Imagine a college campus sending 150 missionaries to countries across the globe, holding weeklong 24-hour prayer vigils, and building a new $2 million facility debt-free. One likely would think such a scenario must involve a large Christian university with Spirit-filled, God-centered faculty and curriculum. But it is not.
This all has happened at the secular University of Central Arkansas nestled in the small city of Conway, population 67,600.
Under the leadership of Matt L. Carpenter, an Assemblies of God U.S. missionary, the Chi Alpha ministry at UCA has grown exponentially. Carpenter, 46, and his wife, Kiki, joined the campus ministry in 2001 when the chapter had 20 student leaders and around 150 regular participants. He sensed God calling him into a deeper prayer life.
“I told God He had the wrong man,” Carpenter says. “Prayer had never played a very major role in my life.” That was about to change.
In 2004, a year after he took over as chapter leader, Carpenter knew the students also needed to be part of an extended time of sacrificial prayer. Although he met with some resistance, he initiated a weeklong, around-the-clock prayer vigil.
Jen Schiefer, a junior at the time, had only been saved a couple of years when the prayer vigil began.
“I came to UCA as an agnostic and got saved my freshman year through the discipleship of Chi Alpha,” Schiefer says. “Although I felt the weight of what we were entering into with the prayer vigil, I didn’t think it was strange or extreme. Sacrifice is just a part of Christian life — as I’ve come to know it through Chi Alpha.”
Now such prayer vigils are usually initiated by students. Schiefer, 37, is in her 16th year as a staff member at UCA.
Carpenter’s philosophy is to focus on discipleship rather than evangelism.
“The net you catch people with is the net you keep them in,” Carpenter says. However, the catch became so great, Chi Alpha outgrew its facilities. The ministry found it difficult to accommodate 15 post-graduate interns, small group meetings, and all the activity that the increasing numbers demanded in a 900-square foot house.
“A building is only a tool, and it can either help you or hurt you,” Carpenter says. He believes the Lord providentially connected him with a friend, who knew an architect, who in turn knew a builder. All three men wanted to make an investment in the kingdom of God.
Then Carpenter sensed God telling him Chi Alpha should relinquish a previously purchased piece of property on the edge of campus. The UCA board agreed to draw up a plan for Chi Alpha to lease a prime lot in the middle of campus for $1 annually for 95 years in exchange for selling the school the property the ministry already had purchased.
With the land secured, plans began to construct a 10,000 square-foot facility. The contractor agreed to work at cost plus 3 percent. The architect donated all services.
In November, a $173,000 building payment loomed. Although alumni, churches, and many others had donated to the project, the team needed a miracle. At the last minute, the builder called and said a $45,000 payment would suffice.
Today, UCA Chi Alpha is housed in a $2.3 million facility that is totally paid off. The structure is able to accommodate socially distanced worship services and meetings not able to be held in the former facility. Chi Alpha at UCA is sending missionaries around the world, to other campuses in the U.S. that have little Christian presence, and throughout Conway to reach other students.