Learning to Serve

Jonathan Rice
July 14, 2009

When Michelle Kao began the engineering program at Johns Hopkins University, she had plans for a lucrative career. But as an InterVarsity student, she became increasingly passionate about serving people in desperate need. So she changed her major.

A Change of Heart
Michelle changed her major to Public Health and found through InterVarsity’s campus witnessing community the training she needed to integrate her Christian worldview with a vocation that would minister to people in desperate circumstances.

After graduation in 2003, she moved to Los Angeles to work with Servant Partners, a non-profit ministry to the urban poor. Then a few years later she joined a missions team in Bangkok, where today she not only brings God’s love and hope to residents of a slum but is herself growing as a Christian. “It’s been so sweet to see God work in people’s lives,” said Michelle. “And I’ve learned to love God a lot more too.” Michelle is an example of the many students that InterVarsity prepares for service in the world.

Learning Servant Leadership
Jesus taught his disciples to proclaim the gospel and express God’s love through service to people. InterVarsity teaches students and faculty how to invite people into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and how to show every person God’s love through acts of service. Such service includes personal care to nurture another person’s life and community participation to advance social justice.

During the school year just past almost 600 InterVarsity students have participated in 37 urban projects in cities across the U.S. This summer 400 students are traveling abroad to participate in global projects in every region of the world.

InterVarsity enables students to become servant leaders by offering Christ-centered campus fellowships welcome to all, programs for biblical study in small groups, experiential learning projects in campus evangelism, and domestic and international missions opportunities.

Learning Service through Fellowship
Our campus fellowships are not private Christian clubs, catering to the desires of Christian students, but are welcoming witnessing communities that reach out to everyone on campus. Within our witnessing communities, Christians and non-Christians alike are encouraged to draw closer to God, grow together as friends, learn about the gospel, follow Jesus Christ, and serve people in need. InterVarsity students model their fellowship with one another and their servant leadership in other campus communities on the biblical principles they learn through weekly small group Bible studies.

Learning Service through Bible Study
Since establishing our first chapter on the campus of the University of Michigan in 1941, InterVarsity has held that regular Bible study is essential for a maturing Christian life. InterVarsity staff, students, and faculty hold that the Bible is God’s Word to humankind and as such carries a divine authority.

Through regular study of the Scriptures during their college years, and through insights provided by the biblical commentaries and scholarly books published by InterVarsity Press, many an InterVarsity alumni has gained sound biblical footing for their vocational journeys, whether such journeys proceeded through seminary to pastoral ministry or to missions in faraway lands or to marketplace ministries in a corporate business or a suburban neighborhood.

Through regular Bible studies, InterVarsity students draw close to God. And within a caring community they pray to see other students and faculty transformed by Jesus Christ, and they make Christ known on their campus in hopes of seeing their campus spiritually renewed.

Learning Service through Evangelism
Reaching out to people with the gospel is a core value for InterVarsity’s campus witnessing communities. “And making Christ known is a hallmark of our ministry,” said InterVarsity’s president Alec Hill.

Some of the ways our staff, students, and faculty make Christ known on campus have included book tables that feature the latest publications from InterVarsity Press, interactive displays that spark conversations about morality, invitations to InterVarsity outreach events—such as dinners, weekend retreats, and lectures by renowned Christian scholars—and, always essential, the building of friendships through acts of genuine caring.

InterVarsity students learn to evangelize their campus by participating in the daily life of the student community and building relationships with their classmates. Through their participation in the campus community our students discover that God uses them to bring classmates into a relationship with God. And seeing how God transforms the lives of their friends inspires many InterVarsity students to integrate evangelism into their daily lives

Learning Service through Missions
InterVarsity teaches students that all Christians are called to advance the kingdom of God, so we encourage all students to look for ways that they may be of service to God’s global mission. Still, we recognize that some students, when they sense that God may be calling them to life-long vocations in Christian ministry, need a resource to confirm such a vocation. So InterVarsity offers students short-term mission projects, from one week to a month, within the United States and in many foreign countries, and we sponsor missions conferences, most notably our triennial Urbana Student Missions Conference, where students from around the world come to learn about missions, connect with working missionaries and missions agencies, and respond to God’s call in their lives.

This year’s week-long Urbana 09 conference begins on December 27th in St. Louis, Missouri, and will offer participants inspiring speakers during the two-a-day plenary sessions. Daily Seminars and week-long Instructional Tracks of interest to students with visions for cross-cultural missions abroad or with passions for social justice among the urban poor, and Tracks of interest to experienced church workers desiring to enhance their practice of ministry among congregations with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, will also be offered at Urbana 09.

Conference participants will also have opportunities to worship with thousands of other people of different ethnicities in the Edward Jones Dome and America’s Center and make new friends in small group Bible studies that meet in their hotels. Thus far, over 6,300 people have registered for this year’s Urbana 09, which promises to teach, inspire, and transform students’ lives.

Sara Stephens is an example of someone whose life was transformed by an Urbana Student Missions Conference. “I went to Urbana 2003,” said Sara, “kind of asking God what he might have me do. I was able to talk with some missionaries and hear from people’s experience on the field. I started seeing myself as somebody who could actually do something like that, rather than seeing missionaries as people who are just super spiritual or seemed called to missions since their birth. I think after that Urbana I really felt like God was saying, ‘You know, I’ll make it possible for you to do this.’”

And God did make it possible for Sara to serve: Today she is working among the poor in Bangkok, Thailand, through the missions agency Servant Partners.

InterVarsity students are learning servant leadership. Through our campus fellowships, Bible studies, Evangelism activities, and missions opportunities, InterVarsity students are learning to serve people in the name of Jesus Christ.

Photo: Michelle, second from left, and Sara, far right, are shown with their Servant Partners colleagues in Bangkok. InterVarsity Photo by Matt Kirk.

Michelle and Sara are featured in a video on the Urbana 09 website.