College students are anxious to change the world. Most will discover that change is complicated and takes time. But some students, such as Ryan Pederson, don’t let that stop them. Ryan has been Global Engagement Summit co-director at Northwestern University this year, as well as a member of the leadership team for Northwestern’s Greek InterVarsity chapter.
Arriving at Northwestern as a sophomore, Ryan plunged in and got involved with Northwestern’s Global Engagement Summit, a student-run conference that works with Non Government Organizations (NGOs) on sustainable community development issues in two-thirds world nations.
But before he could take full advantage of the opportunities of the Global Engagement programs, Ryan had to prepare himself. And it turned out that InterVarsity accomplished that preparation in a way that uniquely suited him.
“My whole time in InterVarsity at Northwestern has just been a matter of God challenging me to get out of my comfort zone,” he said. “Coming into college my faith was very important to me, but I didn’t really understand how that interacted with work decisions.”
Ryan, like many people, had the mistaken idea that the Christian life meant becoming a pastor or a missionary, or taking some other Christian vocational employment. Through InterVarsity, he learned that Jesus’ call to Lordship covers all vocations; and involves living and working each day, led by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Since becoming involved in InterVarsity, I have seen how I can live out my faith in vocations that aren’t technically in the ministry, like working at a university or at an NGO fighting poverty,” he said.
In the summer after his sophomore year, Ryan participated in an InterVarsity Global Project in China, where he discovered how God is at work in other cultures. And he developed a passion to become a part of what God was doing in other cultures.
“The Global Project gave me a sense of how big God is, and then it gave me a stronger sense of what it means to be a part of the global church,” he said. “I really care about what happens in China, what happens in East Africa, or in India, knowing that my brothers and sisters in Christ are all around the world.”
God has also expanded Ryan’s definition of evangelism, so that it’s linked to social justice and multiethnicity. Because a world reconciled to God will be a just world, with harmony between all peoples.
Ryan’s compassion has been stirred by the injustice that he has seen through his travels abroad with InterVarsity and Northwestern’s Center for Global Engagement. This year the Global Engagement Summit sponsored a student conference, focusing on sustainable community development in two-thirds world nations, that was attended by students from more than 30 countries. The Summit won the award for best student organization programming event of the year at Northwestern.
This summer, through Northwestern’s Engage Uganda program, Ryan is leading a team of students to Uganda to live and work among impoverished people as they learn about community development. Many of the 21 participants are InterVarsity students.
“I see this as a unique opportunity to be there alongside students who are being hit with difficult questions, looking for hope amidst these great social injustices they see in displaced person camps,” he said. His goal is to develop more experiential learning, study abroad programs that confront students with difficult questions about what are the most effective catalysts for change in the world.
Ryan says that what he has learned about God through InterVarsity has caused him to re-think the way he plans to live for the next few years. During his first year after graduation from Northwestern, he will be rooming with three friends from various ethnic backgrounds in an intentionally simplified life style.
“I am feeling more and more convicted that I want to spend a couple years after college doing something similar to what has been done in many global urban treks, living in a slum village to meet Jesus there, and see what it is like living in someone else’s shoes.” After that Ryan is considering a career in non-profit management, possibly fighting against slum poverty.
Andy Bilhorn, Ryan’s InterVarsity staff worker, says that Ryan has already had an impact at the highest levels of Northwestern University. “In two years Ryan has grown from a scattered sophomore to a mature leader,” he said. “It’s been a privilege and honor to be Ryan’s staff – he’s a model for our mission, as a student transformed, an agent of renewal on campus, and ultimately has grown into a world-changer. I wish I had 100 more of him.”
You can make a direct financial donation to support InterVarsity’s work among Greek students at Northwestern University by following this link.