Since Shawna and Alex Ellis started serving with Navigators Collegiate at the University of North Florida, they have prayed Isaiah 60:22 over the campus: “The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.”
University of North Florida (UNF) is not as large or well-known as other Florida universities, but the relaxed vibe on campus means that students take time to connect. Shawna shares, “Students are really hungry and open to learning. While some students grew up in churched or believing families, it is just as common to meet students who have never heard the gospel or don’t have a relationship with God. It is a laid-back campus—having the beach nearby definitely adds to the relaxed atmosphere! Students are willing to take the time to engage in a conversation and talk about spiritual things.”
After six years on campus, Shawna and Alex have had the privilege of seeing spiritual generations of disciplemakers grow and continue a life of following Christ.
Ellie, who graduated in 2019, reflects on her spiritual growth during college: “I feel like a classic case of The Navigators. I joined a freshman Bible study my first semester. Shawna was my leader, and Maggie (now my best friend) was learning to lead from Shawna. I joined leadership the next year and was a freshman Bible study leader under Maggie. Then I started discipling Katelin and we met for more than two years. Sometimes I would put pressure on myself to be perfect as I discipled Katelin. I learned that growth is a process and when I was real and honest, we could grow together.”
The spiritual generations of disciplemakers continue to multiply at UNF. Katelin, who recently graduated, was faithful and receptive and led a Bible study, intentionally investing in younger women. Katelin talks about what she learned and has passed on to others: “I learned from Ellie what intentionality and vulnerability looked like. When I opened up to the girls I led, we were able to have deeper conversations about how the Lord was moving in our lives and look to Scripture as our guide. I learned how to lead by example in these areas both with college girls and those from my home church.”
Navigators Collegiate equips students To know Christ, make Him known and help others do the same®, beyond their college years. Now that she has been out of college for a year and working, Ellie talks about the transition: “I’ve realized it is easy to be complacent—to wake up, do the daily routine, come home, eat dinner, and watch Netflix—and not get excited about God-given hopes and dreams. I challenge myself to find the joy in each day, and to keep dreaming even when I’m tired at the end of the day. Spending daily time with the Lord is the most valuable part of my day, even though this is still hard for me. The days I’m not in the Word or memorizing Scripture feel bland and always more difficult at work. But the Lord is faithful, even if I only spend a short time with Him in the morning!”
Katelin also talks about the post-college transition, saying, “Ellie’s been super intentional about spending time together since we’ve both graduated, even though it is different from being in school together. She has set an example for me on how to continue discipleship post-graduation.”
In addition to preparing students to grow as lifelong disciplemakers, Shawna talks about how they emphasize sharing with non-believing friends: “Every year we talk about reading the Gospel of John with a non-believing friend, and challenge each student in our ministry to take the risk and try it! It is amazing to see our students brainstorm who they could ask and then follow through and start reading the Bible with their friend or family member! Over the past few years, our students have read the Bible with their roommates, classmates, co-workers, parents, siblings, high school friends back home, and international students. Our hope is this will help them to ‘make Christ known’ now in college in the campus ministry setting, but even more so, for a lifetime wherever they go.”
Pray for college students who are headed to campus this fall, for in-person and online classes. Pray that Navigators Collegiate will creatively connect with new students and continue to help them to establish a firm foundation of faith and a strong relationship with God.