When my husband and I moved from Wisconsin to Knoxville, Tennessee a year ago; I was confident in two things:
- First, that God is working everywhere, all the time, and it doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing; we can simply ask God where He’s working and plug into His Kingdom work.
- Second, that for the past year I had been praying for the place and the students that I would get to plant a chapter with, and that He would show them to me in His timing and in His way.
My plan was to start something new, maybe plant a multiethnic chapter at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville (UTK). And yes, that’s exactly what happened. There’s now an InterVarsity multi-ethnic chapter at UTK. But there was so much more, I can still hardly believe it.
What I didn’t expect was that God already had a plan on a different campus that was far beyond what I could have had anticipated. Or that the Governor of Tennessee, and then the President of the United States, would be making decisions that could change the way I work with college students, and potentially have wider impact on InterVarsity’s ministry. That all happened in relation to another chapter plant, at Pellissippi State Community College, the chapter that I didn’t want to plant.
I was much more interested in focusing on one campus (UTK) than two. And planting in the unfamiliar environment of the community college was daunting to me. But my supervisor suggested that I consider Pellissippi anyway. After a prayer walk on campus, my initial conclusions were “maybe someday.”
And Then God Began to Move
First, I happened to meet a student named Rebeca in the middle of the summer who asked me to consider starting a chapter at Pellissippi, since there were no campus ministries there. Then two weeks later I met with a pastor who asked me the same thing. He told me, “If you go to Pellissippi, I can guarantee that our church will support you in as many ways as we can.”
At that point, I was overwhelmed by the idea but started to think this was just crazy enough that it might be God at work. Two weeks later I was connected with Isaac, another Pellissippi studenti who was interested in starting InterVarsity. That was enough. I could no longer say no to what God was up to.
Rebeca, Isaac and I met together at Pellissippi and decided we would try this thing. We met with an administrator who was so ecstatic to see us on campus that she immediately emailed a professor she thought would be interested in being our advisor, pulled out InterVarsity’s constitution from the last time we were at Pellissippi (2004), and made sure we would have a table at the club fair the very next day.
The next day at the club fair I met an old friend- an international student by the name of Hamza who I knew back in Wisconsin. He had apparently transferred to Pellissippi and I had not known until he walked right past me at the club fair! I knew better than to call that a coincidence.
The contacts that we made at the club fair meant we started with two small groups because there was so much interest. Later on in the fall semester, we planted a third arts-specific small group, and we grew to about 20 students.
Out of the connection to Hamza and a meeting with one of the faculty in the International department, we forged a plan to begin a host program for International students. On Thanksgiving over a dozen international students were hosted for dinner by ten church families.
Government Programs Have an Impact
At the same time I was getting started at Pellissippi State, in the fall of 2014, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise program began. The Tennessee Promise states that if a student can earn and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and complete at least eight hours of community service every term, then the Tennessee Promise will pay for tuition and fees for those students for up two years at a community college until they either transfer to a 4-year University, graduate with an Associate’s degree, or receive a certificate.
The implication of the Tennessee Promise is to improve students’ education and, therefore, improve the economy over the long-run. They anticipate seeing the enrollment double (if not triple) at community colleges in Tennessee over the next five years.
The program has brought new students, including a lot of students who are not well prepared for college courses. One of the English professors at Pellissippi is working on creating a course that provides students with the skills and the resources necessary for them to succeed in college, and this professor has invited InterVarsity to help in whatever ways we can. The result is that we get to be a part of seeing campuses renewed by meeting the needs of the campus.
Haslam’s initiative brought President Barack Obama to visited Pellissippi in January to announce his own higher education plan. America’s College Promise would be a national version of the Tennessee Promise. Obama’s plan has been met with varied responses, but should the plan come into effect, it could have a significant impact on the way we do ministry as InterVarsity.
This spring has seen students leading small groups, planting a fourth small group, and desiring to reach new corners of campus: specifically the LGBT community and the other four Pellissippi campuses in the greater Knoxville area. We have seen our diversity grow and the heart for God’s mission increase as a chapter. We have students transferring out of Pellissippi and planning to be a part of planting new InterVarsity chapters at two other campuses this fall: Tennessee Tech University and Middle Tennessee State University.
God has been opening doors so fast at Pellissippi that we barely have time to go through them before He opens more. It is incredible; I cannot wait to see what He does next. We anticipate seeing even more students coming in the fall semester under the Tennessee Promise, and by God’s grace and we are ready to meet them with the Gospel.
UPDATE: Tennesse Promise Response Greater Than Expected - Inside Higher Education