By Gordon Govier

Ministry along Montana’s Interstate

The number of international students on college campuses across the country is growing, and InterVarsity students in Montana have noticed. Montana Area Director Dave Oberly says the amount of student-initiated international student ministry is one of the most exciting developments in his area.

“More than anything it’s God,” Dave said. “He is moving and students are responding. It’s been fun to watch staff and students work together to develop outreach to international students.”

International student ministry starts with making friends. Those friendships often lead to invitations to Bible study. But friendships can lead to many different activities. “It’s important to be flexible and open to new things,” Dave said. Friendships can lead to lives that are permanently changed when international students are introduced to Jesus Christ, as illustrated by the story of Wai Wai, a pharmacy student from Myanmar who attended the University of Montana.

Dave supervises staff on three campuses: the University of Montana in Missoula, and Montana State at Bozeman and Billings. From Bozeman, where Dave lives, Missoula is three hours one way, and Billings is two hours in the opposite direction. That can lead to some long drives, but Dave doesn’t mind. It’s an asset to ministry.

“Montana is beautiful,” he said. “And it’s a good time to think and pray.” Dave meditates on Scripture and prays for his staff team and his family as he drives. Without distractions, other than the scenery, he finds it easy to listen to God’s guidance for his ministry.

Dave didn’t have much interest in Christianity as a student at the University of Montana. At least not until the girl he wanted to date let him know how important it was to her, and invited him to InterVarsity. There he met students who were willing to let him ask some tough questions about the Christian faith. “I found a lot of hope and love, and that really helped turn me toward a relationship with Christ,” he said.

His new faith was challenged by his teammates on the rugby team, but they eventually noticed a change in his attitude and lifestyle as he grew in his faith and invited them to study the Bible together. Having another believer on the team to mentor him was helpful.

His faith grew through several other leadership experiences as well as participation in a Global Project one summer in Kenya. Montana students have been involved in InterVarsity’s Kenya Global Project for almost 20 years. They have the opportunity to live with Kenyan families and work with a variety of local ministries. The experience gives them a new global perspective on the Christian faith. “I see a dramatic difference in the students who go, when they come back, compared to the students who don’t go. It’s huge,” he said.

Dave now supervises Brian Lee, the staff person who invited Dave to go on that first Kenya Global Project. While Dave finds that just a bit strange, Regional Director Scott Anderson says Dave’s leadership has been just what the Montana schools have needed.

“Dave is sensitive to the Spirit, principled in his leadership, mature in his faith, sensible in his decisions, and compassionate towards people,” Scott said. “He does an excellent job anticipating what might be needed in his area and providing for that before it is even known that it is needed. He is good at thinking ahead and making a plan for the future. Dave’s team appreciates the family feel of the area, but also the way that he helps them with their job responsibilities. They feel like he is available to them and encouraging. They know him to be laid back, yet efficient—quite a combination.”

Dave graduated in 1999 with a degree in marketing and management, and began working as a stockbroker. He liked working with numbers and helping people meet their financial goals. Dave volunteered with InterVarsity’s ministry in his spare time. The more he thought about it, though, the more he realized that he could help people best by devoting more time to campus ministry. So four years after graduation, he joined InterVarsity as a full-time Campus Staff Member. 

“I love working with students,” Dave said. “I love hearing their stories and talking with them. Staying connected with students is what keeps me motivated.” Even after becoming Area Director five years ago, Dave finds time to mentor a small group of male students at Montana State in Bozeman.

In particular Dave enjoys seeing students follow the call of God to reach out to new groups on campus. “I’ve been getting a sense through students and staff of the desire to serve Native American students,” he said. Noting that there are 13 tribes in Montana, many of whom are represented in the college student body, he expects to see Native American student ministry grow significantly in the years ahead in Montana.

Campus ministry has a bright future in Montana, thanks to committed staff and students under the leadership of Dave Oberly.