Purity: the word may make you squirm. Physical purity, modesty and the like are emphasized at a young age, perhaps more so for tween and teen girls than for boys. But in a Christian community such as Cedarville University, the purity conversations must not be avoided, said Tara Winter, org adviser for Sanctify Ministries.
“The purity conversation you had when you were 12 or 13 looks a lot different when you are 19 or 20,” said Winter, the licensure, testing and accreditation coordinator for Cedarville’s School of Education. “When we say the word purity, we often just think about, ‘I did or didn’t have sex.’ Well, that’s not quite how the Bible defines purity.”
Sanctify Ministries, a student organization, focuses on four kinds of purity: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
“God calls us to live a life that is pure and holy unto him. Well, that’s every bit of our lives,”
Winter said. “Purity is a state of mind. Purity is a state of the heart. It is understanding what God has called us to, and out of our response of our love for God, we respond by living our life in this way – in a pure and holy way unto him.”
The org’s beginning
Sanctify Ministries, which now has 15 members – four of whom make up a “lead team” – was formed in 2004 by Yukiko Johnson, a Cedarville employee at the time.
“She just had a passion for women’s purity,” Winter said.
The org formed before the days of the now-abundant discipleship groups, and it served as an on-campus Bible study in which a few hundred girls studied a different book focused on purity each semester. As the campus Bible study ministry expanded, Sanctify refocused its ministry to reach sixth- through 12th-grade girls at retreats and conferences in the surrounding states, Winter said. The campus Bible studies lessened as a result.
Winter inherited Sanctify Ministries for the 2010-2011 academic year upon Johnson’s departure. Winter said the org felt Sanctify’s ministry was needed again on-campus, because she didn’t see a place for girls to discuss the hard issues, such as sex before marriage and pornography. Since then, off-campus events have been limited to two to four times a year, and on-campus Girls Night Out (GNO) events have been held four to five times a year to balance the org’s outreach.
Creating a community
Senior Schuyler Price, a mechanical engineering major and vice president of Sanctify, said Sanctify strives to create a place for girls on campus to foster discussion of the tough issues and find healing as a result.
“It’s kind of the force that drives people to talking about those things that they didn’t think they could ever talk about here (at Cedarville),” Price said. “I like that we can come together with our classmates. We’re not coming in and saying, ‘Oh, we’re experts on this topic. Let me teach you all about it.’ We’re kind of just more facilitating the conversations.”
Price said Sanctify starts the conversations for girls to continue with their RAs and other mentors in dorms and Bible studies. The Sanctify team mentors by sharing experiences, not by giving a list of rights and wrongs, Price said.
“It’s, ‘This is my story and this is where God’s brought me to, so let’s all come alongside of each other and talk about those things that sometimes the world hides in shame and embarrassment,’” Price said, “but really as Christians we do need to pay attention to that and address those things.”
Sanctify President Sarah Brown, a junior pharmacy major, said the org is important to campus culture because a Christian university is often thought of as a place where purity struggles don’t – or can’t – happen.
“Sometimes because of the convictions that Cedarville holds, we kind of back people into a corner where like you can’t have sex before marriage, but if you get pregnant, the perception might be there’s not really like a lot of options for you,” she said. “It’s like a secret sin that you can’t really comeout with, and like God calls us to call our sin into the light.”
Brown said Sanctify’s goal to create a community for people to come and talk about the issues they need to talk about keeps God’s mercy and faithfulness as the focus.
“God is so gracious and merciful to bring you out of your sin, and what he can do with that is really incredible,” she said.
A passion for purity
For Brown, the passion to spread the message of all-encompassing purity comes from a past struggle to find her identity in Christ. For Winter, that passion comes from personal experience.
“I am the first to share at any of our events my own testimony and how God has redeemed purity issues in my past,” Winter said. “To be able to now be a part of such a ministry has been very humbling.”
Winter said she shared her testimony when she began working at Cedarville, and women poured into her office sharing with her about their struggles with purity.
“The reason why I’m passionate about (purity) is because (struggles with purity are) so prevalent, and God can do such amazing redemption through it when we humble ourselves and when we allow him to heal those things to be used to bring others back to him,” Winter said. “It would be overwhelming if God could allow just a little bit of our ministry to help somebody else in that way.”
And so, Winter said her vision for Sanctify Ministries is “to be seeing healing in the area of purity, support on campus for women who are struggling, and having that open communication about purity issues for women.”
Brown sums up the org’s mission as “meeting girls in a radically pure lifestyle and showing them that they are chosen and cherished by God.”
“We’re a bigger org than just having a place to come talk about sin issues, but I feel like that’s a big part of the ministry,” Brown said.
The themes of GNO events stretch to discussing identity in Christ and what it looks like to live life rooted in him.
“It focuses on the fact that you need to put your focus on Christ, and I want to share that message,” said Illyssa Smith, sophomore psychology major and Sanctify’s public relations director.
Winter said the biblical foundation for Sanctify Ministries comes from Romans 12:1-3:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (ESV)
That emotional and mental purity which Sanctify emphasizes is just as influential in life as is physical purity, Winter said.
“Sometimes, we can get ourselves so wrapped up in somebody else and never lay a finger on each other,” she said, “but our hearts are totally given away.”
As for how to break through the Christian culture that considers purity struggles taboo, Winter said it’s about creating a community where forgiveness, openness, accountability and confidence in Christ are plentiful. Healing and the opportunity to minister are inhibited when individuals are quick to judge, label and assume, she said.
“My sin is the same as yours, and I think oftentimes we forget that God died for all of our sins. He forgives me just as he forgives you,” Winter said. “It’s God who needs to deal with our hearts.”
Opportunities to join Sanctify in its ministry are available at the start of each academic year. Until then, attend the next GNO at 7 p.m., Nov. 19 in the BTS Youth Room and follow Sanctify on social media.
Keep up with Sanctify on Instagram (@sanctify_ministries) and Facebook (CUSanctifyMinistries)
Anna Dembowski is a senior journalism major and editor-in-chief for Cedars. She is learning to love coffee, spontaneity and Twitter. Follow her at @annabbowskers.