Students come to George Washington University (GW) from across the country and around the world in large part because of its location in Washington, DC. With the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and many Cabinet departments within walking distance of campus, GW’s internships and classes offer access to the halls of power unlike few other schools.
Dani Richards is studying international affairs and Arabic at GW. She grew up in Saudi Arabia, where her father worked in the oil business. She feels God calling her back to the Middle East. She connected with InterVarsity three years ago, following the suggestion of her pastor, during her first week on campus.
Community Makes all the Difference
“Having a community strengthened me to stand by what I believed in,” she said. “When you get to college you will either lose your faith or grow it. At GW you get challenged a lot. In some of my classes I was being told that Christianity isn’t true. InterVarsity gave me a community to help me process that.”
Dani credits InterVarsity for helping her faith to grow just as her knowledge and understanding of international affairs, languages, science, and other topics has grown in college. By leading Bible studies, attending InterVarsity’s chapter camp, participating in a summer mission through an organization she met at Urbana 06, and taking advantage of other InterVarsity events, Dani has become a leader in the chapter.
As a freshman, Dani initiated a 24/7 prayer movement on campus. “I learned a lot about how to be a student leader through that,” she said. While hanging out with GW student friends, who are smart, self-reliant, and opinionated, she’s learned that she can have more influence by showing them the unconditional love of Jesus than by debating with them.
Matthew Gladney came to GW from Memphis, TN, to major in economics and history. Looking for Christian fellowship, he also connected with InterVarsity right away as a freshman. During his sophomore year he joined Kappa Alpha and became the only GW InterVarsity student in a social fraternity. The next year two InterVarsity students joined sororities.
When Matthew was a senior the three of them began outreach meetings with their friends in the Greek community. Seeing the students’ response to the gospel during those meetings, and noting the growth of Greek community at GW, Matthew followed God’s call to join InterVarsity staff and start a Greek InterVarsity chapter. (Greek students make up 25-percent of GW’s student body, double the percentage of five years ago.)
Working Through the Bumps
“There have been lots of bumps,” he said. “But every time there’s a problem, we work through it.” He started a Bible study on Monday nights. Several weeks ago nobody showed up. It turns out that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were lecturing on campus that night – the down side of GW’s location so close to the halls of power.
Some students whose schedule wouldn’t permit attending the Monday night studies said that they still wanted a Bible study, so Matthew began another on Tuesday nights. Now he’s planning to combine both studies and move them to Thursday night. “They’re trying to make it a priority. And we’re trying to work out a schedule that will make it a little easier on them,” he said.
Like other GW students, Matthew has had access to government policy jobs and Capitol Hill jobs. He is enjoying working on InterVarsity staff and being with students much more than he enjoyed the government positions. “We share a unity in Christ in this job,” he said. “It’s much more refreshing than the cut-throat competition in politics.”
Bethany Givens Blankespoor, who’s been on staff with InterVarsity at GW for two years, noted that the two biggest student organizations are the College Republicans and the College Democrats. She said that the students understand that their unity in Christ transcends political allegiances.
“The positive thing about their political involvement is that the students are so aware of what’s going on in the world,” she said. “If during their time at GW they get a deep experience of who Jesus is and what he means for this world, and all the issues of poverty and injustice, then they have the opportunity to take that understanding to high places of influence.”
A Question of Balance
This year Bethany has worked with the chapter leadership to cut down on non-essential meetings to free up more time for InterVarsity students to get involved in other activities and spread their influence to more areas of the GW campus.
“I’m seeing students who are invested deeply in community but are also involved in other organizations and in relationships with their classmates and roommates,” she said. “In the past it’s been hard to have both of those things happening.”
This semester InterVarsity students are being encouraged to invite their friends to GIGs (Groups Investigating God-investigative Bible studies). Every few weeks the students in these Bible studies are invited to a dinner where serious issues about life and faith are addressed.
Bethany said that the chapter is also starting to work with other campus organizations to address issues that students really care about. One of the biggest issues right now is human trafficking and modern slavery. A planned Easter event will tie solutions to human trafficking to the themes of Easter.
InterVarsity’s vision is focused on transforming students and faculty, renewing the campus, and developing world changers. At a school like George Washington, in the nation’s capital, students are already focused on changing the world. The question is, how will they change it?
You can make a direct financial donation to support InterVarsity’s work at George Washington University by following this link.