Music becomes an invitation to learn of Jesus.
Our parents are often our first role models. They are the ones we look up to for guidance and moral direction. Delaney Leffel grew up in a divided household. Her mother considered herself a Christian, but her father fully embraced atheism. Delaney considered her father the most intelligent person in her life so it was understandable why she rejected all notions of God and religion when she was young.
“I thought religion was stupid,” she says. “My mom started going to a Methodist church when I got older, but I didn’t see any value in going with her.”
Delaney’s parents eventually split because of her father’s alcoholism. It was a struggle for the family, coping with the loss of their father in their day-to-day life.
In 2011, Delaney’s mother married her high school boyfriend and moved the family to Wisconsin during Delaney’s freshman year of high school. It was a big life change that opened new doors and gave new opportunities.
Finding Christ through music
As a musician, Delaney wanted to find a way to perform and to meet new people who shared her interest in music. Delaney had grown up thinking church and religion were unimportant, but the door to faith cracked open through her love for music.
Her path to Christ began in 2012 with an ad in the paper asking for people to join a community band. Delaney, who played the French horn, saw the ad and wanted to join. The Schroeder family, who was organizing the band, was happy to have Delaney play in its group.
The band practiced in the gym of the Schroeder family’s church, St. Matthew, Janesville, Wis. At first it was a little strange for Delaney. But eventually, practicing at St. Matthew became the first positive experience that she had in a church. It left her wondering about these people and their beliefs.
The first thing Delaney noticed in her Lutheran church experience was the music.
“I remember thinking initially, Why are all these smart people falling for this trick?” she recalls. “Why do they believe in something that isn’t there?” These questions were natural ones for someone who grew up rejecting God’s existence and all religion.
Before long, Delaney became an essential part of this group. Her French horn was a welcome addition. She wasn’t ready yet to embrace what so many of her fellow musicians believed, but God slowly would use the music and the people as tools to show her Christ.
One more factor added to the transformation. She noticed a boy her age who played the euphonium. The boy, Trenton Leffel, was a member of St. Matthew. They became friends, and he soon invited her to come to church with him. “I was just thrilled,” Delaney says. “I was super excited to go to church with him and his grandparents.”
The first thing Delaney noticed in her Lutheran church experience was the music. She’d never attended a church before that featured so much music.
The next thing she noticed was how important the Bible was to the congregation. She compared the Bible to a textbook, where members of the church would search for the answers to their questions. The experience was encouraging enough that Delaney began attending two church services at St. Matthew each week. “I think God knew I needed an extra dose of Jesus,” she remarks.
Those doses of Jesus were enough to move her to attend Bible information classes with Trenton, who was now her boyfriend. She learned more about what she considered “the trick” and what made it so important to those around her.
Eventually, she played for church and even began singing in the choir. It gave her a sense of purpose and felt like a compliment that people wanted to hear her music. “It made me feel needed,” she says.
Growing in Christ through the Word
When it was time to go to college, Delaney looked West. She applied to schools in Colorado, including Colorado State, where she and Trenton eventually both enrolled to study neurology.
After moving to Colorado, Delaney continued to take Bible information classes at St. Peter, Fort Collins, with Pastor Joel Spaude. She had a desire to learn everything about Christ’s character but found a simpler answer than she anticipated.
“Pastor Spaude told me that you don’t need to know everything,” she recalls. “The Bible tells us what is most important, and everything beyond that we can ask God when we get to heaven.”
These words spoke to Delaney’s heart, showing her that God’s purpose is not to make people all-knowing but instead is to get people to heaven.
St. Peter’s staff minister, Dan Kleist, says he loves Delaney’s fervor for the Word. “Delaney isn’t afraid to ask clarifying questions,” he explains. “She’s ready to dig into any topic and see what we can discover.”
Delaney’s college career was filled with important milestones that went beyond the typical tests and quizzes. To begin with, she and Trenton got married their sophomore year of college. Delaney was also baptized and became a member at St. Peter. She and Trenton even helped start a WELS Campus Ministry program through their church to reach out to area college students.
The ministry began with five students the first year and has since grown. The group meets weekly for a Bible study and completes a monthly service project together in the community. “It’s been a huge support system for me and the other college students,” Delaney says. “When you go away to college, it can be hard to stay connected to Christ because you’re making all your own decisions now.”
Kleist initiated this campus ministry after noticing several students who were attending church faithfully. After identifying a few students, he asked if they wanted to meet outside of church to connect. Delaney and Trenton were two of the first members, and he’s glad they’ve helped foster the group since its inception.
“They’re the kind of members where they’ll always be there,” he remarks. “They’ve got an infectious spirit of warmth that lights up the group.”
Today, Delaney and Trenton still live in Colorado and still play their instruments together at church, enjoying the special way that they serve the Lord together.
“Music is playing in my head all day long,” Delaney says, “and now that I’m playing in church and to the glory of God, music plays in my head about Jesus, which is really a gift.”
Facts & figures about campus ministry
- WELS Campus Ministry is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
- The only full-time campus ministry is Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. This is where WELS campus ministry got started.
- More than 7,000 colleges, universities, and tech schools in the U.S. and Canada have a WELS Campus Ministry contact.
- More than 3,100 current students are in the campus ministry student management system (database).
- About 30 campus ministries receive funding from the Campus Ministry Committee for their programs.
Support for students
St. Peter, Fort Collins, Colo., started a campus ministry to reach out to area college students. Assistance is
available from WELS Campus Ministry for other congregations that are interested in starting a ministry on a college campus. Find a toolkit to get you started at wels.net/cm100.
Don’t have a college in your area? You can still support your congregation’s college students while they’re away:
- Keep in touch with them during the school year by mailing care packages and birthday cards.
- Text or e-mail them encouraging Bible messages.
- Talk to them about their college experiences when they’re back at church during weekends or holidays.
- Invite them to speak to a teen group or other church group about how they keep their faith strong while they’re away.
- Create a bulletin board with the names and pictures of students attending college to remind congregation members to pray for these young adults who are away from home.
Author: Gabriella Blauert
Volume 107, Number 02
Issue: February 2020