Shelby Abbott and JMU Cru

Welcome to part two of our series on the history of Cru at JMU. In this post we have the privilege of hearing about the experience of Shelby Abbott who was on staff with Cru at JMU from 2000 until 2007.

If you have any connection to Cru, Shelby doesn’t really need an introduction; he is the definition of a “cru-lebrity”. When I was a freshman at Virginia Tech way back in 2005, I knew Shelby as the loveable and hysterical emcee of the two biggest conferences I went to that year: Cru Winter Conference and Big Break. Twelve years later, he is still faithfully playing both of those roles. Shelby is the author of Jacked, I am a Tool, and I’m Awkward, You’re Awkward. Shelby currently works for Cru’s publishing arm, Cru Press. You can find Shelby’s Blog, as well as more information about his books here.

I asked Shelby how God was using Cru to reach the campus of JMU during his time. Here was his reply:

God did a lot in those years at JMU. There were a lot of specific strategies that both staff and students came up with to reach the campus—some good, and some not-so-good. We did an “I agree with Russ” campaign, which worked out really well, and what the students called a “door holding ministry” where we positioned ourselves around buildings on campus and held open doors for people…which was not so effective. People shared the gospel a lot in those days, and many people were trusting Christ on campus.

Ok, so if you’re not super familiar with both Cru and JMU, a couple of things won’t make sense. First of all, the “I agree with” campaign was a big deal back in the day. This was an evangelistic outreach where you would flood a campus with the slogan “I agree with… (fill in the blank of a particular student. For this example, we will say Russ)”. You’d put up posters, put an add in the school newspaper, and most importantly, wear t-shirts. Lots and lots of t-shirts. Everyone’s t-shirts would say “I agree with Russ”, except for one t-shirt which would say “I am Russ.” Then, at the end of the campaign, there would be a big event in which Russ would share the Gospel. The other thing you need to know is that students at JMU pride themselves on holding doors. I know… you just have to accept it.

Next I asked Shelby how God was using JMU Cru to reach the nations. Here is his reply:

We sent a lot of students overseas, both for summer missions and for Stints. I led a team of all JMU students and staff to Central Asia for a summer mission. There were 4 staff (myself included) and 14 JMU students. There was a lot of momentum for reaching the world in that time.

Eighteen JMU representatives on a single international summer mission? Incredible! But what was Cru’s weekly large group meeting like? After all, that is the face of the movement. Shelby’s response to this question was so unbelievable that I am still having trouble believing his answer. Shelby says that when he arrived there were about 75 students attending the meeting in 2000. By 2005, there were over 700. That is nearly a growth of 10 fold in just five years. During this time, God blessed the movement with incredibly talented speakers, band members, and emcees. All of this together created an environment where people were attracted to the community and heard the Gospel proclaimed boldly.

Ok, one last thing you need to know about Shelby’s time at JMU. His Bible study guys started the White House. The White House is a “Cru House” where 12 JMU Cru men live in semi-peace every year. The White House is still going strong today and remains a center of JMU Cru social life.


Contributed by Jerry Riendeau

JMU Cru and Tim Henderson

College ministries are funny creatures. I have rarely seen another community where the people involved (the students) are as concerned for maintaining tradition. It is not uncommon for a sophomore, when hearing about a potential change to an annual conference, to respond “but that’s how we have ALWAYS done it!” Nevermind that this sophomore has only seen this tradition occur one time. I remember doing the exact same thing when I was a student.

Ironically, these communities also have very short corporate memories. Skip a tradition one year and it will disappear forever. Come back and visit two years after graduating and you will find that you have been all but forgotten.

Case and point: as one of the directors of Cru at JMU, I know almost nothing about the history of our movement. When did it begin? No idea. Who have been the other directors over the years? I only know of two others.

In the hopes of filling in these historical gaps, I have been reaching out to some former JMU Cru staff and students and asking them about their experiences involved in the movement. Over the next few weeks (our new baby willing) I’ll be posting some of their responses here.

The first person who responded to my email was Tim Henderson. Truth be told, Tim has become a bit of a legend in Cru far beyond James Madison. Tim served for a number of years as the director of Cru at Penn State, and it feels like every single student and staff he ever worked with has become a significant leader in either Cru or their local church… or both. Tim and his wife Kellie now serve as the executive directors of the Blue Ridge Fellows. In a nutshell, “the Blue Ridge Fellows are college graduates who begin their professional careers through an integrated, community-rich, nine-month program, learning to live out seamless faith in Christ.” You can learn more about the fellows here. You can access many of the amazing resources Tim has created here.

Here are a few things I learned about JMU Cru from Tim:

Tim was involved as a student at JMU Cru from 1988-1992. Fun fact, during Tim’s freshman year the “Computer” was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. This was also the first year that a CD player was sold, but only in Japan.  Most importantly, Tim tells me that this was the first year that there were JMU Cru staff. The ministry had existed previously as an exclusively student-led entity.

The first campus director was apparently named Chris Willard. This means that the first guy who had my current job started when I was 2 years old.

So what was the movement like back then? Believe it or not, they did not meet in ISAT. In fact, that building was still 9 years away from being constructed. Instead, they simply met in the “mezzanine of the student center”. Yeah, I don’t know where that is either. Here is the amazing part: Tim’s freshman year there were about 30 students involved. By the time he graduated there were more like 150.

As a student, Tim went to Camp Overlook for fall retreat, which is the same camp that we still went to up until this year. Tim remembers fall retreat his sophomore year as the turning point of his time involved with Cru. “It was where I really became part of the community,” he says.

Many other things were similar about JMU Cru when Tim was involved. Students went on summer mission (Tim went on an international summer mission to Central Asia), people were sharing their faith in dorms, and occasionally the staff team and student leaders miscommunicated. I guess some things never change.

“It was a glorious time,” Tim remembers. Let’s pray that it continues to be such a great experience for many more students.


Contributed by Jerry Riendeau


Welcome to the new Shenandoah Valley Cru blog! This blog is primarily written and edited by JMU Cru’s very own Media Team. Each post features an update on Cru’s local ministries, a recap of recent events or outreaches, and other specialized content that varies month-to-month. This blog is updated monthly, so be sure to check back frequently to keep up with what’s happening here in the Shenandoah Valley!