by: Jonathan Tran
I was an introvert surrounded by 40 people who seemed to know one another already. I didn’t listen to music, but the time started with people singing 3 worship songs. I was a terrible student, but sat through 30 minutes of someone preaching. I wasn’t a Christian, so I was the only one with my head up and staring around as the time ended with prayer. I felt awkward from the beginning until the end and was sure I wouldn’t return. However, one of the upper-classmen, Brian, who introduced himself to me at the beginning of the large group came back to me at the end and remembered my name. He invited me to come back again and seemed excited for me to have been there. Caught off guard, I instinctively said “ok.” I went to large group once again. I wondered if I would return. Brian invited me back. I said yes. Rinse and repeat. I eventually was plugged into a one-on-one with a man named Gabriel who taught me about Christianity. Through that, various hardships I went through, and a community that welcomed me well every single week, I eventually came to give my life to Christ at a conference and have been a Christian for 12 years now. I became a student leader, a ministry intern, a campus staff worker, and now am an Area Ministries Director for InterVarsity. A journey that started with two sentences.
I share this story to give you a basic understanding of why I love campus ministry and why I believe that anybody can participate in God’s mission. College is a time in which students are oftentimes trying to “find” themselves. “Who am I, separated from my parents, friends, community and/or church?” I was an atheist who lived at home and went to A&M to help save money for the family (my dad worked at A&M). The invitation to continue coming to another large group was used to make me more open to receiving the Gospel for myself. I had a student while on staff at the University of Houston who was a nominal Catholic. We met her at the dining hall and invited her to join us for dinner during an outreach. She came, then responded to our invitation to go bowling, and again to our large group. She recommitted her life to Christ just a month into the school year. I had another student who didn’t believe in God and didn’t want to have anything to do with Christianity. He did, however, want to attend our fun events. Eventually he joined a Bible study to spend more time with us and listen. Then he started to participate and joined our large groups. He even said yes to going on a mission trip, where he committed his life to Christ. Not all stories are like this, of course. However, I love the fact that what many students yearn for is community. By inviting them into our community, we can not only preach, but also live out God's love for each and every one of them.
We oftentimes have a particular image in our head when we think of people who God uses to expand His Kingdom. We think of great pastors, missionaries who live in the hardest of places, and evangelists who can have one conversation with someone and do a prayer of acceptance of the Lord by the end of the conversation. But that isn’t true of most peoples’ stories. It certainly wasn’t true for mine. Nor is it wholly true of the people and parables within Scripture. Brian and Gabriel were college students who simply invited me to come weekly and hear the Word of the Lord. I started off as a terrible evangelist and that did not change for many years. I was, however, good at extending a listening ear to those who were suffering and walking alongside them in life. In Luke 14, Jesus speaks of a banquet in which people have given excuses to not attend. Out of a desire to fill the space and have a great banquet, the host tells his servants to go out and invite anyone they can find all the way out into the country roads to come and have a seat at the table. The eyes to see those far off, the heart to welcome them, the courage to simply ask, and the desire to say yes lead to his table, and his house, being filled. In John 4 Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well and through a series of events proves to her that He is the Messiah. Her response is to go to the town and say: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29) “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” and her willingness to invite them to see Jesus (John 4:39). Finally, in Luke 19 Jesus walks through a town, spots a man in a tree, and says two sentences: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). Jesus makes an invitation of Zacchaeus (while also inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ house) and that very day Zacchaeus is granted salvation. He even goes on to give back what he has taken from others and support the poor. These are but a few of many stories in Scripture that God uses to show us how powerful a simple invitation can be.
I share all of this to say that you, too, can be used in God’s mission. God invites us to have courage, make a simple invitation and see how He might use it for His purposes. A person may not enjoy or feel the most comfortable at an event they’re invited to. However, that simple invitation is a way in which God’s love can be extended to an individual in ways that he/she may need it. If you have any questions or want any advice, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.