Hello friends and family! Laura and I hope you all are enjoying the beginning of spring (or so we hope) and the beautiful weather we have been having recently. I know for us it has been a blessing as this is the first time since before Covid where UC's campus has had any life. A few days ago I was meeting someone outside on campus and it felt normal. Which I admit is a rather odd thing to say since a year later what used to be normal almost feels abnormal now; but it was a breath of fresh air to see hundreds of students on campus in community again. And really, that's been the biggest struggle since the beginning of this pandemic: community. Laura and I saw it coming into this year. Students were desperate for human interaction and a sense of belonging, especially the freshmen who had their senior year cut short and said goodbye to their high school friends over Zoom. So seeing community once again starting to thrive on campus is not only needed for the Church, but so necessary for all the students on campus.
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Thankfully, community has not been something that H2O has struggled with during this year. We have been blessed with a deepness I haven't seen before in our church and our small groups that I think is a direct result (and dare I say blessing) from the isolation that Covid initially caused. The Life Group Laura and I lead has such organic community and frankly the two of us have not felt like we've had to force anything. Typically part of the job of leading a Life Group is to plan community events to get people to interact and feel like a family. We have not had a single community event as they just happen all the time. Our freshmen are incredibly close to one another and hang out together all the time. And one of our biggest problems from last year, which was a feeling of a divide between leaders and non-leaders, is pretty much non-existent as far as Laura and I can tell. Everyone knows who the technical leaders are in our group, but there isn't a divide and we have seen multiple students, even freshmen, step up and fulfill leadership roles. Our group is constantly bringing new people to our Bible studies and are adamant and excited about preaching the Gospel every week. This semester, we have been going through 1 Peter and wrapped it up recently. We chose to go through this book very intentionally this semester as the entire book revolves around pursuing Christ in the midst of persecution. It is a huge encouragement to all believers. So, if any of you haven't read 1 Peter in a while or haven't read scripture in a while, I highly encourage you to open up your Bibles to this small yet dense book.
It was actually this book that has recently gotten me into podcasts, especially one called "Food Trucks in Babylon." Weird name, I know, but great theology. My head pastor, Grant, actually recommended this passage to me upon learning we were going through 1 Peter and knowing we would come across 1 Peter 3:18-22 which, if don't know, are some of the more difficult passages to interpret in my opinion. Regardless, podcasts have been a huge blessing to me recently as it feels like a much better use of my time instead of just listening to music non-stop and I have been learning a ton from listening to them. Also on the lines of learning, my seminary classes this semester have been awesome. I am currently taking two, a Church Planting Methodology class and New Testament 1. Both classes have been super fruitful and useful in my everyday ministry. There is a lot of reading and it takes up a lot 0f my time, but they are truly preparing me and equipping me to be a better church leader.
The church planting class might very well be preparing me for God's plan for Laura and I. In February, from the 11-14, nine of us from H2O UC (5 staff members and 4 spouses) took a trip to Buffalo, New York to scout the University at Buffalo for a potential church plant. Below, I will summarize the trip as succinctly as possible!
The university is ripe for the harvest. There are a few ministries on campus doing incredible work and their leaders love the Lord; there actually used to be a church on campus years ago that folded in 2015. But outside of those few ministries, there is nothing. And it's not like UC where a student can walk off campus and find five churches within a mile radius of the campus. Buffalo's campus was built for isolation and that's not an exaggeration. The campus was built in the 50's during riots incited by racial divides and as a result was intentionally engineered to make people feel isolated. So not only is there not a ton of student life there and sense of community to begin with, but the very architecture of the university amplifies that feeling. Our team spoke to students and everyone we spoke to seemed hungry for community and spiritual conversations. Simply put, that school is a wheat field without a farmer.
The unity amongst churches in the city of Buffalo was astonishing. Church unity is something I have seen play out in a sense where churches acknowledge the presence of other churches, will say good things about them, but don't actually work together for the sake of the Gospel. Buffalo is not that way. Church leaders from different denominations were sharing the same vision and language which was "to reach every man, woman, and child in the city of Buffalo with the Gospel." And they lived it out. The largest church in the city, the Chapel, a megachurch, has aided in 30+ church plants over the past ten or so years. Giving money, resources, and equipment to Gospel preaching churches whom the Chapel is not affiliated with. And this is the mindset of every church leader we spoke to. There is a unity among the churches there that no one on our team had ever seen before. Not one leader cared about their church numbers more than the Gospel being preached. And even though us planting on campus would draw members away from some of the church leaders, they were practically begging us to come to Buffalo because of how much they value the Gospel. This alone spoke volumes to the character of the church leaders and the family we would be planting alongside.
The last major pull of Buffalo is two-fold. First, it is stragetically close to the rest of the H2O Network. It is six hours from H2O Cincinnati and three from H2O Kent State, meaning that while there is still some distance between Buffalo and the other churches, we are not completely isolated from the rest of the network. Secondly, Buffalo is an excellent city to get foothold in the northeast United States. From Buffalo and the resources we would have access to upon planting there (mainly from the other churches who have already offered us resources), we could continue expanding east using Buffalo as a launching point for other collegiate churches.
With all that said, H2O Cincinnati will officially be planting in Buffalo in the Fall of 2022. This week, applications opened up to begin forming the core team members that will comprise the initial plant team. Needless to say excitement has been rapidly building in our church as we are gearing up to send out our first church plant. With this decision to plant here, however, comes some major decisions for Laura and I. We were a part of the team that went to Buffalo to scout it out. We have been talking about church planting for years now, both separately and as a couple. But we are unsure whether God is calling us to Buffalo or to stay in Cincinnati. No matter what our fears of going are or selfish reasons for wanting to go or stay, we want to be obedient to whatever God is calling us to do. Buffalo is a massive move...and I'm not just saying that due to the 96 inches of snow they get a year compared to Cincinnati's 15. But because moving to a new city away from her side of the family and our community would incredibly difficult. So, for all of you who are reading this, Laura and I want to ask you to be praying for guidance in this decision for the two of us. We want to be obedient, no matter where that obedience may call us.
Another highlight from our church recently was the men's retreat we held in Cincinnati for our church, appropriately named Man Day. This was a day long event on March 6 where we brought in a pastor from H2O Bowling Greeen to give two sessions, held eight breakout sessions over a variety of topics, and then gave our students a plethera of free time to play basketball, frisbee, Super Smash Bros., board games, and anything else they wanted to do to engage in community with each other. I have heard nothing but good things about that day and the speaker we brought in, Matt Pardi (a pastor at H2O Bowling Green, gave two incredible sermons to call men out of our passive nature and be men of God.
You are only as close to God as you want to be
Outside of Life Group and Man Day, my personal ministry has been divided between seminary, Sunday responsibilties, Life Group, Huddle, and discipleship. I am currently meeting up with 4-7 people each week along with leading my huddle of 3 other men. So, keeping busy has not been an issue and that is a good thing for my sanity and Laura's.
Lastly, with Laura and I potentially moving, we want to make an ask for all of you reading this. If you are a current supporter, thank you so much for supporting our ministry in Cincinnati. Without you, we could not be doing the things we are doing and investing in the people we are investing in. If you are able to, we ask you to prayfully consider increasing your gift by going to https://reliant.org/zach.obrecht, logging in, and increasing to aid us in support. If you are not on our support team, we ask that you prayerfully consider joining our support team at a set amount each month by following the link above. It is only with your support and prayers that this ministry can happen and we praise God for each and every person on our team.