Moments of this campus ministry journey include intense times of planning and executing activities during which I must be ‘on’ for five or more hours – talking with students, leading discussions, giving tours of the house, helping volunteers. All this while also seeing how I might help students connect with God’s story. During these times it’s easy to focus on food and games, trying to keeping everyone happy. Or, to think about how the event is not living up to my expectations.
At 6:30pm this past Tuesday I was discouraged because there was not a line outside of the door ready for our annual international meal. Some students were inside, but many of these were returning from last year. The rush of new students didn’t appear. I was reluctant to begin and almost wanted to apologize. I had people bring all this food for what?
Then a handful of new students walked in – we prayed and headed to the kitchen to fill our plates. Several times throughout the evening students came in the front door. There may not have been a long line to start, but it turns out that these small forays worked better. I was able to focus on each group for awhile instead of being overwhelmed with a large mass of students at once. Hmm . . . maybe my expectations needed some rearranging?
Once I was more comfortable with the number of people, I started to be concerned when I realized that I hadn’t really prepared anything to catalyze community. We had good food and people, but how would individuals connect? I tried to keep the conversation going in the dining room. However, the energy that comes when people start building a community didn’t seem to happen. Fearful that people would start getting up to leave, I started to panic. I couldn’t force them to stay and interact.
But there might be something that would help. So, when people started moving to the front room I pulled out Jenga, the block stacking game. I didn’t know if it would work, but slowly people gathered, started coming together, and laughing. Don’t get me wrong – we didn’t end up with life-long friends talking about the deep mysteries of God that evening. Yet, a sense of community started and hopefully several of these students will continue on their journeys us in the coming weeks.
Both of these moments were reminders of not letting my heart be troubled – John 14:1, 27 – in the liminal moments of this ministry. Not an easy thing to do, but these words of Jesus to his disciples could be my mantra during the coming year. Also, as I look to build community within the group I need to remember that it won’t just happen. On this journey, there will be moments during which I’ll need to facilitate interaction and not just expect it. God even had his ways – a burning bush, a ladder with angels, questions.
Could get interesting . . .