3 Opportunities in an Unpredictable Campus Environment: Stories from International Student Ministry
I’m a planner. I like life to be safe and predictable. I want a certain level of control. But life, for the last few years, has been anything but predictable.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this. Many of us are disappointed and exhausted, anxious and angry. We may feel lost in the storm that COVID has created, but if we keep our eyes open, I believe we will see God at work.
1. Opportunities for Personal Growth
It’s easy to believe that life before COVID was more predictable, just better. But in my role supporting various InterVarsity campus ministers across the country, I’ve seen firsthand how life before COVID could be just as unpredictable.
Yes, the pandemic only amplified life’s normal unpredictability, pushing some of us beyond our comfort zones (or even beyond some of our thresholds!). So how do we face the surprises — the good and the bad — in a positive way? How can we respond well to our current landscape? What can we gain?
To put it simply, we can grow.
Originally from Korea, Ye Eun was hired to colead an International Student Ministry (ISM) chapter in North Dakota. But two years in, the other ministers in the area left. Ye Eun found herself working alone and eventually having to move to Minnesota for a new position working primarily with Americans instead of international students. Not what she signed up for.
However, as she allowed God to shape her in her new context, God expanded her influence to lead a multinational InterVarsity chapter of Americans and internationals, nursing students, and members of a Black Campus Ministries chapter as well. As Ye Eun leaned on God, she experienced personal growth as well as ministry growth.
For me, it has been a convicting season of self-reflection, revealing my tendency to gravitate toward safety versus surrender, control versus trust. It’s revealed my lack of margins and my tendency to pack my schedule full to the brim. When the unexpected happens, and I need extra time to replan and redo something, I’m pushed over the edge.
As I allow God to use these uncertainties to expose my weaknesses and grow me, I can embrace the challenges of this season and face the curve balls in life and ministry with a sense of serenity and hope, trusting that I am safe in God’s care.
2. Opportunities for Ministry
Chelsea, a campus minister at New York University, was leading a thriving multinational city-wide fellowship consisting of international and American grad students with a core discipleship group of Christian internationals. But only one student was leading a Bible study for peers to explore Christianity.
But then COVID hit, and Chelsea had to restructure her chapter for an online setting. This not only allowed students across the city but also across the globe to join. And all the Christian students — instead of just one — worked together to host a Bible study for their friends who didn’t know Jesus. They discovered that more of their non-Christian friends were eager and available to join now that it was online.
3. Opportunities to Be Surprised by God
Jesse, a campus minister in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was leading a new community college chapter when the pandemic hit. When campus reopened, many students seemed to have disappeared. Jesse had to replant his chapter, essentially starting from the ground up. He was discouraged initially, but God surprised him by helping him discover a new corner of campus to serve: international students.
“They’re really looking for community,” Jesse shared. Campus officials have allowed him to join private direct messaging apps only for international students on campus to help them make more connections.
“After a semester of feeling like we were failing, we had an actual prayer meeting with six students yesterday, four of them being international, plus an alum and another former staff from IFES (the global network InterVarsity/USA belongs to), ” Jesse said. “It’s becoming a multinational Bible study! Two non-Christian international students actually have been doing the most recruiting. Go God!”
In all this, I see how God has been doing “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20). Jesse’s chapter now is far more diverse than he ever imagined, which blesses the whole chapter by helping all of us gain a more holistic understanding and experience of God.
In the middle of a very unpredictable life, God continues to work in unpredictably good ways far beyond our expectations, shifting our focus from campuswide to citywide to nationwide to worldwide outreach!
I encourage you to reflect on and celebrate how this unpredictable and constantly changing season has given you unexpected opportunities. How can God continue to expand the borders of your mind and your outreach?
May the Holy Spirit open unexpected doors for you, and may you be aware and open to what he’s doing even in changing, challenging circumstances!
Currently, Eva serves as an Associate Director in the International Student Ministry department, helping all InterVarsity chapters engage with international students. You can support her ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#895.
School just started and it’s not what you’ve ever imagined college to be like. Instead of moving into the dorms, you’re stuck at home. Instead of all the welcome events with free food at the beginning of the year, you’re attending one Zoom call after another. It’s easy to focus on all the things we’re missing out on this season.
If you’re like me, you may be struggling with FOMO, worry, and complaints.
While it's important to acknowledge what's hard and mourn what we've lost, it's equally if not more important to recognize the gift of the pandemic as the new school year begins. Perhaps there are unprecedented opportunities God has for us during this unique season.
Transformation can be exponential. When one student at the University of Massachusetts Boston caught a glimpse of God’s transforming work on campus, she began praying and longing to see that happen on her own campus among fellow Black students.