It took Tony Gatewood all of about ten minutes to move into his dorm room after he arrived on a Greyhound bus at the University of Iowa at the end of summer in 2000. He had brought what he needed in a duffle bag and a plastic tub.
His next challenge was finding InterVarsity. Two women at his church had told him he should get involved with InterVarsity when he got to Iowa.
Looking for InterVarsity
His first walk across campus was unsuccessful, partly because he wasn’t sure of what he was looking for. So he went back to his dorm room. He called home, and then he prayed.
The second time he left his room, he ran into a friendly guy at the elevator who asked him if he wanted to hang out for some fun and games. Tony wasn’t sure what the guy meant. Back in Chicago that kind of talk could lead to trouble.
“But then I felt God saying to me, ‘I think you should check it out,’” he recalled. “So I went to this room, and I found out that they had Scrabble and Jenga, and I realized they really were talking about fun and games.”
Tony relaxed and soon found himself sharing about how God had led him from the projects on Chicago’s south side, where he had grown up and become a Christian, to the University of Iowa. He was surprised to hear somebody say, “Amen.”
“I said, ‘Are you a Christian?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m a Christian.’ So I asked, ‘Is everybody else here a Christian?’ And he said, ‘Yeah we’re Christians.’ Then I said, ‘If you guys are Christians, maybe you can help me out. Do you know where I can find InterVarsity? I’ve been looking for them.’ And one person said, ‘Dude, this is InterVarsity.’”
Looking for More of God
Since he was six years old, Tony had been hungry to learn more about God. He had become a Christian at age 16 through the witness of Susan Paik, who ran a weekend academic program followed by a Bible study.
At Iowa, the InterVarsity chapter gave him the opportunity to grow further as a Christian and he took full advantage of it. He learned how to do inductive Bible study from Lindsay Olesberg, his InterVarsity staff mentor. He attended chapter camp every spring, and joined the Los Angeles Urban Project every summer for three years in a row, where he was further mentored by Kevin Blue. He taught himself how to play guitar and led worship for the weekly chapter meetings. And he attended two Urbana Student Missions Conferences.
By the time he was a sophomore he was already starting to think about going on staff with InterVarsity and about how God could use him in ministry. “I felt like God was raising inside of me a desire for multi-ethnicity, to see racial reconciliation,” he said. As a worship leader he played a major role in helping the chapter welcome other cultures. By the time he graduated, 50-percent of the chapter was made up of ethnic minorities.
Working on Staff with InterVarsity
Tony graduated in 2005 and joined InterVarsity staff. He spent four years in Atlanta, working with students at the historically black colleges and universities that make up the Atlanta University Center.
In Chicago he had attended a Korean-American congregation, so his time in Atlanta gave him the opportunity to develop his ethnic identity. “The skills that I gained in Atlanta gave me a lot of confidence,” Tony said. “I went from thinking of myself as an InterVarsity staff member to being a minister of the Gospel.”
Meanwhile, back at the University of Iowa, the InterVarsity chapter had hit on hard times and dwindled down to nothing. In 2009 Tony was invited back to his alma mater to work with another staff member, Sherami Hinders, in planting a new chapter. Once again he found himself moving to a different culture.
“I came back with a stronger sense of identity, of who I am,” he said. Last summer, before he started on campus, he served as an interim pastor at a small church to help him acclimate to Midwestern sensibilities. “I feel confident. I’m not getting blindsided by how people respond to things.”
Already this first year the Multiethnic Undergrad Hawkeye InterVarsity chapter has more than 40 students involved. “We want to do something that isn’t seen very often,” he said. “Multiethnicity embraced in this fashion doesn’t happen like this on campus, even with other Christian groups. We’re really doing something that’s changing the trend on campus.”
Changing the trend on campus was not something Tony Gatewood expected to do, when he hopped off that Greyhound bus ten years ago. But he was faithful in following God’s leading and through InterVarsity Tony has learned how the campus can be renewed through the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ.
You can make a direct financial donation to support InterVarsity’s work at the University of Iowa by following this link.