This is a heartbreaking photo. Look closely. You may miss it.
“If you’re like me, the first time I saw this photo nothing stood out,” Penn State Navigators Staff Trainer/Assistant Director Brad Jones says. “Then I looked closer. Every single student in the picture is by themselves. This is one of the most popular dining areas on campus, at the peak of lunchtime. Headphones on, laptops open, alone. This may be commonplace today, but it is heartbreaking!”
This got Brad thinking about the loneliness epidemic, popularized by former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who stated that loneliness can be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day over your lifespan.
“Students are longing for community, deep friendships, and a place to belong, and at the same time many things are pulling them away from experiencing deep relationships,” Brad says. “There are many reasons—from increased pressure to succeed, to the prevalence of social media and resume-centered lives, to confusion about how to actually build the kind of relationships they long for. Within our ministry at Penn State, we want to do something about this.”
After a year of prayer and re-imagining their ministry structure, Brad says his team re-designed their small group Bible studies to have a greater community emphasis—sharing a weekly meal together, praying and studying Scripture together, and serving others as a group.
“We call them 10:10 teams after John 10:10, where Jesus says, ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’,” Brad says. “We believe that a major aspect of a fulfilled life is experiencing the joy of sharing life together in community, with God and others, and we want to help students experience that!”
So far this year, the 10:10 teams have been a huge success.
“Our freshmen class is one of the closest I’ve seen in 12 years of campus ministry,” Brad says. “Recently, I heard of a freshmen guy in one of our 10:10 teams who placed his faith in Jesus. Though he wasn’t a Christian when he came to Penn State, he was drawn into the community through his roommate, who himself became a Christian at our fall retreat. Through this invitation to their 10:10 weekly lunch, he was connected to other followers of Jesus who lovingly shared and lived out the gospel. God used that experience and those people to lead these two young men to experience abundant life in Jesus!”
Brad says this freshmen class is also remarkably missional.
“They did a great job of inviting new people, new believers, and nonbelievers into their community, and several of the students developed a passion for sharing their faith with students on campus too,” Brad says. “We’re so excited about the people God has entrusted to us in this class, and these students are defying the stereotype that this generation is all about themselves and prefers screen time over face-to-face relationships. God is doing something amazing at Penn State!”
Please pray that God would fulfill John 10:10 in the Penn State Navigators, that students in the community would experience the abundant life that Jesus promises. Pray that more students will be drawn irresistibly into community with The Navigators, and ultimately with God Himself.