“This is a community of believers that I can grow in!”: Esther’s Story
In between classes and the busyness of the beginning of a new semester, Esther Popoola talked to me from the library of Harrisburg University of Science & Technology in Pennsylvania. She’s a junior majoring in Biotechnology. She wants to help families know what diseases can be transmitted genetically through her study of genetic counseling and her passion for people. She also wants to help fellow students know how deeply Jesus loves them. Last year, she became one of the first student leaders at their newly planted InterVarsity chapter.
Growing Up Christian
Esther grew up in a Christian home, where both of her parents are devout Christians. They had immigrated from Nigeria and attended a Pentecostal church in Pennsylvania. Because of her upbringing, Esther was confident in expressive prayer and even described her mom as a prayer warrior.
“I knew of God but didn’t take [faith] very seriously,” she says, looking back on her childhood. But when her sister went to a church conference and came back completely changed, Esther was shocked. She examined herself and started thinking about her faith in a different way.
Getting Involved With InterVarsity
Even with a slightly new outlook on her faith, when Esther arrived at Harrisburg, her faith wasn’t her main focus. She thought that she could follow Jesus on her own and wasn’t seeking Christian community –– until a friend invited her to an InterVarsity Bible study. InterVarsity was just starting out at Harrisburg and there weren’t many students involved yet, but still, Esther said yes to attending.
“This is a community of believers that I feel like I can grow in, and I could actually be a part of,” she said reflecting on how she felt during the first Bible study she attended. “The sense of community that I felt in that moment reignited my journey with God and my passion for him.”
At their fall conference, Esther experienced more of who God is. She worshipped with students from other campuses and cultures, and the four other Harrisburg students who were also invited by her campus minister, Jesse.
Inspired by Scripture study to invite more students on campus to learn about Christ, she immediately decided to take up a place of leadership in the community and planned outreaches upon returning to school. “I've been thinking about what I want people to get from being with us,” she said. “It's finding a relationship with God that isn’t so rigid. It’s learning who Jesus is in our own ways.”
Doing Outreach With her Chapter
But there was so much uncertainty in being a part of a newly planted chapter on her campus. Harrisburg students often feel isolated because there are no outdoor spaces and only a few common lounges. “I asked God if this was really what he wanted me to do,” Esther confessed.
“I felt God’s confirmation in the real joy that I felt in connecting with people and talking to them about Jesus.” And by the end of the spring semester, the InterVarsity Bible study became an official InterVarsity chapter and was a recognized club by the university.
Being a Bible Study Leader
This September, when Esther led her first Bible study of the semester, she ran out of manuscript Bible study print-outs because of how many people showed up. “We all found a place where we know we’re not alone and know we have our foundation in God,” she said.
As Esther kept doing outreach, she kept meeting other students who shared her West African background and invited them to her Bible study. “Even before I invite them to Bible study, we connect on the fact that we’re both from the same place, and we know how that works.”
Seeing God’s Goodness
As Esther looks back on all the memories of the past year, with doing outreach, leading Bible study, and connecting with various people on her campus, she feels the lovingkindness of God so ever present. “Every time I meet someone or invite them and they come, I remember how important it is to God that we are kind and loving to every person that we meet,” she said. She hopes more people on her campus will be touched by God’s love through his people embodying that love to others.
As this semester continues, Esther and her fellow InterVarsity student leaders are extending door-to-door invitations to their events, running Proxe stations, and helping students move into their dorms. They’re even hosting community meals to gather people together because there are no dining halls on campus.
“We want people to feel welcomed and drawn in to talk about God, even if they haven’t connected with God before,” she said. As she looks ahead, Esther desires that this love would encourage her community to be more open to each other and encourage students on her campus to be more open to faith. She believes every act of love is a step of faith, because God meets students and faculty on campus through it.
To find an InterVarsity community like Esther's on your campus, go here.
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