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Sharing your faith at university

What if we saw the university experience as what it is: a brilliant opportunity to know Jesus and make Him known?

Even if it’s only three or four years of their lives, people come to university with vast expectations. Of course, most of us hope our degrees will help us find exciting and fulfilling work later on—and students are meant to study! But most of us arrive hoping to form deep friendships, to pursue enriching activities outside of their degree and—even if it sounds grand—to begin working out who we are, on our own terms.

In many ways, university is a unique setting for doing all those things. Students step onto campus with a bewildering freedom: now adults, with all the privileges that entails, but few of the weightiest responsibilities! They’re thrown together with an extraordinary variety of people, from a wide range of backgrounds (often other countries) and with a staggering diversity of opinions. They’re immersed in study that probes the world to new, stimulating depths.

Even more than what’s taught in a lecture theatre, student life offers a rich and heady cocktail of experiences that set the tone for how people live, the things they value and what they go on to do.

Often, Christians can see these aspects of university life as a threat to faith. We can paint university as a place of new and unsettling pressures. It’s easy to understand: there’s the anxiety of leaving much-loved home churches and youth groups, the intimidating reputation of freshers’ week and a culture of excess.

But from my experience of working with Christian students (and having been one), that assessment is unfairly bleak! We need not be overwhelmed by fear. Far from being a place where faith is lost, each year working with students I see Christians who mature in their faith, and those who come to trust Jesus for themselves. Year and year, many find that God uses their time as students to help them press into Christ for themselves, and proclaim Him to others.

Every freshers’ week, Christian students can reflect on the truth of Acts 17:26-27: every person who has found themselves at this university—whether by their choice or not—has been placed there by God, that they might reach out and find Him. So, as tempting as it might be to withdraw into the Christian bubble, there is no place like a university for growing close to so many different kinds of people. Christians can trust that they are not there by accident, and that God has put them there with good news to share! And in the friendships they form with others, they have unparalleled opportunities to put the gospel on display.

This takes courage—courage not to give in to fear and develop a bunker mentality, and courage to live and speak for Jesus to the watching world. But again and again, I’ve seen God answering many prayers for this kind of courage. Yes, opposition and rejection are realities for us—as much as they were for Jesus and the Apostles. And yet, I’ve lost count of how many Christian students have found their friends surprisingly interested in Jesus, and willing to find out more! Every year, Christians who invite their friends to open up a gospel with their friends (using resources like Uncover) get the privilege of seeing their friends investigating—and even accepting—Jesus for themselves.

And while we fear that hedonism among students might deafen them to the gospel, more often than not it leaves many desperately thirsty. To those left disappointed and empty by the promises of pleasure, Christians have the very best news to share. And while we’re achingly aware of our inadequacies in sharing Him, the One who offers living water doesn’t need to be made relevant to the thirsty.

Many churches near universities are sacrificial in their ministry to students, investing love, prayer, time and gospel workers into these years, offering a home to Christians arriving in new cities. Across campuses, Christian Unions enable students who love Jesus to pray with and partner together with each other. Displaying precious unity, they put on remarkable outreach events every year. Thousands come to carol services each Christmas, and to mission week events to hear the gospel compellingly presented.

So fear need not set the agenda for how we think about university life. God is at work in the student world! And although they rarely feel like experts, ordinary Christian students prayerfully sharing Jesus find themselves wonderfully involved in what His Spirit is doing.

Niv Lobo works as a CU Staff Worker with students at Southampton and Southampton Solent Universities. Having studied English at University and then worked with a church in Bournemouth, he is convinced that students have unique opportunities to grow in knowing Jesus, and in proclaiming Him to others.

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