In 2015, Atiyya Menifee became involved in Campus Outreach at the University of Texas at Dallas. The mission of CO is to glorify God by building laborers on the campus for the lost world. It was there she discovered what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.
Tell me about growing up in a mixed-religion household. What did religion look like to you?
My dad was in the first Persian Gulf War, stationed in Saudi Arabia. While there, he saw Muslims worshiping and had never experienced anything like that. During the call to prayer, everything stops so that everyone can pray at the same time. He did more research and then converted to Islam. He returned [from the war] and married my mom, who was a Christian. They were married for 11 years but then they got divorced when I was 5 years old.
Did you grow up primarily practicing one religion?
I grew up in both homes and under both religions. I understood God was different [within these religions] but didn’t know how different. On Fridays during the summer, everyone would go to the mosque. I didn’t really receive much, if anything, from that. I think I understand a little bit more about Islam as a whole than most people but I wasn’t immersed in Islamic culture. My dad is very much a cultural Muslim, just as there are cultural Christians.
What would you do at the mosque?
They usually had something of a sermon where you just listen. We would sometimes pray, but it was super structured and liturgical so it didn’t mean much to me.
So you were in a mosque on Friday and in a Christian church on Sunday? How did that affect you?
I didn’t see much difference between the two religions, and it didn’t make much difference in how I lived my life. It was just what mom did and what my dad did, and I was drifting in the middle. I saw both religions as very legalistic. It seemed like both taught you that you have to do this or that to get in good with this God of the universe.
How did this affect your view of God?
It obscured my view of all types of religion because it seemed you are just trying to be a better person. If you become a good enough person, then this God will let you into paradise or something. I didn’t understand that you have to have a relationship with God. This led to the strivings of my heart to please those around me and please my parents. I wanted to be remembered as the kid who was doing good and doing great things, but I didn’t see a need for me to glorify God.
Now, you are involved in Campus Outreach and bringing the gospel to college students. That’s quite the jump. How did you find out about Campus Outreach?
My first week of classes, I was sitting in the dining hall when a girl named Jo’Anna came up to me and said, “I saw you talking to one of my friends and I thought maybe we could be friends.” I was like, “Cool.” She mentioned maybe wanting to work in a church at some point, but we didn’t really have a deep spiritual conversation. If we did, that would have scared me away because, in the past, I have had really bad encounters with Christians. She just started inviting me to all these Campus Outreach events and meetings.
I had never met Christians like that. It was just really different.
What did you think when you attended your first meeting?
What really struck me was how so many people introduced themselves to me and were willing to love on me, even though I didn’t even know them. I had never met Christians like that. It was just really different. I went every Tuesday for the rest of the fall semester.
You mentioned past encounters with Christians that were not good and appreciated that Jo’Anna did not immediately go into a gospel presentation. Can you talk a bit more about that?
I once dated a guy who claimed to be a Christian, but he cheated on me. It really hurt me. It gave me a lot of negativity toward Christians and the church. I also had other friends who claimed to be Christians but I didn’t see any difference in their lives than what was in mine. I couldn’t see how that affected anything.
My dad also remarried, which caused a major rift in our relationship. I went into a rebellious mode and started dating a girl. That relationship lasted until my freshman year in college. I had been going to my grandma’s church since I was about 5 years old, and the summer after that relationship started, someone at that church found out I was dating girls. The news spread through the church, and they told my mom.
What was your mom’s reaction? How did this affect your relationship with the church?
My mom was really upset, not because I was gay, but because I hadn’t told her. It caused me to hate the church and not feel like they loved me. I had been there my entire life, and this is how they treat something like this? It scarred me and caused me to hate anything that had to do with religion or Christianity.
How did Campus Outreach begin to change your mind? What was different there?
They would approach me and want to actually talk to me. They cared about me as a person, not me as a statistic. They asked questions about my life. Even though I was very closed off to a lot of those questions, I did appreciate it because it felt like someone cared. I hadn’t felt that from Christians. With past experiences, it felt like, “You are only going to view me as a product of my past and not really as a person.” They loved me despite the fact that I was different. I found it really unique among the Christians at Campus Outreach.
As I was trying to reconcile my relationship with my spiritual father, God was allowing my relationship with my earthly father to be reconciled.
How did God use Campus Outreach in your life?
I had a very difficult spring semester my freshman year and had not been involved in CO the entire semester. I hadn’t been attending meetings, but Jo’Anna had been meeting up with me to do a Bible study. I started attending church regularly and felt convicted to stop doing things that would not be pleasing to God. I also received an unexpected letter from my Dad telling me how much he loves and cares for me and how I was a good daughter whom he was proud of. As I was trying to reconcile my relationship with my spiritual father, God was allowing my relationship with my earthly father to be reconciled.
I went to one of the final Campus Outreach meetings of the spring semester, and there was a pamphlet on the ground. I hadn’t flipped it over to know what it was, but I told myself that whatever it was, I was going to go to it. It ended up being a flyer for the summer project in San Antonio, which is nine weeks of intense discipleship and service.
Did you have a moment where everything changed for you surrounding your relationship with Christ?
Before going to San Antonio, I was in my room crying because I was falling into the same sins as before. I felt really defeated. I told God, “If you are saying you can live my life better than I can, prove it. I’m done trying.” That’s when I became a Christian. The next week I left for San Antonio. If I had stayed at home, I think I would have self-destructed. God knew that I needed intense immersion in community that summer.
At one of our first Campus Outreach meetings the next semester, the ministers were amazed at how much I had changed. I met some new freshman girls and led them to Christ. I made time for God and made time to serve in CO. It was a radical change. The next summer, CO asked me to go to San Antonio as a leader to disciple others.
How have you seen God moving and working through Campus Outreach?
During my sophomore year, 27 students at UT Dallas came to Christ. My first San Antonio project had seven people from UTD; my second year had 18. Multiplication at its finest. We saw so many people come to Christ who CO had been praying for over many years, including two Muslim students. I’m seeing people who I shared the gospel with and poured into now pouring into others. Someone I hadn’t talked to in several months texted me out of the blue wanting to meet with me and talk about her purpose in life and God. We met up, and just a week later, God saved her. 20 people committed to the Denver Leadership Project this past summer, and another group went to Japan to be a part of how God is making Himself known throughout the nations.
What’s something you want people to know about Campus Outreach that they might not?
CO is really passionate about seeing God move in any opportunity provided and making Him the face of what we are doing. We recently saw God move mightily through several of the UT Dallas sports teams, where He saved people on every team or doubled the numbers of Christians on each team. It would start with just one Christian on the baseball team or the soccer team or the volleyball team, but then others were added.
What’s coming up with Campus Outreach? What hopes do you have for the next year?
I believe Matthew 28:19-20 is my purpose and I believe it’s universal for everyone. As a Christian, I am called to make disciples and to baptize people in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. When I approach students, I have that on my heart, and my hope is to see God reach the nations through CO.
To get involved in or support Campus Outreach DFW, visit thevillagechurch.net/outreach/partners/campus-outreach.