Apr 24, 2015 | Daniel Denomme
No one ever left university unchanged
University changes people.
You know this instinctively.
You’ve seen it so many times.
A young student you know enters college or university with vague dreams and you sense they are still somewhat unsure of themselves. Perhaps they have never lived away from home. Most of their major decisions up to this point have been made for them. They look towards the coming years with a mixture of excitement and fear.
Fast forward to the day of their graduation. There is something dramatically different about them. They’ve experienced life. They’ve learned independence. They’ve chosen a career. The foundational building blocks of their life are in place.
Why does post-secondary education change people?
1. Students are open to change
More than any other stage of life, university students are constantly receiving new information, reevaluating their views and making decisions based on that new information. The very trajectory of their life seems to be in constant flux.
They change their majors–on average three times!
Professors share fascinating ideas they’ve never heard before.
Friends introduce them to new ways of expressing themselves that would not have been encouraged at home.
Clubs on campus promise to provide a place for them to belong, helping them to forge their identity.
While on campus, a student’s goals, beliefs and dreams are constantly changing. The cement of their life is wet, but hardening quickly with every new experience.
Let me tell you about two students I encountered while meeting students on campus who reminded me of this reality.
Open to spiritual discussion
Guillaume was busy typing on his laptop when I approached him. As I started asking questions about his life and spiritual views, I quickly discovered that he was really interested.
As I mentioned the value of finding truth in the Bible, he replied, “You know, I’ve been planning on reading the Bible for a while, thanks for reminding me. I should start that now.”
When I recommended a video for him to check out, he turned his laptop around and asked me to type out the link. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw written at the top of his word document, “Does God exist?” followed by a series of other spiritual questions Guillaume was pondering at the moment I interrupted him.
Guillaume, like many students on the campus, was searching for truth. He was excited to join us for our next weekly meeting, hoping that he might find others to to help him on his spiritual journey.
Helping Christians see that their peers are interested
Earlier that same day I took Fred, a Christian student, out to show him how to start spiritual conversations on campus. He told me he was terrified.
Fred didn’t think anyone would be interested, but his view dramatically changed by the end of our first conversation with a student we met. As often happens, the student we were talking with asked why we were doing the questionnaire. I explained how we were part of a Christian group on campus and that we found the picture survey a good way to start spiritual conversations.
I could not have anticipated his reply, “You know what, I think you should do this with everyone on the campus. Some might not want to, but they’re stupid.”
After the conversation, Fred commented, “Well that guy must be an exception, I’m sure most students aren’t that open.”
He was surprised when I told him that most students I’ve met are open to discussion. I rarely find a student who isn’t willing to talk about spiritual questions.
Maybe, like Fred, this surprises you.
My guess is that your experience might be like my friends who have graduated and find that sharing the gospel at their workplace is really difficult. It’s generally discouraged if not downright prohibited. That is why I believe it is crucial to share the gospel during the university years, when students are open to discussing the fundamental issues of life.
2. Students will be on a mission
Universities are a launching pad for graduating students into every domain of society. Those entering university today are going to be the leaders of every domain tomorrow.
Many will leave university believing that a vibrant career will bring them satisfaction. Their mission: success.
Others will chase happiness through relationships, believing that if they just find the perfect partner, life will have meaning. Their mission: finding love.
Other thrill seeking graduates will try to live life to the full by embarking on a career packed with excitement. Their mission: adventure.
The reality is that apart from Christ, none of these missions will actually bring them satisfaction.
Oh sure, temporary satisfaction. But nothing that lasts.
What if their dreams, beliefs and goals were directed by Jesus?
3. Students will change the world
I will never forget sitting in the airport and realizing that the guy sitting across from me was Pierre-Luc, the M.P. for my riding of Sherbrooke, Quebec.
His degree at the Université de Sherbrooke had been interrupted when he was elected as the youngest Member of Parliament in Canadian history. I introduced myself and after a short, friendly conversation, I sat back down waiting to board the plane. But the whole plane ride, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head…
What if I had run into him on campus a year or two earlier? What if he had engaged with the gospel? What eternal impact could he have had in Quebec?
