My office is wherever I can find an empty table. When I met with Deanna Ceasar, my office was the food court in the Mall. Deanna works with Chi Alpha New Orleans, a missionary outreach of the Assemblies of God established to evangelize college students. She sat down in my “office” to tell me how Jesus had always been a part of her life, and how she became a Chi Alpha missionary.
Deanna’s devout Christian mother raised her in an independent holiness church. In general, holiness groups believe in regeneration by grace through faith with the Holy Spirit bearing witness of one’s salvation. They also believed holiness is attained by abstaining from certain behaviors. Drinking alcohol, gambling, dancing, watching movies, and women wearing pants are frowned upon.
“I was in church several times a week,” said Deanna, “but I don’t think I understood what Jesus sacrifice means to us and that our relationship with him is not about following rules, until I went to college. That’s where I learned that holiness came from our faith in Jesus and that God’s love transforms us.”
While living in Lake Charles with her family church attendance and striving to obey God were performed without question as a way of life. Relocating to Baton Rouge to attend Louisiana State University (LSU) separated Deanna from her family and put her in a position to choose. She could abandon a familiar way of life for new and forbidden experiences or follow Jesus.
When Deanna chose to follow Jesus, God drew her into a deeper relationship and a better understanding of whom he is. Her journey began when she joined a Church of God church while in college. The Deeper Life Class at the church introduced her to E. W. Kenyon’s What Happened from the Cross to the Throne. The book explained Jesus sacrifice in depth and compared the old blood covenant to the new blood covenant. As Deanna studied Kenyon’s book, she understood that Jesus’ death on the cross meant new life through the Spirit of God for her and everyone else who believed. Jesus made it possible to enter the presence of God who loved us and was interested in every facet of our lives.
During her sophomore year, Deanna’s relationship with God grew after a fellow student at LSU invited her to attend The Gathering. Students at The Gathering encouraged her to join a Life Group where she made lasting friendship and found a way to have fun without compromising her commitment to God. God used her new friends in Chi Alpha to show her a better picture of the love he had for her, and the caring relationship he wanted with her daily.
Being involved in Chi Alpha taught Deanna that Jesus is more than a personal Lord and Savior. He had also called her to share her faith. As she fellowshipped with her Christian friends and studied the Bible a desire to help others grow in their relationship with God developed. She took her first step to help others during her junior year, when she became a Life Group Leader and hosted a Bible Study with a group of friends.
Deanna had entered college to study business administration confident the skills would land her a good job, and she could live comfortably. As she grew in her relationship with God, her career goal faded. She reached a turning point when she attended The World Missions Summit with Chi Alpha.
Missionaries from all over the world spoke about spreading the gospel. She learned that God had “committed to us the message of reconciliation” and Christians had a responsibility to share that message as “Christ Ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The desire to spread the gospel took root. At the conclusion of the conference, she committed to giving one year to missions and to pray about a lifetime of service.
“By the time I left the convention I was leaning toward a lifetime of service. The business classes were boring. I could make money, but it wasn’t a passion. I wanted to do something I loved. Something I would wake up in the morning and want to do.”
Deanna returned to college and changed her major to communications studies, which focused on interpersonal communication, rhetoric and public speaking. She questioned if she was called to ministry and shared her heart with a campus pastor. The pastor encouraged Deanna to pursue what she felt the Lord leading her to do.
Later that year, Deanna attended Fall Breakaway, another conference sponsored by Chi Alpha. During the conference, she felt the tug of God’s spirit to apply for an internship. After much prayer, she decided to pursue campus ministry.
“I felt like the Holy Spirit led me to attend the World Missions summit and make a commitment to give a year and then gave me more guidance during the Fall Breakaway to apply for the internship. I started the internship at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette committed serving for one year and to pray about a life time of service.”
As the internship drew to a close, she considered options to continue in the ministry. Some of the interns were praying about starting new ministries and others were talking to leaders of established ministries. Deanna noted that most of the people in Chi Alpha were white. Her heart was drawn to help the African American community. She knew Louisiana had four historically black colleges: Grambling, Dillard, Xavier and Southern in New Orleans and Shreveport. None of them had Chi Alpha, so she prayed for God’s direction.
Deanna did not have peace about pioneering a ministry alone. Her campus pastor told her about Chi Alpha in New Orleans lead by Matt and Jen Degier. The Degier’s had been in New Orleans for six years and made inroads at Tulane, UNO, Loyola and hoped to expand to Xavier. The opportunity to work with a team was confirmation that God wanted her in New Orleans. Deanna was a perfect fit for their team and excited to work in a city that had two historically black colleges.
“I have committed to serving Chi Alpha in New Orleans for five years,” said Deanna. “If doors open the way I feel they will and praying they will, I may be here longer as the Lord leads. One thing is certain. I believe I am called to minister the gospel and help others come to know God through Jesus Christ. Maybe not in Chi Alpha forever, but right now I love being on one of the most strategic missions fields of the world sharing Christ with the future leaders of the world – college students.”