Posts Tagged ‘campus ministry’

yes and no

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days … (from Deuteronomy 30)

Tonight in our campus ministry fellowship we discussed the idea of discernment, but with a twist.

Usually when we’re in a discernment or decision-making process, we ask open-ended questions: “What does God want me to do?”  “What is the Spirit trying to say to me?”  “What should I do?” (or even, “Why aren’t my prayers being answered?”)

Those are great questions, but maybe not always the best questions to be asking.  Sometimes a question can be too big.

So we started with two words, Yes and No.  We talked about how we say “yes” and “no” in the transition from high school student to college student to college graduate.  Along the way we outlined a discernment process that I just had to write about, because I think it’s great (open-source theology!)  By the way, keeping up spiritual disciplines (prayer, Christian fellowship, Scripture reading) is a given at all points in this journey.

Here’s the process we outlined:

1.  Begin with a very general question that you can answer with a yes or a no.  For example, a sixteen-year-old might ask, “Do I want to attend college at some point in the future?”  Those who were present tonight, by virtue of being college students, had answered “yes” to this question even if they hadn’t realized it.

2. Apply filters to this general concept:  filters of time, money, goals, personal values, or any other filter that’s important to you.  One student talked about wanting to join the military at some point in his life, but not wanting the environment of a military college.  So within his overall “Yes” to a college education, he ended up saying no to the military college and yes to the Reserves.

3.  Realize that you might spin in circles for a while, when you are in between steps in the process.  Some students talked about being so excited to attend college, but then spending some time trying out different majors or different groups of friends.  The trying-out phase was a little frustrating, but important for getting to the next step.

4.  Whittle down the number of “yes” answers into something manageable.  The students talked about making choices of how to spend their time while in college, and that fact that they have had to let some things go.

5.  Think about a “yes” within a “no.”  For example, a musically gifted student talked about the decision to say “no” to a degree in music while saying “yes” to music as a hobby and a source of personal enjoyment.

6.  Finally, evaluate your decision in terms of how it affirms life.  To the best of your ability, think of how this decision affirms you as a child of God, with all the gifts God has given you.  Even if your decision may result in some temporary stress, does it ultimately build up the life that God gave you?  To borrow a phrase from John McCall, a missionary in Taiwan, does your decision rest within “the divine yes”?

What do you think?


As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1-2, KJV)

Yesterday we completed the first full day of our New Hope Presbytery intercollegiate mission trip to Santa Fe. Coming from a rain-and-snow saturated place, where the rivers are swollen with muddy runoff, I am struck by the dryness of where we are. Obviously people have lived here for thousands of years and have adapted to the lack of water. I’m not sure if I can do it before the week is up!

Almost as soon as we arrived, our hosts began advising us to conserve water. Water is everything here, they said. If you have water, you’re set up for success.

And yet even with plenty of water in my bottle, I thirst.

I thirsted working on the Santa Fe Community Farm, as dry dirt found its way into my eyes, nose, and mouth. Back home, whenever we plant a garden I worry about mud and overgrown weeds.  I’m afraid gardening at home is not as much of a spiritual exercise as it could be.  The change of perspective to an arid environment helped me think a lot about the challenge of feeding everyone on the earth.

I also thirsted during our visit to Mass at the cathedral in Santa Fe, because I am not Catholic and therefore not admitted to communion. (I understand the reasoning behind this doctrine and practice, and have attended Mass several times before, but this time I was definitely aggrieved. I could almost taste the wine and could almost feel the refreshment I normally feel at the Lord’s table — but remained incomplete.)  I suppose our Christian communities will always be a little dry until we can work out our differences.

Finally, I experienced an emotional thirst for comfort and companionship. As I write, I’m already feeling more connected to my team members, but there is always an awkward dryness at the beginning of these trips. At the end we’ll most likely experience a deep well of our connectedness, both as humans and as disciples, but we can’t get there without working through the dry period of being strangers.

By the way, to accomplish all that we set out to do, we have divided into teams. I’m on team 2 but I hope to get some perspective from Team 1 as the week goes along.

I am counting on Christ

“Christ is counting on you.”

“And I am counting on Christ.”

This short liturgy is part of our annual commissioning service for college students going on a mission trip. Near the end of the service, the leaders pass out simple wooden crosses, and the words are recited by the giver and receiver as each cross is handed out.

