21 Nov A CREATIVE MINORITY – ‘ENGAGING DEEPLY, YET DISTINCTIVELY’
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 NIV
Four years of campus life changed me inside out – a journey that turned out to be more than an academic exercise. I was experiencing life raw for the first time since childhood. Strangers. Lovers. Emotions. Celebrations. Gospel. Evil. Death. Yes! All of that in one go gave a glimpse of life ahead.
The first year of college life took me to a primier national Institute of Technology in 2009. The believing students group was small back then with hardly 5-7 students. Despite being few in number, we eagerly prayed and worked toward reaching out to more students. As a principle, the engagement of students was restricted to academics and Scripture-related activities. Other involvements were considered unproductive.
It was during those days that I heard the terrible news of a college senior’s suicide. The memory of the coldness that gripped our hearts is still alive. I had briefly interacted with him and to grasp that he took his own life was difficult. Even though we used to pray and share the Gospel with the students of the campus, we did not do anything beyond that to address the issue of suicides and other student challenges. It was encouraging to see another Youth group put up a ‘Pro-Life’ kiosk within the campus during the cultural festival of NIT Calicut. The stall spoke about the sanctity of life and how abortion is nothing less than murder. Still, we as believing students didn’t engage in such issues or college activities fearing that they were a waste of time.
As the second year arrived, I was determined to leave my comfort zone to see how I could be involved in activities for the common good. God gave me opportunities to learn design and I, later on, started involving in the Campus Quiz Club as a designer. That platform further provided an opening to design brochures and posters for the cultural fest of NIT Calicut. By the third year, the friend circle grew as Lord used my skills in organizing major parts of the technical fest of the campus as well. The larger circle of influence among non-believers opened ways to talk about God, Kingdom values, and the Christian worldview. There would be times when 10-15 of my friends would attempt to corner me with questions of faith, religion, and my take on various issues. Through building relationships with more students, I was able to present myself as someone who was serious about Jesus Christ and saw all of life as God would. These initiatives were not wholeheartedly supported by the seniors back then due to their convictions on-campus engagement which was limited to sharing the gospel. But somewhere deep inside, the Lord’s promptings led me to engage more.
By the end of the third year, a few college seniors approached me to lead a task group to set up a support system for mentally and academically weak students on the campus. Initially, I hesitated to join the team as my EU seniors were not supportive. They were of the opinion that only the Gospel needs to be our focus and not counselling or encouragement. But, convinced that the opportunity, offered to befriend new students and help those in need, I took up the challenge prayerfully. After persistent efforts of advocacy and persuasion among deans and faculties lasting a year, the college set up its first student support system called the Student Guidance Cell (https://www.sgc.nitc.ac.in/). The Cell went on to bless many who were struggling academically and mentally. The system mainly consisted of a team of volunteers who identified struggling students, organized a series of tuition classes for those lagging in academics, and facilitated one-to-one counseling with trained counselors hired under the cell. It was encouraging to see that EU folks and other believers, years later, understood the potential of the platform to witness Christ and be instrumental in healing the lives of those in need.
Looking back at those years, I want to be honest in saying that it wasn’t clear-cut doctrines or teachings that drove me to take up initiatives, but rather the nudges I felt daily from the Spirit of God. To be out in the world was never easy either as there were many places where I failed as an ambassador of God – words, thoughts, and actions. In a circle of non-believers, greater are the temptations and greater the discipline required to ‘be in the world but not of the world’.
The role of the EU as a ‘creative minority*’ comes here as the call of the Christian community is to imitate Christ in a world broken and lost, irrespective of the risk it entails.
As in the words of a Jewish Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, “to become a creative minority is not easy because it involves maintaining strong links with the outside world while staying true to your faith, seeking not merely to keep the sacred flame burning but also to transform the larger society of which we are apart. This is a demanding and risk-laden choice.”
Being part of a creative minority involves understanding our calling as Christians. Church as the renewed humanity, acting as ‘salt and light’, is showing the world glimpses of what the New Earth will look like one day. Salt was used in those days as a preservative more than a tastemaker. Its function was to prevent decay in edible products. Once the salt is added, it is not visible to our eyes; but its presence is felt through its function. When God calls us to be salt, it means to be out there in the world preventing decay and overcoming evil with good. On our campuses, where the ‘powers and principalities of this age are at play, God is calling us to prevent destructive ideas and act as agents of redemption in the lives of students. Suicides, alcoholism, ragging, physical abuse, campus violence, academic issues, insecurities, ideologies of atheism, and other consequence of evil demands a compassionate response from the child of God. It requires a wholehearted dive into campus life. Likewise, the call to be the ‘light of the world’ takes strength from above to talk about why we do what we do. Thus, we as believers can become a creative minority by promoting Kingdom values on campus – individually and collectively.
The journey of imitating Christ is not easy; it is costly and troublesome. Jesus warns us of mockery, temptations, and ridicule through His life. As believers, collective engagement and support for each other can cater to these issues. Moving away from absolute discouragement of involving in campus initiatives to a more holistic engagement has to be pursued. Our believers’ fellowship will act as the support system for fulfilling the call to be ‘salt and light’ on campuses.
In a self-centered world, ‘I, me, myself Christianity’ is gaining popularity where Christ becomes a mere ticket to eternal world. As the UESI family nurtures the next generation of leaders of Church and Society, we need to consciously address these trends. When imitating Christ is practiced right from campuses, students will be molded to witness to the world holistically. We will fulfil God’s plan in creating a new breed of humanity, consisting of professionals, teachers, civil servants, pastors, and others, who will usher in God’s Kingdom on earth. They can go on to be part of ‘creative minorities’ as churches and communities enabling the healing of the world. The Clapham sect led by William Wilberforce in the 19th Century is an apt example of such a collective, pivotal in the abolishment of the slave trade in England. Their strong convictions on religious missions and social activism led to the founding of organizations such as the British and Foreign Bible Society, Church Missionary Society, and the Small Debt Society to name a few. The world desperately needs redemption through such covenantal communities who will witness in contexts of spiritual brokenness, material poverty, and prevailing injustice. Let me close with a quotation by Os Guinness – “What changes the world is not a fully developed Christian worldview, but a worldview actually lived; in other words, Christian lives that are the Word made flesh again.” May the Lord of all creation, enable today’s EUs to reflect Christ on the campuses through deep and distinct engagement in their campuses.
*- A Creative Minority is a Christian community in a web of stubbornly loyal relationships, knotted together in a living network of persons who are committed to practicing the way of Jesus together for the renewal of the world. [A Creative Minority: Influencing Culture Through Redemptive Participation by Jon Tyson and Heather Grizzle.]
Dipin V Panicker is a software engineer turned policy consultant working with Govt of Meghalaya in the area of skill development, livelihoods and entrepreneurship. He is married to Rijo Ann Varghese who s an IT professional. He is currently the Chairperson of EU2EGF Transition Task Group, NEGF Committee, UESI.