“I went into college wanting to live missionally and bring people to Jesus in a secular university,” Isabella (Bella) Starchman, student at the University of Oklahoma (OU), said.
Growing up with pastors as parents, Bella meant this. But anxiety about schoolwork and fear that she would experience the same rejection she faced in high school soon replaced this desire.
In her first month at OU, Bella began to only focus on school—on being the perfect student and succeeding. She thought becoming involved in any sort of club would waste time she could spend studying, so she avoided everyone she came across and even ran away from students handing out flyers.
“I just wanted to survive,” Bella said. “I wanted to finish college with a perfect GPA and an opportunity to start over in a new phase of life.”
By October, though, Bella was tired of being alone. She decided to try out some Christian ministries but didn’t click with any right away. Disappointed, she walked around campus one day and prayed, “I’ll try one more time, and then I’m going to give up. Please help.”
As she prayed, Bella suddenly looked down and saw words written in chalk: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Large Group—Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Immediately she looked up InterVarsity online, and, feeling as though the large group gathering would be too intimidating, opted to attend a small group first instead.
“It was so great!” she said. “Everyone there really loved Jesus and we just sat down with God’s Word and dug into what he had to say to us. ”
While this seemed like a turning point for Bella, it was the first and last time she attended the small group that semester. Tragedy struck her family two weeks later when her uncle committed suicide.
Bella was shocked, confused, and hurt. Her heart was hardened again, and she desperately wished she could stay home and not go back to OU because she didn’t want to be near people or let them in close.
Months later during her spring semester, Bella received a surprising text message from Anna, one of the leaders of the small group she attended, inviting her to an InterVarsity game night.
“My first thought was, How does this woman even remember I exist?” Bella said. “She literally met me one time! My second thought was fear—I didn’t want to get hurt or feel rejected. But Anna’s message was so kind and genuine that it made me feel like she actually wanted me there.”
So Bella went and was instantly welcomed, having the opportunity to meet many of the students who were part of OU’s InterVarsity chapter. She was surprised by how kind each person was and by how comfortable they made her feel. As she drove home, Bella cried, grateful for the ways God had just placed this new community in her life.
From then on, Bella had a community to go through life on campus with, from attending Bible studies to eating lunch and studying. Her hopelessness turned into hope, and she no longer dreaded being on campus.
“I wasn’t alone on campus all the time, which made OU feel more and more like home,” Bella said. “These were friends that loved Jesus. They wanted to see OU transformed by God’s love. More and more, I wanted to do that too.”
Now, Bella is a senior and is leading a small group Bible study herself, supporting others who, like her, experience pain and loneliness and long for a Christian community and witnessing to those who aren’t yet Christian. God has revealed so much to her, including the ways she had made perfectionism an idol, and has brought new life to places of past hurt.
“Through InterVarsity, God renewed my vision of his purpose in my life and what he has called me to do at OU,” Bella said. “He used InterVarsity to lift my eyes to him and correct my ideas about what my life should be. Life isn’t about surviving—there is more.”
Bella found a community through her InterVarsity chapter that showed her there was more to life on campus than what she thought. Find a community like this on your campus by clicking the button below.
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