Six months ago, Felicia, a sophomore at Alvernia University, found herself at a weekend conference, surrounded by InterVarsity students praising God. Though not a Christian, Felicia had recognized God’s presence in the lives of those around her.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘What am I doing here?’” Felicia wrote later. She had attended the InterVarsity chapter’s winter conference after meeting students who sparked her curiosity in God. For her, going to church seemed a chore; she often wondered whether God existed at all. But these students were different, and she had a nagging doubt that maybe she didn’t belong with them.
Felicia had met InterVarsity staff worker Gretchen Greenawalt during freshmen orientation. As an ice-breaker, they jokingly did a few dance moves and chatted for awhile. Because of that initial connection, Felicia stayed in touch. In the following two years, she joined InterVarsity students for meals, social events, and their 2010 winter conference.
Through these events, Felicia came to admire the freedom she saw in the way students worshipped God and the sincerity of their relationships with him. When the winter conference ended, she desired to know more about God. Over the next several months, she heard about the opportunity to spend a week in the summer studying the Gospel of Mark with InterVarsity students from other schools.
With her parents’ encouragement, time off from work, and a gift of scholarship money, Felicia signed up for camp. There she learned about the brokenness of the world and its people, and about God’s plan for restoration of all of creation. Mid-way through the week, Felicia listened to a speaker explain how fear can hinder a relationship with God.
Felicia reflected on her own life. She was afraid of not belonging in the InterVarsity community and felt guilty about her indifferent relationship with God. She could not worship freely the way her peers did because the sin and doubt in her life held her back.
As the speaker sat down, Felicia realized God could change her if she chose to let go of her fear and accept Jesus. When the worship band began playing, she cried aloud, “God, I’m ready!” and joyfully lifted up her hands in praise. “The wall was shattered,” Felicia wrote. “I knew I belonged there, and I had no fear!”
That evening Felicia excitedly told the other InterVarsity students from Alvernia about her decision to follow Christ. “There were hugs and tears all around,” wrote Felicia. Students began to share what else God had been doing in their lives that week. Then Jess spoke up.
Jess had attended church most of her life, but when her dad passed away unexpectedly during her middle school years, she grew angry with God. Her family continued to go to church, but over the years, Jess felt distant and unresponsive towards God. In college, she met Gretchen and other InterVarsity students when she co-led a humanitarian spring break trip to Ecuador. Gretchen invited her to join the chapter at a week-long retreat studying the Bible.
Throughout the week of the retreat, Jess examined Jesus’ life in the gospel of Mark. She saw the way students in the chapter actively responded to God. When she shared her doubt and pain with new friends, they listened and cared for her.
Now sitting next to Felicia, Jess explained that although she was not ready to follow Jesus, the community she experienced within the InterVarsity chapter that week had nurtured her understanding of God’s love. When Jess finished talking, Felicia put her arm around her and prayed that Jess would learn to trust God with her entire life.
Taking the Plunge
The following day during their free time, Felicia, Jess, and their friends decided to try out the camp’s zip line. Jess climbed into the bulky harness, tightened her helmet, and stood at the edge of the platform. She was nervous of heights and battling second thoughts. But she was also determined. Gathering her courage and a taking deep breath, she jumped.
The ride was an exhilarating adventure down to the ground. For Jess, being able to risk leaving behind her fear of heights and taking the plunge represented her spiritual journey. She wanted to jump from her pain and distrust to living in a relationship with God, wherever that adventure might take her.
Since the retreat at Cedar Campus, Jess and Felicia have been warmly welcomed into the chapter’s community. The chapter is a recent plant, started three years ago, and staff worker Gretchen has seen students work harder this summer to stay connected and encourage each other after their week together. One student is participating in an intense urban program with InterVarsity over the summer, and Jess has been organizing members to support and pray for her.
“These students are reaching out to one another, recognizing the need and excitement of having Christian community,” said Gretchen.
You can make a direct financial donation to support InterVarsity’s work at Alvernia University by following this link.