Reaching Christian Students in Secular Universities (Web-exclusive story)

by Naomi Stephens

Every paper I wrote as an undergraduate was finished sometime between the magic hours of 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. Wilted in the back corner of a Starbucks, Id bash my head frantically on the keyboard, waiting for my creative juices just to get with the program. Then, wired on yet more caffeine, Id head back into my dorm room, only to re-emerge like a zombie in the morning. Then it was off to my beloved literature classes, where my fellow Concordia students and I would talk about God. Let me say that again: We talked about God.

True, for students in parochial institutions, this hardly seems earth-shattering. But consider the students who push through the trenches of secular universities. For them, it makes all the difference in the world. They, too, struggle with looming deadlines and waning caffeine supplies, but they head into classrooms where to discuss Jesus Christ is to broach an unfathomable and politically incorrect subject, where to do so is to suffer reproach and isolation at the hands of their instructors and peers.

I now study and teach at a state university, where this seemingly distant anxiety becomes an immediate and painful reality. Herds of our students thrust themselves into higher education, lost to the arduous task of finding themselves. But is education really enough to find oneself? Certainly not. As Luther says, Human wisdom and the liberal arts are noble gifts of God . . . but they can never thoroughly tell us what sin and righteousness are . . . how we can get rid of sins, become pious and just before God and pass from death into life . . . wisdom divine and art supreme are required for this; and one find[s] them in the Bible alone, which is the Holy Spirits Book.

Our students are bombarded with opportunities for falling away from Christ, His Church and their fellow believers. We are losing our young people in a very realand very dangerousway. I see it every day as both a student and as an instructor. When I left Concordia just a year ago, armed with a diploma and the faint but sure notion that God wanted me to reach these students, I thought it would be easy. Nothing could be harder.

Students leave our churches in vans stuffed with dorm essentials: some overpriced textbooks, an arsenal of ramen noodles and a new wardrobe for starting a new chapter of life. But we must arm them with more than this, for far too many of them wont return to the Church.

Without a continued footing in Holy Scripture, extended fellowship with the church and continued reassurance in Christ crucified, our students are doomed to flounder in the world and fail. We have been blessed with opportunities for continuing their spiritual growth, and we must not wink away these opportunities. Yes, our students will always feel lost in universities, which are mere extensions of a sinful world. But we must not resign ourselves to this. Rather, when students endeavoring to find themselves feel lost in the world, we must urge them to rejoice, as Christ instructs, that their names are not written in the world but in heaven (Luke 10:20).

Consider this a call to arms. Support these students, reaching out to them with prayerfulness and love, offering both spiritual guidance and vigilant counseling. Lost in liberal institutions, surrounded by liberal professors in liberal fields, our students must learn that ours is not a losing battle. Every door we openeven the door of a secular universitypresents new opportunities to reveal just how frail the world truly is and simultaneously to reveal the preeminence of Christ. Students must not rely on education alone to sustain them, though it offers manifold blessings. Students likewise must not turn to colleges to find themselves, for in Christ, they have already been found.

About the Author: Naomi Stephens is an instructor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and a member of St. Marks Lutheran Church, Milford, Ohio.

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