Over the last few years, it has been relatively easy to say these words as I gave or received a cross. In my five short years of campus ministry experience I’ve traveled to places that challenged me. And, as someone who’s both a pastor and a woman, I have an extra layer of challenge when I visit new places and need to explain who I am. On those trips, I instinctively knew I needed to count on Christ.

This year our mission trip destination is Santa Fe, New Mexico. As we passed around the crosses at our service this weekend, I felt a little weird saying the words. After all, Santa Fe is a beautiful American city. There has been no natural disaster recently, I know of no recent crisis apart from the recession, and I wonder a little bit what the challenge will be.

To be sure, there are needs in Santa Fe, and we will spend time in service helping to meet those needs. I think the challenge, and the need to count on Christ, will emerge more within the group. We have made some covenants with each other about how to live during the week, and living out those covenants may be tough.

Here’s what we have promised each other so far:

  • To go to the grocery store only once during the week.
  • To re-use materials, such as plastic sandwich bags, water bottles, and cloth lunch bags.
  • To memorize a verse from Scripture.
  • To let everyone in the group have a chance to talk before anyone gets a second turn.
  • To spend time in silent retreat at a monastery (Christ in the Desert) and working with a spiritual director near the end of the trip.

These are simple practices and probably none of this will radically change the world. But the week of practicing these disciplines could change us.

I think I will be challenged by several of these promises, particularly the re-using of materials.  I’m always in a rush and it is so easy to get water, coffee, lunch, or anything in a disposable container.  To make it through the week, to avoid falling back into old patterns of consumption and clatter, we will all need to count on Christ.  I hope that when we return we’ll be more attentive to how much we use and how much noise we make in our daily lives.

Our commissioning service also included reading Philippians 4:10-13 (” I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”)  Paul writes in chapter 4 about having experience with plenty and with want.  The Scripture just happened to be a daily Scripture reading on the Presbyterian Church (USA) daily reading site.  It was truly one of those moments when everything comes together.  I love that I’m taking a journey during Lent, and that I, a person with so much stuff, will make the choice to make do.  Furthermore, in the spirit of the letter to the Philippians, I’ll be challenged in the knowledge that everything depends on God instead of on me.

I am counting on Christ.

a big feed

Some time ago I overheard a person talking about cooking for many people at an event.  He said, “We did a big feed.”

To me, it sounded like something you would say in reference to filling the bellies of livestock.  I pictured cattle lined up at industrial stainless steel feeding troughs like the ones at the farm-supply store near my home–not people enjoying a meal.

Then again, sometimes getting food into people’s stomachs seems not much different from feeding livestock.

This weekend, the college students prepared and served a meal at our local homeless shelter.  Mountains of food got placed into hungry, waiting hands, but it was a “big feed” with an institutional feel.

The shelter must make do with a minimal staff, and unbelievably meager resources.  So to keep the kitchen clean, the volunteers are behind a locked glass window and locked door while they prepare the meal.  When it’s time to serve, volunteers hand meals through the window.  For whatever reason, getting your own plate and eating with the people you just served is not part of the process.  So the volunteers serve, clean up, and lock the door behind them.

After it was over, I began to think about people who spend their lives taking their meals at “big feeds.”  In prisons, shelters, and even in some nursing homes, people are herded through the belly-filling process, and then on to their next assigned location.  Rarely, if ever, do they experience the joy of a family meal at home. 

I wonder if the cooks get any joy out of the process either.  Several years ago I talked with a prison dietician/food supervisor, and it struck me how much stress she went through just to fill stomachs.  Worries over budget, special diets (many sick and elderly prisoners were housed where she worked), and staff occupied her days.  Her cooks, who were inmates themelves, worked behind locked doors with knives chained to the counters.  Her servers handed out meals through a slot in a steel wall.  No one ever thanked them or asked them for the recipe.