Pierre-Luc represents thousands of students who will graduate every spring, entering our work force, bringing change wherever they go.
The question is not “will they change Canada?” The question is “how will they change it?”
How will students change Canada and the world? Well, it probably depends on what their mission is. That in turn is greatly influenced by their experience in university.
Universities create world changers
Students are open to change.
Students will be sent.
Students will change the world.
Would you take a moment to dream with me?
We long for the day when no student graduates without engaging with the life-changing message of Jesus.
Imagine what this could look like.
Imagine the potential for change if all students engaged with the message of Jesus whIle they are still open to change. We know that students’ greatest need is not a degree. It’s not a satisfying career. It’s not a big house or a nice car. They need to meet Jesus. And as we’ve seen, at more than any time in their lives, university is the time when they are open to considering the message of the gospel.
Don’t lose hope
Victor Frankl was a holocaust survivor. As a psychiatrist his perspective on his time in the concentration camp is fascinating.
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning Frankl explored why some people survive and others not (even though they’re in the same situation). He writes, “The prisoner who had lost faith in his future was doomed”.
Have you lost hope?
I find that I can relate. Do you? Have you given up hope?
Perhaps you’ve given up hope that God can actually change an entire city, a province, a nation and the world.
So when I mention our dream: a day when no student would graduate without engaging with the life-changing message of Jesus, it doesn’t encourage you. It overwhelms you and reminds you of the time when you gave up hope.
But I want to call you to dream again. I challenge you to hope in tomorrow.
There is hope!
Henry, a New Brunswick law student sums it up well. He says “We get the idea that people don’t want to hear about the gospel. That’s fundamentally not true.”
Praise God that Henry is right and we are seeing glimpses of this dream of engaging every student become a reality.
For the first time P2C-Students is helping students discover Jesus on campuses in every Canadian province, including Prince Edward Island.
This semester we were excited to host Dr. Andy Bannister of Ravi Zacharias Ministries at the University of PEI. Even a snowstorm couldn’t keep students away and it was encouraging to see 200 students, faculty members and even those from the community come to each of the two events.
We praise God that not only is He reminding us of the spiritual hunger on the campus but also raising up leaders to reach the campus.
Emily has started to see herself not as a student who happens to be a Christian, but as a Christian who is a student. She realizes that she has opportunities to reach other students right now on her campus. Opportunities that she may never have again.
Engaging students on campus has helped Caroline see that she doesn’t need to be afraid of what people think of her. Serving God by sharing her faith has freed her from worrying about others’ opinions.
Aquila said God has used P2C to call her into a life of missions, especially giving her a desire to go where others have not gone, reaching the unreached with the gospel.
Don’t you get a sense that these are the kind of students God is going to use to change the world?!
Dreaming the impossible
When I was a student at Brock University, the idea of sending students to the nations captured my heart. I will never forget the first time our little group of students met to pray that God would allow us to start a movement that would impact the campus and change the world.
We prayed that God would make us a sending ground into the nations. At the time, with only four other students by my side, the dream seemed far fetched if not impossible. But God was at work.
By the end of that first year, we had about a dozen other students who had joined us in this mission.
The second year, we saw our movement double. By the time I graduated three years later, there were sixty students involved.
Today, ten years later, I am overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness as I look at the fruitfulness of that student-led ministry. Dozens of students have gone on missions trips to other parts of Canada, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Some have served long-term in Uganda, helping movements there develop. Many more have been sent into society as teachers, nurses, lawyers, pastors and missionaries.
What started as a group of five students has turned into a movement that is sending Christ-centred labourers to Canada and around the world.
Imagine if what happened at Brock University happened on campuses all across Canada. Imagine a generation of students sent from universities and college with the Great Commission as their mission.
How would Canada be changed as students brought the gospel with them into every domain of society? How could Canada not be changed if students brought the gospel with them into every domain of society?
Another generation of students will graduate. Most of them will have never had the opportunity to engage with the life-changing message of Jesus. This is tragic. This has to change.