Why would a 78-year-old want to continue volunteering as Campus Ministry Director? Because I want to help even one student become a Christian this year.
On April 12 Vusala, a former international student from Azerbaijan who graduated in 2003, came into All Saints bringing her American husband, Lee, with her. They had driven from their home in Washington DC just so she could see All Saints again. They came because she had such fond memories of All Saints. As they looked through the old photo albums she exclaimed about the friendship she had experienced at All Saints. We had not realized how much it meant to her to have our help. Lee thanked us for the kindness we had shown her. As we stood in our sanctuary he commented on the beauty of our altar. Wistfully he said that he had attended a huge and famous mega-church in Los Angeles California, but had never “caught” the enthusiasm for the faith that the congregation showed. He accepted our offer to locate the name of an LCMS church in the DC area. Vusala and Lee were open to receiving this information, as well as the photos we took of their visit. Rev. Larry K. Loree, All Saints campus pastor, found the name and number of a congregation which is only a short distance from their DC home. Their visit inspired me to hope that seeds planted sixteen years ago will grow into faith in Jesus.
All Saints’ monthly student Korean meals are really “hope meals.” At every meal, we invite students to come not only for the meals but also for worship and Bible classes; and especially for the opportunity to share our faith and hear about theirs. Students who have come to meals sometimes ask for rides and for one-on-one lunches. During these times we have openly explained who Jesus is. I’ll never forget that a student from Poland was astonished that his church back home had not shown such friendship for students that he found here. He went home with sweet memories. This gives me hope to keep on serving meals just for the chance that those who have never heard the Gospel will hear it in this place.
Christians are not encouraged to be open in their faith on this secular campus; in fact, they are discouraged from doing so. They are encouraged to keep their faith in their homes and in their churches. Fortunately, Slippery Rock University holds orientations for students where All Saints is allowed to have a table promoting Christian fellowship. We greet students and their parents as they go by our table. We invite them to give us their names and phone numbers so that we can invite them to the student meals when they arrive on campus in the fall. Since there are few Lutherans in this area, few Lutherans come by. But those who do, are glad we are on campus for them. Students from other denominations are happy to be invited to our meals, worship, and Bible study. It is a blessing to be able to share our faith. It is a time of hope. At every orientation gathering, we hope that the Holy Spirit will send even one student to us. We just cannot give up.
Happiness is Bible study. Bible study is hope. Two unlikely students come in for weekly Bible classes at All Saints. They are not Lutheran, but they want to know more about the Bible. They are such fun to study with. Genesis comes alive in these classes with the help of The People’s Bible, a Bible commentary for laymen. Chris and Samantha are Americans who have joy in being Christians. Their enthusiasm is contagious. They give hope for expanding Bible classes to others. In fact, our hope is to expand our Gospel message by inviting students to participate in discussions dealing with the Bible’s view of singleness and marriage. Hope is ongoing.
As I sat writing this article on hope, an international student who has been here many times, but has never become a Christian, came into All Saints for sympathy and guidance. She is in a bind. She needs hope. We went over the uselessness of bitterness, of blaming others, of embracing victimhood. She is out of options; her money is gone and her time for being allowed in the United States is over. She can’t go home because it is dangerous there, and she is afraid she would be constantly seen by her parents as a failure. We talked of going home anyway. We talked of emigrating to Canada. In the past, I would hold out the promise that Jesus makes to be with us, and then we would grasp each other’s hands and pray. This time I did not extend this invitation because I did not want to pressure her. But, surprise! She herself held out her hands for prayer without being prompted to do so. We prayed. She needs faith. She needs God’s help.
The reason this 78-year-old stays in campus ministry is because God can change even her heart – even a heart which has resisted faith for so many years.