time ministry. Then in his fourth year at EKU, the group became firmly established with an average attendance of 20 students.

Since then, Treese has seen the EKU Chi Alpha grow to as many as 40 students, but with total turnover taking place every four years, the size of the group fluctuates from year to year, ranging between 20 and 40 students.

"Although Ray didn't see many visible signs of growth those first two years, I believe his commitment to God's call resulted in seeds being planted," Martin says. "And as a result of his determination, he not only planted seeds, but has come to see the results as well."

In his attire of shorts, T-shirt and a baseball cap, Treese makes himself available around campus; holds events such as passing out grilled cheese sandwiches, hosting a movie night, or conducting a weekend retreat; or simply visits with a student over a cup of coffee. As a result, many of the 17,000 EKU students have come to view him as the campus grandfather.

Ray Treese at Lake Reba
Ray Treese, center, hamming it up with his Chi Alpha group on a retreat at Lake Reba.

"As students see me as a grandfather, I have an immediate rapport with them," he says. "Students will talk to me about things they may not even discuss with their own parents."

Treese, who attends Faith Created Assembly in Richmond, also works hard to help his Chi Alpha students develop the Christian life skills they will need once they graduate, having them lead in many areas of ministry and in services. As an example, he tells how there used to be 15 bars in relatively small area of town, frequented by thousands of students.

"Our students would go downtown about the time the bars closed and pass out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and witness to students," he recalls. "They would witness to students and offer them free rides back to campus. Students and ministers would also do prayer walks where the bars were...within three years, there were only two or three bars left and only a relative handful of students frequenting them."

Treese explains that although retirees may not initially consider Chi Alpha as a ministry for them, he is living proof that age is not a limitation. However, he says the first step is to educate the local pastor so the door can be opened to seniors.

"A church may not be able to afford to hire a full-time minister to head up a Chi Alpha group on a local college campus, but there are seniors who would be happy to take over a ministry like that — as many are self-supporting with their retirement income and as they would be district appointed missionaries, they could also receive funding from programs such as Speed the Light," Treese says. "But, the problem is, they don't know how to get it started. If the church would join with district and national Chi Alpha leaders to present the opportunity, perhaps conduct a workshop, I think there would be seniors who would really enjoy this."

"Ray took the required courses through Global University to earn his credentials," Martin says. "Retirees or those who are about to retire can start taking these distance education courses now and see the doors to ministry in all kinds of fields — including Chi Alpha — become open to them. Retiring may signal the end of one part of a person's life, but it could also signal the beginning of a whole new life of fulfillment in ministry!"

"The first time I led someone to Christ on campus . . . that's what really turned me on to campus ministry," Treese says. "Students from broken families, students with disruptive parents, students from better parts of town — it doesn't matter the background — if you need Christ you need Christ. To see them turned on to Jesus makes it all worth while."

 


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