Nichole Morris used to live in a bubble. She was content with life on campus at Grace College—her classes, her friends, her stuff. She didn't know any of the people who lived in the small Indiana town near campus, and they didn't know her.
She sought God inside the bubble. She prayed, she studied, and she strategized about how to do his will. It became clear that sharing her joy and faith with people beyond campus was important, so she took part in several campus ministries, from service groups that traveled hours away to run-down inner-city neighborhoods to clown teams that performed at local churches. But during her sophomore year at Grace, Nichole Morris made a significant discovery—there were people who needed help, needed God, right there in Warsaw, Indiana.
"We had no interaction with the non-Christians where we lived," Nichole says. "I felt burdened that we needed to do something practical, uncomplicated, but something that would get us in contact with people in town."
So she and a friend started frequenting coffee shops, trying to strike up conversations with the locals. Then they recruited friends from Grace and baked cookies for third-shift workers at Wal-Mart. Even more Grace students came along when they carried groceries for people at the supermarket.
Meanwhile, the college-funded ministry groups continued to serve God in Chicago and in area churches. But then Deb Musser, a Grace administrator who coordinated the official campus ministries, found out about what Nichole and her friends were doing—from their own reports, and from the thank-you notes that arrived at Grace from bewildered but grateful shoppers and midnight clerks. Soon Nichole and her buddies' activities were upgraded into an official campus ministry called Break Out.
"At a Christian college you talk ministry, and you talk about what it's like to live for Jesus," says Deb, "but when you see a move from academic Christianity to something that's real and vibrant in students' hearts, it's beyond words."
Eric Foster-Whiddon had a heart for the people in his community, too. He wanted to reach high school students in Franklin Springs, Georgia, where he attends Emmanuel College. The school launched a coffeehouse targeted toward area teens, and The Main stream has evolved into a premier regional venue for live Christian music under Eric's supervision.
"I was saved in high school, and music played a huge role in my own growth as a Christian," Eric says. "I was basically discipled by the music I listened to, and because I surrounded myself with Christian music, that influence really helped me stay strong in the faith.
"Somebody just coming into college who has a zeal to be used by God can really do a lot. God will use the things you've been through, and the things you like, to reach people. We learn all this stuff at a Christian college, and we need to make sure we apply it."
It might seem like getting involved in campus ministry is just a natural, automatic part of Christian college life, but the truth is, involvement takes commitment and planning. You arrive at school with nothing on your schedule but classes. Within a week, though, after a barrage of invitations and opportunities, you're committed to approximately 116 meetings per day for organizations ranging from the Math Club to the intercollegiate luge team. Instead of more options, you need a secretary. And sleep.
Eventually, you'll scale down your schedule and choose to concentrate on a couple of activities that really interest you, places where you can make a significant impact. The key to choosing is finding a good fit. If you're passionate about prison ministry, join the prison ministry group. If there isn't a ministry that fits your passion, start one yourself.
At Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, students and faculty were concerned about Jesus' Great Commission: "And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Their missions programs were successful, but senior Judah Regenstreif says they neglected their "Jerusalem"—the poor, gang-ridden neighborhoods right there in Costa Mesa.
Judah helped organize a program called Hittin' the Streets, which put on street carnivals with rides, food, music, mimes and face painting. Along with student involvement, the program mobilized volunteers from area churches and neighborhood associations.
As many as 250 attended in the largely Latino communities, and every time people responded to the gospel message presented at the end of the day. Even the gang members expressed thanks for reaching out to their neighborhood.
"Being in those types of communities, reaching out to people groups that are different from us, with lifestyles different from ours, even different languages, it gives you a greater understanding of God's love and the importance of sharing our faith," says Judah. "It's a way to share the gospel without having to preach, by showing love in a simple way."
Hitting the road
The Great Commission isn't limited to Jerusalem. There's a lot more territory to cover.
Malone College art professor Barb Moran Drennan made a habit of driving her students on a 16-hour round-trip from Canton, Ohio, to Chicago, where she was in charge of creating a mural. The mural, titled "A Day in the Life of a Chicano Child," was designed to instill a sense of pride and heritage in a violence-plagued neighborhood. Most of the painting was done by local kids, but the Malone students were there for support and to serve as role models for the young students they worked with.
"The first night there, I don't think any of the Malone students could speak, they were so scared," says Barb. The students slept in a neighborhood school where the front door was scarred by bullet holes.
"But as time passed, it became clear there was a growing relationship between that community and our community. There was a commitment there: We weren't gonna leave that thing unfinished."
"Unfinished," however, didn't just describe the mural. It also described Dana Moot—a high school student from Canton who'd been asked to join in on the project. Barb had invited Dana be cause he seemed interested in the project. What she didn't know was that Dana was addicted to several substances and planning to quit school.
The mural was good for Dana. He felt excited—and unqualified—to be a role model, and the project gave him a sense of purpose. But it took months before he came around for good, finally drug-free. He earned his GED, then scored well on his ACT. Now Dana's a freshman at Malone, where he'll join Barb and the other students as they start on a new mural.
"They're great for the kids," Dana says of the murals. "It gives them something to do and provides positive role models. They think 'Here are these people from far away, we've never met them before, but for some reason, they're coming out here for us.' I know it makes them feel good, to think somebody cares."
Josh Sprague joined as many ministry groups and campus organizations as he could during his first year at Grace. Break Out, the ministry Nichole Morris started, was one he discovered at the campus ministry fair. At the end of his freshman year he decided to focus solely on Break Out and joined Nichole as co-leader.
"I'm realizing now how much I didn't do in high school," Josh says. "I wasted so much time, and I waited so long to be involved in ministry. I could be farther ahead."
That's perspective from beyond the bubble.