The author of Hebrews writes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  (Hebrews 13:2)

I wonder if we can ever turn a big feed into an occasion of hospitality?  I think Jesus and his angels are hidden in the faces of the homeless, the sick, and the inmates.  So how are we to feed them?

the loneliness hurts

At East Carolina University the Campus Multifaith Alliance maintains a prayer box, located outside the bookstore.  Anyone can drop in a written prayer, and the campus faith leaders read the prayers in confidence at our meetings.  The other leaders gave me the OK to post this prayer, which appeared last year:

I wrote once before with this request, but who ever is in charge up stairs must not have been listening.  That or I’m just unlovable.  I suspect the second but hope it’s the first.  Please pray for me to get a girl friend.  I’m trying hard on my own, have been for 6 years.  I try all the non-drinking based events I can find and go to class I think girls would like.  But nothing.  I think I’m just too stupid and ugly for anyone to care about.  I try to be nice too.  I hold doors and give rides and I’m never rude.  I don’t think that’s hurt but maybe I’m wrong. The loneliness hurts, too. It physically hurts.  It feels like someone drilled a hole in the bottom of my chest and is trying to suck everything out.  So please pray, please.  I’d love it if she was clingy and cuddly, but even that’s optional. I know it’s a selfish thing to pray for but I’m running out of options.  Also if you could include something about getting through the week, that would be great, too.

The loneliness hurts.

If you visited ECU, you might be surprised by the loneliness the student expressed.  It’s warm and sunny here most of the year; walking through campus, you see students laughing and hanging out with their friends.  On the weekends, this place is Tailgate Central.  The downtown area is packed well into the morning on the weekends.

In my campus ministry world, I’m surrounded by dynamic, go-getter students who have lots of friends, and who do mission work, discuss theology late at night, and go to all the Christian events.

So who’s lonely?

Actually, I wasn’t surprised at all to read the prayer.  When you dig below the surface, you find a lot of loneliness.

I know smiling people who have a lot of friends, but who have no one to hold when they don’t feel like smiling.  (Remember the part in the prayer about “clingy and cuddly?”  Don’t doubt the power of a hug!)  I know faithful people who sit by themselves week after week in church on Sundays.  I know people who spend their weekends going to friends’ weddings, and wonder if there will ever be occasion for their friends to return the favor.

You may be reading this saying, big deal.  College students need to concentrate on their studies and on getting ready for a career, especially during a recession!  That’s what I used to think too.  But spend a while with the students and you’ll notice the longing for deep friendship, companionship, and intimacy with commitment.

I’m beginning to wonder if those of us who are Baby Boomers or Generation X’ers are part of the problem here.  For a while, maybe about fifteen or twenty years, we’ve become very confused about what to do (or what our children should consider doing) after high school graduation.  Some people still advocate a quick progression of college/vocational training/job, marriage, and family.  Some say young people should explore the world and spend 5-10 years in self-discovery.  Some say you should make a pile of money so you can settle down later (more difficult to do this in 2009!)    Maybe I’m wrong, but I wonder if so many students and recent college grads are lonely because they haven’t received any guidance.   Why bother risking a broken heart, if you’re supposed to be traveling the world or climbing the career ladder?  Why invest in anything long-term, when you have been encouraged to keep your options open?  Why bother at all, if your economic future looks bleak?  For the students who really are after casual encounters, I guess it’s a great day to be alive.  But for the rest ….?

What can the church do to minister to people hurting from loneliness?  Sometimes I think we could minister to a lot of people by working really hard on fellowship.  Instead of just having potluck dinners under the fluorescent lights of the church fellowship hall, we need to offer more retreats, road trips, gatherings in people’s homes:  anything that helps people feel like they are really the body of Christ and not just bodies in the seats.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep the prayer box open.

(Note:  if you haven’t read Tribal Church by Carol Howard Merritt, or her blog, do so!  She writes in more detail about young adults, the challenges they face, and ways to minister to them.  Her book helped me make some sense of all the things you read about in this post!)

the liturgy of quesadillas

We have a group of folks in their 20s at our church, and this weekend I joined them for Mexican food. Here’s how the evening went:

  1. We gathered, ate chips and salsa, and grieved over some members of the group who had recently moved out of town.  Also, we welcomed back one group member who came from out of town for the weekend.
  2. We ordered and talked about new people we have met who may like to join us for dinner the next time.
  3. We ate and talked about the next round of moves. People are changing careers, looking for work, thinking about joining the military…and it all adds up to not staying in town.
  4. We talked about being single, being in relationships, and how tough all that is when you don’t know where you will be in six months.
  5. We set another date and said goodbye.

In that one span of a few hours, we embodied ancient practices of faith:  hospitality, mourning, celebrating, marking life’s passages, and bearing one another’s burdens.

I spend a lot of time trying to run programs that will minister to college students and young adults.  Spending a few hours just talking and eating with good companions, and being with them as they ministered to one another, was refreshing.  I don’t think any program or guest speaker could have replicated the ministry around that table.

Who knew a quesadilla could be so divine?