Going it alone as a Christian is difficult.
Without the support of a community to help you grow closer to God and live the Christian life, it can be a discouraging time, especially on a college campus. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I) students Tim Nagel and Justin Sebastian know the power of Christian community to invigorate evangelism, as well as their individual relationships with Jesus. Together, they’ve helped each other reach their spheres of influence and given each other encouragement as brothers in Christ.
Tim and Justin were both Christians when they arrived at U of I, but neither one was especially missional—their Christianity was more about attending activities than living out God’s call. “My faith basically revolved around Friday nights for youth group and Sundays for church,” said Justin. Tim, who was also raised in a Christian family, had a similar experience: “I went along with all the Christian activities without giving my entire heart to Christ. It was easy to participate half-heartedly, because I was always surrounded by a Christian community.”
Looking for Fellowship
That all changed once they arrived at U of I. Justin met InterVarsity members at a display table near his dorm at the beginning of his freshman year. He started attending a small group and large group, where he “found a home.”
The most significant moment of his freshman year came at his chapter’s New Student Retreat, where he answered God’s invitation to share the good news of Jesus with others. “I researched which Christian groups were on campus before I got there, with the intention of making Christian friends,” Justin said. But he had no idea that a year later, he would be longing not just for Christian friends, but also for the opportunity to introduce his non-Christian friends to Christ.
When Tim got to U of I, one year later, he was also looking to get involved in a Christian community. “I understood that I couldn’t live half-heartedly loving God for the rest of my life,” he said. But there was one problem: as a member of the wheelchair basketball team, Tim’s schedule was so busy that he didn’t have time to join any campus organizations.
God used Justin to help Tim find the Christian community he was looking for. “Justin volunteered, through a campus disability resource, to help the disabled athletes lift weights,” said Tim. “We became friends, and after a few months I realized that he was a Christian.” Tim started attending Justin’s Bible study, and eventually began attending other InterVarsity events as well.
This year, Tim and Justin are roommates and co-leaders of a Bible study that reaches out to their dorm. “Having a strong Christian roommate such as Justin is God directly telling me that he is the provider of community and fellowship,” said Tim.
Reaching Out Together
While both Tim and Justin knew that Christian community could be friendly and welcoming, they’ve discovered that it can also be a strong support and a springboard for outreach. Tim’s and Justin’s Bible study has been a place that has brought positive change and development, both in their own lives and in the lives of those in the dorm. “This year, God has called me to share my heart and be more vulnerable in our small group,” said Tim, whose own openness has encouraged others in the group to be more honest about their struggles. Justin has also found “huge growth” in his faith as a result of leading the Bible study. “Being a small group leader has really grown my dependence on God,” he said.
Tim’s and Justin’s Bible study has several non-Christians who attend regularly. “It is such a blessing to see God sparking their interest in him,” Tim said. Justin, as a leader for outreach and discipleship in his dorm and others nearby, has also seen new interest in God among the students in the dorms. Recently, the InterVarsity community in Tim’s and Justin’s dorm threw a “spiritual birthday party” for a student who came to faith. Justin sees the dorm community as growing to resemble the early Christian community described in Acts 2—one of fellowship and transformed lives.
Commitment to Christ
The U of I chapter as a whole has also been transformed. This year, there was record attendance at the first large group of the year and their New Student Retreat. “Our chapter has been revived,” said Justin. This growth in attendance has been accompanied by a growth in faith. As Tim described: “There have been many non-Christians committing their lives to Christ and many Christians recommitting to living out their faith.” The chapter is also seeing more and more students understand what it means to be missional and making the same kind of answer to God’s call that Justin made his freshman year.
Through the support of the chapter, Tim has been reinvigorated to reach out to his teammates. He’s committed to praying for their lives to be transformed. “My main mission field is the wheelchair basketball team,” he said. “It is obvious to me that I am at the U of I to speak truth into the team, and to be a light.”
From lifting weights together to leading Bible studies together, Tim and Justin’s friendship is an example of how God can use community to bring us closer to him and give us new energy for pursuing his mission. It’s something that Tim knows will continue throughout their college careers: “My InterVarsity journey has been centered around building and strengthening Christian community, which is a process, not a single moment.”
Related stories from the InterVarsity blog:
“Jesus in Witte Hall”
“Who Needs Friends?”
“Good News About Real Christian Community”