Students walking across Stanford University’s White Plaza on May 21, 2009, were surprised to see four goats and a yak grazing on the grass. Many stopped to pet the goats and have their pictures taken with them, which is just what the members of InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship were hoping they would do.
“It was fun watching people,” said Nate Chambers, a computer science PhD candidate who initiated the goat project. “You’d see their eyes kind of open up and then they’d hit the brakes and come over. Eventually they’d pay five dollars to pet the goat, or ten dollars for a photo.”
Nate was the leader of a Bible study group that had been discussing ways that Christians could respond to social issues, such as hunger and poverty. The group decided one very practical way to have a lasting impact on a needy population was to donate some dairy goats through World Vision.
Engaging the Entire Campus
“I thought rather than doing something privately, it would be nice if we could get our InterVarsity chapter to do something, and then maybe even engage the entire Stanford community,” Nate said. “We had a desire to engage the campus on an issue that we feel God cares about.”
Abiding by Stanford’s rules for non-profit organizations, which require ticket sales for fund-raising events, the group decided to go interactive and find some living, bleating, examples of what the project was all about. It turns out that goats are easy to find, and borrow for a day, in the Bay Area. The goats’ owner threw in a yak for good measure.
To provide one goat to a needy family through World Vision costs $75. “Our original goal was to be able to buy 80 goats,” Nate said. “Then we set a lower goal of 60, because we weren’t sure we could meet that.”
Response Exceeds Expectations
The project met and surpassed both goals. Many people bought multiple tickets. Someone in the Physics Department collected enough money from colleagues to fund three goats. The total funds raised will buy over 90 goats. “I think God is teaching us a lesson, not to be surprised by what He can do,” Nate said.
InterVarsity campus staff member Pete Sommer said he laughed out loud when the group first told him about their plan. “I had no idea it would catch on like this,” he said. But the chapter members got behind the project, planned and executed it well, and were thankful that it turned out even better than they had hoped.
The project was reported not only by local media, and the campus newspaper but also by the official Stanford News Service. Afterward, two other Stanford-affiliated organizations expressed a desire to work together with the InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship on similar projects in the future.
“They’re not Christian groups but they’re unfazed about associating with a Christian group,” Nate said. “I think that is a big win on a liberal university campus that can oftentimes show skepticism toward religious organizations. We had such a good time, I really don’t see any reason why we would not do it again.” But next time he’ll borrow twice as many goats.