I like to use the word “anomaly” to describe the social atmosphere at American University, which is a liberal private university with strong political science and international relations departments. Students pride themselves in being open-minded and accepting of all cultures and backgrounds, and they get a chance to meet people from everywhere from Virginia to Bahrain. Among the 6,000 undergraduates who live on and around campus, students know enough people to not recognize everybody but to still encounter a good handful of acquaintances and friends on a walk across the quad. Chances are good that when they meet a new classmate or fellow activist, they’ll have at least ten mutual Facebook friends already, which makes it easier to connect from the get-go. Once the conversations get deeper, politics, your own adventures abroad, and the cultural implications of the latest blockbuster are all fair game.
God, however, is something that is discussed as something that is “good for you but not for me.” Christians have gotten themselves into all kinds of anthropological, political, and international relational conundrums. Anyway, truth is relative. To each his own, right?
For about a week and a half, though, this social box is shattered. During their first days on campus, none of the new students have friends yet, so they are genuinely eager to meet people, to make connections and to test the waters.
During Fall Kickoff anyone meets everyone. Students ask each other “What’s your name?”, “Where are you from?” and “What’s your major?” until they’re blue in the face. It’s not weird to go for frozen yogurt with someone you met two hours ago and their roommate and their friend from orientation and the guy down the hall and his roommate. It’s not weird to show up for Cones & Chi Alpha – but it’s also not weird to show up in line for a ride from an unknown upperclassman to the off-campus fraternity party with no clue how you’ll get back. This makes Fall Kickoff a more than crucial time in the spiritual lives of the student body and, inevitably, their circles of influence beyond the university campus both domestically and internationally.
An Unforgettable Story
Let me give you an example. I met an incoming freshman, who we’ll call Sean, during Welcome Week when we helped move him and his roommate into their dorm room. Later that night, he came with us to Dinner Out and I got a chance to explain that Chi Alpha is a great community to explore your faith in. He said he had been involved in his Catholic church at home and seemed interested in some faith exploration, so I wasn’t surprised when he showed up regularly to our worship services and heard he was attending a guys’ small group (Bible study).
Only at the end of that school year did I have a chance to ask Sean more about his faith journey and what made him want to stick around Chi Alpha. Come to find out, Sean had been cutting himself, was very disillusioned with his church experience, and would have turned away from God completely. Except that one of the Chi Alpha guys happened to invite him to small group and Sean – in classic Welcome Week spirit – decided to give it a go. And he just didn’t stop going.
Sean will tell you that he became a Christian during his first semester at American University. This summer I have been so encouraged to hear about how God is answering his prayers. In addition to starting a process of personal healing, God has brought Sean’s reluctant parents to his new church, and they loved it. God also allowed Sean to reconnect with his estranged former best friend from high school and tell her about his new faith.
The way that God granted us access to incoming students during Welcome Week has made way for Him to work in and through students who might never have even given Jesus a second thought had it not been for a connection made during those critical first few days on campus.
Our 100 for $100 Project will go towards each of the Chi Alpha Campus Ministries in the DC area and has the potential to transform their Fall Kickoff. Are you interested in donating or reading more? Click here.