This fall, I accompanied my daughter Laura, a high school senior, on tours of college campuses. Well, not exactly accompanied. On each trip I dropped her off with total strangers, strangers who proceeded to run her around universities in New York City, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Berkeley, and Los Angeles.
These strangers were InterVarsity students. Though I had never met them, I trusted them implicitly. Why? Because, as I’ve learned over the past two years, our students are incredibly responsible. They are also smart, fun, savvy, and devout. What better way for my daughter to see university life?
Laura slept in dorms, attended classes with football players (hmmm), dined on campus food, and even participated in her first campus party in California (hmmm). She checked in with me each day to tell me how things were going. I must confess that her 2:20 a.m. Saturday check-in call in New York City did cause me a tad bit of anxiety. Four Columbia University students had escorted her around town earlier and she had forgotten to call me in a timely fashion. Needless to say, she had a better time than I did!
Why do I mention such personal matters? First of all, I discovered afresh and from a new angle the significance of our ministry. Sending a beloved child off to college is no doubt more traumatic for parents than for the daughter or son. Knowing that a campus fellowship waits is immeasurably comforting. Knowing further that the fellowship is theologically orthodox, spiritually alive, missiologically focused, and committed to transforming campus culture is downright exciting.
Second, as I spent time with students and staff, I gained a greater appreciation for the grass roots nature of our work. Our staff really get to know students, hanging out with them in cafeterias, dorms and coffee shops. They invest in students’ lives, tracking their progress through graduation and beyond. Modeling confident discipleship, they work with students to integrate their faith into every aspect of their lives. In other words, our commitment to “whole life stewardship” is not mere rhetoric. Third, in talking with staff, I gained a greater sense of the fragility of our access to some campuses. In October, Christianity Today ran a feature article, written by former staff member Andy Crouch, entitled “Campus Collisions: Why InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was ‘derecognized’ at some of America’s leading universities.” The piece, which discusses our access difficulties at Harvard, Rutgers, North Carolina, Tufts, and Central College (Iowa), may be found here. Conversations with a variety of staff confirmed that these concerns are widespread. The article also makes clear that we take both the university and our beliefs seriously.
I owe a special debt of thanks to staff who arranged Laura’s visits with students. These include: Wesley Jo Dorman, Mark Newman, Paul Sorrentino, Christine Lee, Collin Tomikawa, Jess Delegencia, Alex and Susan Van Riessen, Ken Zell, Lorraine Harvey and Jonny Eveleth, Jon and Jen Ball. Thanks also to the students who took precious time to show my daughter around their campuses and cities.
From a president’s perspective, the trips made me proud of our wonderful students and staff. From a father’s perspective, the trips made me thankful afresh for the ministry of InterVarsity. We truly are making a major difference in the lives of students (and parents).