Why don’t we just have Bible studies in central locations for people to attend? Why do we have Bible studies in the dorms?
As the campus directors at the University of California in Irvine, my husband, RJ, and I often are asked these questions by our students. The answer is simple—we go to where students live—because we want to reach college students where they live, work, and play. College dorms provide a unique opportunity for connecting with diverse people, Christians and non-Christians, living everyday life in close proximity to one another.
Last year, RJ and a few of our key students, Marlyd, Grant, and Nathan, began faithfully going into the dorm Niebla. With the blessing of the resident advisor of Niebla and another key student, they set out to recruit freshmen to join them for an investigative Bible study in the book of John. Week after week they would bring snacks and host game nights to form relationships with residents of the dorm, and week after week when it came time to read the Bible, freshmen would scamper off to their dorm rooms needing to “study.”
The investment of time in relationship-building could have been considered a waste of time. No one seemed interested in studying the Bible, just the games and snacks. It would be easier to just gather those who were already Christians from the dorm to participate in an outside Bible study—if only having a Bible study was the end goal. But our overarching purpose is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and help others grow in Him through Life-to-Life® discipleship. We want to see the gospel of Jesus powerfully move into places that it has not reached before, including dorms! And because this is our end goal, we are committed to discipling our students to faithfully live and disciple among the lost. We encourage them to keep going, even when it is difficult, even when they keep getting rejected, even when it seems to yield little fruit, and even when it is costly. Especially when it is costly.
After weeks of game nights, we noticed some regular faces and got to know the people behind these faces. There was one young woman who had a Catholic background. Another young woman had knowledge of Christianity in her past but was currently wrestling with the cost of following Jesus. There were two other young women who came regularly but didn’t have any context for knowing Jesus. Three young men connected in relationship, some who didn’t know Jesus and one who had family members who followed Jesus. Several students starting reading the Bible together. What kept them coming back were the relationships formed with men and women who knew Jesus and lived radical God-honoring lives among them.
Marlyd, one of our student leaders, began discipling two of these women, challenging them to consider their beliefs about God, helping them grow in knowing Jesus and living lives that are honoring to Him. They took the risk and joined our larger Navigator family for a retreat on godly marriage, relationships, and dating (even though some admittedly disagreed with what we shared). They even helped in recruiting efforts for new students during Welcome Week last fall and continue to attend our weekly large group meetings.
The biggest surprise was a student who didn’t yet follow Jesus but decided to join a group of men for a 10-week rigorous intensive on biblical manhood. We trusted that he would give his life to Jesus as he heard truth and saw faith lived out around him. Eventually he did! His choice to follow Jesus showed our team that even people who seem unlikely disciples may choose to follow Jesus when given the opportunity. Praise the Lord!
Had we pulled all of the Christians from the dorm into an outside Bible study or given up on going into the dorm because it seemed to lack fruitfulness, we would have never been able to see God transform the lives of these students who needed the hope of Jesus Christ!
Had our ministry been only to Christians, our key students would not have had their faith tested in the same way. They would have missed out on the valuable experience of being discipled in living and discipling among the lost, so that they can continue that lifestyle throughout the seasons of their lives.
Though the initial fruit may not seem plentiful, we are trusting God for a mighty movement of His Spirit to continue to multiply those who would give their lives to living out our motto, “To know Christ, make Him known, and help others do the same.®”
Pray that incoming freshmen and returning students would meet Navigators Collegiate staff and students as they settle into the rhythm of college life. Pray that God would open the door for the gospel in the lives and hearts of college students all over the world.
**Photos courtesy of Sean Sheridan**