By Lisa Rieck

Creating Culture in Your Community

Can a couple of students, a can of paint, and a few new words really change a community?

Last spring, the InterVarsity chapter at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) discovered that the answer is decidedly yes.

The Student Government (SG) was hosting its annual “Writings on the Wall” event in which they invite students to write offensive words and labels that have been aimed at them on a wooden wall in the center of campus, as a way of letting go of the painful phrases. After a week, SG representatives would cut the wall down with a chainsaw.

The problem, InterVarsity student Liane Librizzi realized, was that as students walked by the negative words during the week, “what was supposed to be a symbol of freedom became more of a reminder of the pain . . . students carried in their hearts daily.”

Why the Holy Spirit’s Ideas Are Always Better

The Holy Spirit stirred a new idea in Daniel Balevski, TCNJ’s InterVarsity chapter president at the time, and his brother.

“We had this holy unrest,” Daniel recalled. “We started dreaming. . . . What if we paint over the wall in white as a sign of forgiveness and we put all these encouraging words—these words of truth—on it?” When Daniel was finally able to track down the Student Government representative in charge of the event, his idea was met with great enthusiasm.

So, one week later, Daniel stood in front of the wall that was covered in words of insult and racial slurs and started to paint over them with white paint. When the wall was once again a blank slate, he painted one word in the center: “Forgiven,” the same word he was wearing on the back of his white T-shirt as he painted.

The next day, the SG held a short ceremony by the wall—still white except for “Forgiven”—highlighting forgiveness as the solution to pain in a world where hateful words often reign. Daniel also shared his hopes for the wall, speaking explicitly about the forgiveness Jesus offers us and encouraging people to change the culture. “We need to move toward honoring one another,” he said.

Students were then invited to add words of affirmation to the wall based on the prompt “You are . . .” And the words flowed freely—words like “a world changer,” “beautiful,” “strong,” “marvelous,” “inspirational.” Liane wrote after the event, “The wall that once embodied the world’s darkness now stood tall against a beating sun, emanating a light in its own capacity that grazed every person that walked by.”

Daniel was elated. “It was a sign of truth on the wall,” he said. “And we made inroads in creating change at TCNJ.” One student even came to faith as a result of seeing the wall and talking with the InterVarsity Outreach Coordinator about what it means to have our identity rooted in the forgiveness God offers.

The new Writings on the Wall also communicated so clearly that the words we use matter. As Daniel said, “Our words have power—the power of life and death. Hopefully people walked away with that. You can choose to call out the bad or choose to call out the good in someone.”

How Will God Use You?

God is at work at TCNJ. And in Southern California. And in New York City. And in your community. Whether you’re living on campus or off, whether you’re a student or not, God wants to bring his truth, his freedom, his forgiveness to those around you through your

  • leadership
  • passions
  • words
  • gifts
  • risks
  • influence

What do you have a “holy unrest” about? And how do you want to see God work in and around you? Who can you partner with to bring that vision to life?

Ask him. Listen. And then walk forward in faith and obedience, and in the truth of who you are—beautiful, gifted, loved—to let him change the campus, your workplace, your community, the world.

How do you want to see God work in your community? Leave us a comment!

Join the work God is doing right now in New York City through InterVarsity’s Price of Life campaign!

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Lisa Rieck is a writer and editor on InterVarsity’s communications team.

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