By Emily Baez

Self-Care Leads to Community at UW-Madison

You’re a college student, and you’ve been in lockdown for over a year during the pandemic. As it becomes safe to meet in-person again, your campus minister gathers you and other students for in-person training on topics like justice and evangelism. Then she asks you to put what you learned into practice by inviting your non-Christian friends to join a self-care GIG (Group Investigating God).

Physical & Spiritual Hunger

This is exactly what happened at the University of Wisconsin (UW)–Madison in the spring of 2021 as Ministry Team Leader Brittany Pedersen prepped her students for the return to in-person ministry. If anyone got a friend to agree to explore a story about Jesus related to self-care, she would show up anytime anywhere with any takeout food they wanted.

One student leader, Isla, was initially skeptical. “I’ll invite my friends,” she said, “but they’re just going to say yes because of free food.” And while free food did prove to be a strong incentive for students, something unexpected happened: three new small groups formed and met throughout the spring to learn more about Jesus.

As for Isla, her friends surprised her with their openness during these meetings. While they went through the Five Thresholds exercise, they shared vulnerably about past hurts and difficulties trusting God. She was glad to see how much of an impact her simple invitation had.

When that semester ended, Brittany invited everyone out for coffee and to debrief what God did in their lives. A more reserved student hung around after the debrief to ask Brittany for weekly one-on-one meetings throughout the summer. “She told me she was always really interested in learning more about faith but never really had the opportunity to do that,” Brittany said. Now she did.

Bonfires & Self-Care Brings Students Together

Attendance in Brittany’s chapter has nearly doubled even pre-pandemic numbers and testifies to God’s faithfulness through what has been one of the most challenging eras we’ve witnessed in campus ministry. It was so exciting for Brittany to see this growth, to see that as students were gathering again, the desire to know Jesus and know each other was still there.

This was more evident than ever during a large group event last spring. First, the chapter organized a Self-care Proxe on campus. During the Proxe, students were asked to consider Jesus’ call to find rest, joy, and peace. They did this by looking at Scripture and discussing where they have struggled with self-care in their own lives. Afterward, students were invited to come to a bonfire. There they had the chance to discuss more spiritual topics over free sandwiches. 

“We were just going to grab a sandwich and run,” one student admitted. But he and his friends stayed for two hours. “It turned out to be interesting,” he added.

The Proxe and bonfire event was such a hit that the chapter organized it again this fall. Similar to many other InterVarsity chapters this past year, InterVarsity at UW–Madison has learned how to organize more outdoor events. They also adapted to meet the most critical needs of today’s students—focusing on topics like self-care and mental health during a time that has left many students feeling isolated.

This fall, the UW, just like many other campuses across the country, saw its largest incoming class ever.  Pray the Lord continues the work he’s begun on these campuses,  strengthening campus ministers and student leaders into the spring semester.


My son is currently a freshman at UW-Madison and he loves all the events Intervarsity has organized. Paint ball is one of his favorite! Thank you for investing in our next generation and praise God for moving people hearts!

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