I was anxious to survive my first few weeks of university. I was struggling just to find my classes among the crowded, endless maze of hallways. I worried a lot. “Will I make good friends here? How am I ever going to keep up, let alone succeed in my studies, assignments, and labs?”
I got the vibe that there were no Christian students in my small program or classes. Intentionally looking for Christian community or groups on campus never even crossed my mind.
Due to several moves in my teenage years, I never got connected to any Christian community in my high school. I didn’t feel safe being open about my faith in the secular classroom or hedonistic hallways. I didn’t dare speak of my faith for fear of mockery from my secular teachers or partying peers.
My first weeks of university were no less intimidating for my weak and unproven faith. I had learned how to quietly hold on to my faith alone. I never considered that there might be opportunities available for me to grow my faith at university.
I had no intention of getting involved in social or spiritual activities on campus. My intentions for university were only pragmatic: attend classes, get good grades, graduate, and get a good job. It felt safer to keep my faith contained within the margins of home and church. It was safe, but it also made for a very lonely, isolated, and guarded faith.
However, I still held on to a seed of hope that I could at least find a few Christian friends to live my campus life with. Although I failed to connect with any in my classes or labs in my first weeks, there were thankfully some who took initiative and found me.
A small group of Power to Change students came to the front of my packed psychology class and asked if we would consider filling out a survey about our views on faith and God. Although I was terrified by such a bold expression of Christianity in a secular environment, it was the only opportunity I had yet discovered to make Christian friends.
I filled out the survey. Even though I was shy of meeting new people, and had fears of being associated with a Christian group in a secular environment, I somehow overcame my fears and put down my name and contact number. My desire for Christian companionship gave me courage to take the risk; I was tired of journeying alone.
I had to muster all my courage just to meet up with Rod, the guy who had my contact information from the survey. Ironically, it was when he asked me to meet up that more intense fears surfaced in me. “What happens if one of my classmates sees me talking about my faith with another Christian? In the beginning even these small steps seemed huge.
But when we met, I was surprisingly encouraged by how patient, caring, and understanding Rod was. It was a novel experience. He asked me questions to gauge my understanding of faith. He genuinely cared about me and wanted to know how he could help me grow my faith.
Although I intellectually knew that God loved me and forgave me, I wasn’t experiencing God’s love and forgiveness through friendship or community. I had a lot of guilt in my life. I was socially awkward and thought myself unlovable by God and others. How could I believe God loved me and forgave me if I didn’t feel it tangibly and personally from any human being?
After meeting him one on one for a few weeks, he invited me to a small group Bible study. I was so fearful; my legs felt like heavy weights as I walked towards the meeting. They felt so heavy that I almost turned around.
Questions surfaced fears. What implications would a deepening association with Christians have on my life? What would happen if my secular friends or professors found out I was going to a Bible study? But at each step, I found that the acceptance, encouragement, and the kindness of my new Christian friends outweighed any fears.
My faith was becoming more and more public.
During my first weeks on campus, it honestly felt like the party lifestyle was my only option to have meaningful social connection and acceptance from my classmates. I wasn’t the party type, and yet I wondered if I was missing out. I entertained thoughts of joining them. They looked like they were having so much fun. As in my high school experience, I thought I would again be entirely socially alienated if I didn’t participate.
But by the grace of God, I got connected to Christian community. It was there that I learned how to form authentic and honest relationships anchored in God’s love and forgiveness. My friends and I were able to socialize and have fun without the pressures of promiscuity, or getting drunk or high. But on top of this, we were able to worship God together, study the Bible, pray for and encourage one another in our faith. I even learned to confess my weaknesses and sins to closer trusted friends.
I found my place socially and spiritually at university. It was a new and welcome chapter in my life; I belonged to a group of friends who desired to experience God’s love and forgiveness and help others experience it as well.
I continually experienced God’s love and forgiveness from my new Christian friends. In this community I was shown the most care and respect I had ever known. My confidence in God’s promises grew, even when the campus culture seemed stacked against it. In a community of caring people, I had increasing courage to be identified as a Christian. Prior to this, I had never seen Christian friends that were willing to go public with their faith.
Instead of a place that stifled my faith, I found my university experience to be a place where my faith grew. After only a short time of involvement with this vibrant Christian community, knowing and loving Jesus in community had become the most satisfying part of my life.
But I have always been a self-conscious, quiet, and anxious person. The thought of talking about Jesus with my non Christian friends stirred up a great deal of anxiety in my heart. I feared what they would think of me. I feared their judgement and rejection. I needed to press through my fears every time I initiated spiritual conversation.
In my first encounters with Power to Change, I saw how bold some of my new friends were in talking about their faith with their friends, and I didn’t think I would ever have that capacity myself. Amazingly, God used them to form in me a heart to share my faith with my friends.
In a short time I found myself having spiritual compassion for my friends; I discovered how they too were made in God’s image and paid for with the life of Christ. These new perspectives prompted me to start spiritual conversations with peers from non-Christian backgrounds, I started walking with them in their journey to discover Jesus.
I started to view my peers differently: as lost, harassed, and helpless to save themselves — as I was — but deeply loved by God. Once I got to know them beneath the surface, I learned my peers weren’t as confident or self-assured as I had once thought.
I was surprised to discover that God could use my story to bring hope and real change to those around me. Sure, I didn’t always get it right, but I was learning how to engage my friends in gospel conversations. I started to see my friends through God’s eyes of compassion.
It was the start of what would soon become the most satisfying part of my life.
My fear of rejection has never entirely gone away, but it hasn’t stopped me from starting spiritual conversations with friends. Being with other outreach-minded Christians has given me courage to share my faith with my friends. I don’t want my fear of rejection to get in the way of sharing God’s love for them. I am so thankful I took advantage of the opportunities to grow my faith and go public with it.
Looking back, I see the grace of God in calling me to Christian community in university. Through it, I learned to value and prioritize God and people. This soon made up the most fulfilling part of my university experience. I entered university unaware of the people God was raising up that I could partner with in faith. Even more, I never would have thought I would be one of those people sharing my faith with others. The result? My time at university was fun, rich, and life-changing.