25 Sep Engaging the University
UESI’s ministry is primarily with the college and University students which are reflected in its vision, viz:
“Transformed students impacting the campuses and nation as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.” To impact the university campuses it is imperative on our part to engage with the university. In our ministry generally the abovementioned vision gets translated in terms of the following activities which are also shaped by the 4 aims.
1. Reaching out to students with the Gospel of Christ includes personal evangelism, lifestyle or friendship evangelism, organizing
evangelistic events in the campus in forms of evangelistic Bible studies, programmes, etc.
2. Discipling the students towards maturity in faith through fellowship, believers’ Bible Studies, equipping them in leadership skills, and mentoring, etc.
3. Raising testimony in the campus by doing some social service actions, raising awareness on pertinent issues like dowry, corruption, and integrity, etc.
4. Imparting a missionary vision among students through special trainings, conferences and literature, etc. to motivate and mobilize them towards Mission.
If we take some time to ponder upon the ways of our engagement it would become clear that all the above activities are mainly geared
to the students, that too, to a small miniscule of the total student community. It is true that students constitute the most significant part of the university, but they are only a part. The whole consists of many other significant parts namely the faculty, the academic disciplines, research studies, and laboratories, books and papers published, library, extra-curricular activities like annual festivals, cultural events – dance, drama, music, sports, student bodies elections, the ideologies which are taught in the lecture rooms and practised in various forms in the life of the campus, etc. All of the above make the university a university. Does our engagement with the university encompass those spheres or groups? It will not be an exaggeration to say that large portions of university life remain
untouched by our ministry. We can notice a big disconnect. The reasons for this disconnect can be many but I would like to highlight just two:-
a) A narrow understanding of the Gospel seen only in terms of personal salvation. The Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus preached was of a comprehensive nature which has consequences for the whole of Creation. Paul emphasizes this truth in writing to the Colossians in
1:15-20 by repeating the term “all things” several times. Dr Vinoth Ramachandra writing about its implications for the University
context says, “The Good News of the in-breaking reign of God in Jesus to heal, renew and recreate His broken world is far, far bigger
than a message of individual salvation. It has been my pastoral experience that if students are exposed to a Gospel presented in purely individualistic terms (‘being born again’, ‘Christ died for my sins’, ‘justification by faith’, ‘going to heaven’, etc.) it is quite difficult to move them to a point where they see how their academic studies, social involvements, political attitudes or economic behaviour have anything at all to do with the Gospel.” The second reason for the disconnect is on account of
b) A divided understanding of life in terms of ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ Mark Greene, who served as Head of London Institute of Contemporary Christianity and author of the book “Thank God it is Monday” defines it as SSD -“ SSD is the sacred-secular divide:
the pervasive belief that some parts of our life are not really important to God – work, school, leisure – but anything to do with prayer, church services, churchbased activities is.” Because of such belief our engagement in the University also neatly divides our activities into those two realms. Bible studies, Prayer cells, Evangelistic, Discipleship and Leadership training camps, outreach programs etc. fall within “Sacred” whereas our studies and assignments, research and term papers, political debates and discussions and all other forms
of extra-curricular activities fall within the domain of “secular” which we perform none the less but do not see them as part of our student ministry in the campus. What’s the way out then? We need to catch a vision of the Kingdom of God that Christ preached and came to establish on this earth. (Luke 4:43) Such an integral understanding of life and universe will bring about a paradigm shift in our ministry. It will bring a radical change in the activities that we do in the campus. We will work towards impacting all things in the university with the truths of God and work towards bringing them closer to God’s intentions. This would mean:
We would apply the principle of “viewing all of life from God’s perspective” into our disciplines of study. In practical terms it would mean that a student of sociology is equipped with the vision and tools to study social theories, social institutions and social change from the perspective of truths revealed in the Bible. A student would thus not see his subject in separation from his faith but try to apply the knowledge of God’s truth in understanding his discipline in order to contribute positively to needed changes in society through his discipline of study. This would help the students in developing an integral perspective towards life, academic studies and vocation.
ii) A Dialogical Model
Terrence C. Halliday in his paper titled –“A 21st Century Vision of IFES Ministries to the Great Universities of the Nations and the World” proposes an approach of “Engaging the whole university” through a dialogical model of engagement. I would like to quote some relevant excerpts from his paper on what such dialogic engagement or conversation with the University would mean-
There are six principal features of a Dialogic Model:
1. It is proactive. It brings Christ to the great issues of major universities and the great issues to Christ.
2. It nurtures Christian students and engages Christian faculty.
3. It respects the intellectual gifts of the students and faculty who inhabit the leading universities of every nation.
4. It is relevant; insofar as it takes on the big conversations of the day at the very moment they are being formulated and debated at
5. It listens as well as speaks, insofar as it seeks to carry on respectful conversations with Christians and non-Christians alike.
6. It celebrates intellectual community – the common cause of faculty and students – that is characteristic of great research universities. This might bring Christians into cooperation with non-religious or other religious communities on campus.”
Vinoth Ramachandra also includes Dialogue as the key component of an authentic mission. He says, “To be dialogical is to be in two way conversation: allowing the academic disciplines of the university to speak into our faith and, at the same time, articulating our faith intelligently, humbly, relevantly and boldly into, those academic disciplines. We should seek to promote, wherever we can, the
dialogue between Christian faith and science, faith and economics, faith and political philosophy, and so on. The disconnect between our faith and academics must disappear and the false dichotomy of the sacred and secular must be overcome to live all of life as a whole. Then through our ministry we will be able to share the whole Gospel to the whole university.
Raaj Mondol works with Salt Initiatives, based in Delhi. He has been associated with UESI as student and graduate for years.