March is spring break month for many college students, which often means a week of warm weather vacation or maybe a service project. For Victoria Meija’s InterVarsity students at California State University, Sacramento (Sac State), it means Mark Manuscript Study.
When Victoria became a Campus Staff Member at Sac State nine years ago, students spent six to seven weeks poring over the Gospel of Mark for several hours on Sunday evenings. Despite the insights gained through InterVarsity’s in-depth Bible study methods, some of the students didn’t seem very interested. Victoria was amazed. “When I found out that some people didn’t like Mark Study I thought, ‘That’s crazy; that’s the best thing we do.’”
She wanted students to learn to love Scripture the way she did, to have a clear understanding of the basics of their faith, and to make decisions based on scriptural principles. So she decided to join some other InterVarsity chapters and schedule the Mark Manuscript Study during spring break.
Selling the idea of devoting a week of vacation to Bible study was challenging. The students were uncertain. But finally she had a group together, and off they went to InterVarsity’s Campus by the Sea on Catalina Island.
To this day, that first Mark Manuscript camp is one of Victoria’s most memorable experiences as an InterVarsity Campus Staff Member. Despite their initial hesitance, the students loved it. They said they had never studied Mark so intensely before, and the experience was totally different than studying Mark week by week.
“A lot of times kids who grow up in the church don’t know why they follow Jesus; they don’t have any real depth of understanding. They know the stories, they know Scripture, but when you study it eight hours a day for seven days straight, you get punched in the face with who Jesus is and what it means to follow him,” Victoria said.
This year Campus by the Sea filled up fast and the Sac State students will be spending spring break at a northern California retreat center instead. They will again study Mark. A Sac State alumnus who graduated several years ago recently came back to campus to help lead worship for a Large Group meeting and told the students, “Everybody has to go to Mark. You can’t not go to Mark.”
A Fresh Look
Victoria grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, near Yosemite National Park. Her experience with the church seemed to her to be mostly about following rules, something she didn’t intend to take with her when she left for college. But mid-way through the first semester of her freshman year at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, some friends invited her to an InterVarsity conference.
“This was the first place where I saw that the gospel was about freedom,” she said. “I learned that Jesus should be at the center of my whole life. That was what following Jesus was about. And that was compelling to me.” Victoria became a follower of Jesus Christ that weekend.
For most of the next three years Victoria led an InterVarsity Small Group Bible Study on campus. She also served on the chapter’s evangelism team, started a drama team, and was a Large Group leader for awhile. She became more comfortable sharing her faith with others. And she was invited to become an InterVarsity Campus Staff Member.
Leading at Sac State
Sac State was somewhat familiar to her when she arrived on campus to work with the InterVarsity chapter. A brother had attended there, and she had considered attending herself. But it was still an adjustment. University of the Pacific is a private, residential school. Sacramento State is a public, commuter campus.
“There were differences and nuances that I had to learn about,” she said. “You have to work a little harder to build a community on campus for students who are coming from all different directions.”
When Victoria arrived, the InterVarsity chapter seemed to value cross-cultural relationships; but somehow, over the years, that value disappeared. Getting it back has been one of the biggest challenges that Victoria has experienced. But in the last couple of months, she’s been encouraged by what she’s seen, as students acknowledge the importance of being honest with each other about the significance of their ethnic heritages.
Staying student focused can sometimes be a challenge for a staff worker. “It’s easier to either think about what’s ahead or think about what happened before and miss what’s happening in the present,” Victoria said. But as she continues to trust in God she sees Him at work in students’ lives and is thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the transformations taking place on the Sac State campus through the work of InterVarsity.