How Did It Go?

I get this question often – understandably – from different people who know I’m spending three hours a week on our local community college campus.  There’s a sense of excitement that is natural to a new undertaking, and much room for prayer is needed.  But it’s a question that inevitably also causes me some anxiety.

I liken it to mission work.  And I suppose there is a tendency at some level for someone preparing to go into the foreign mission-field to assume that they have a good handle on what they’ve let themselves in for.  They’ve done their homework.  They’ve researched and read the history of other missionaries in that region.  They’ve boned up on the culture and have made beginnings in the language.  Part of the mission-preparation (I would imagine – maybe some of my missionary friends can vet me on this one) ought to be preparing the missionary for the shock that will come when their superficial understanding of another culture and region and weather-system and currency and fashion are ground up by the relentlessness of simply being someplace for a long time that is not home.  You can know a lot, but knowing isn’t being, nor is it, specifically, the difficulty of not-being, of becoming a foreigner when all you’ve ever known is being in the majority.

I could say that with 20 years of campus ministry experience I understand what I’m doing and how to go about it.  The truth is I don’t.  It’s been over 10 years now since I left my little campus ministry, which itself has now been destroyed by the foibles and politics of near-sightedness and larger, more pressing issues to be dealt with.  Ten years as well since I was actually teaching in college classrooms and interacting directly with college students instead of teaching them via the Internet.  A lot happens in ten years, or at least it seems to in our century.

So I have tried to assume that I don’t know anything.  I know what some other campus ministers do, and I know that such tactics can vary greatly in their success or failure.  I know I have to figure out what is natural for me.  And all of this takes time.  How long before a missionary to a foreign land can actually have a meaningful discussion with a native about Jesus without talking like a 2-year old?  I can’t imagine that frustration, and the patience required.  Or perhaps I can, dimly.

But I don’t know if others can.

For all the talk about how much our culture has changed, I don’t think people really understand what this means in terms of cross-generational work.  What it effectively means is that things take time.  I’m impressed, frankly, with the number of contacts I’ve already made sitting at a rather bare table next to the student cafeteria.  Yesterday I had five different conversations over the course of three hours, which I think is phenomenal!  The week before I only had two brief interactions.  People are beginning to expect me sitting there, which is a good thing.  But it doesn’t sound like much is happening.

Or at least I worry that’s what other people will think.  Nobody coming to church yet.  Nobody coming to midweek activities yet.  Just some conversations and reconnections.  Just some opportunities to demonstrate that I was serious about what I said – that I really would be there the following week at the same time and location.  I’ve gotten two e-mail addresses and have already begun correspondence with two of the students and that’s pretty exciting.  But it’s slow going.  Very slow going.

So, it went well.  And thank you to those who ask.  Please do keep asking!  But if I hesitate in my answer, this is why.  God is good and the Holy Spirit is at work, I trust.  But I may not have much tangible to sustain that trust.

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