Impacting the Campuses

The vision of UESI has steered our path to the university campuses of India for the past many years. We stress on our focused ministerial approach and we talk big about our time-tested approaches to reach the university campuses. We celebrate almost 70 years of our presence in India and especially in the Indian universities. However, if we take the university and the nation as a whole, the ‘impacting’ part of our vision is still blurred. Except for few individual success stories; we as a movement are not making a significant impact on the university campuses of our nation. To some extent, we are successful in ‘students reaching students,’ but the challenge before us is ‘engaging the whole university. Our zeal to evangelise the university students has made our approach largely people-centric, while we have neglected to influence the whole system, called ‘university,’ where students live, think, learn, and their personalities are moulded and nurtured. Our past attempts were limited to critiquing and countering the harmful and the ‘unbiblical’ endeavours of the university, but we seldom appreciate the beneficial undertakings of these knowledge societies. Our relationship with the university is rather unfriendly and unsupportive. Our evangelisation attempts at the university can be tagged as ‘sheep-stealing’. We’ve given back to the university rather a few Christian personals, those who can influence and transform the existing system with their Christian convictions. Our Christian personals at the university, both students and professors, are rather strong in their Christian doctrines but they are less equipped to articulate their Christian faith amidst the ever-changing culture at the university. Engaging the whole university is to bring Christ and His teaching into what all university is, does and prospects. In the changing socio-political scenario of our nation, it is a real challenge to engage the whole university. Yet our vision compels us to focus on the ‘impacting’ part during our presence on the campuses. To make this necessary shift; we have to correct our approach, bring change in our outlook, and rework our teaching methods.

In 2007, at the World Assembly in Toronto, Canada, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the IFES movement; the then IFES General Secretary Daniel Bourdanné challenged to take the world of the university seriously. He gave an illustration of the university as an ‘ecosystem of a lake’.

He suggested that the university student ministry should concern itself not with how just to get fish from the lake, but instead reach out to the whole ecosystem of the lake.

In UESI, our attempts are: to pull the fishes out of the lake, count them, train them to live in the aquarium called ‘EU,’ make them busy with many inward-looking events, and on occasions send them into the lake to bring more fishes from the lake. In all these, the lake remains untouched. Daniel suggested that the university student ministry is not about catching fish, but also about studying the ecology of the lake, cleaning up its polluted waters, and making it more conducive to the flourishing of marine and plant life. We throw the fish back into the lake, equipped to engage in transforming the ecosystem of the lake.

We have to correct our approach in the way we get involved with the university. ‘Catching’ or ‘stealing’ students and professors from the university and nurturing them in the aquariums called ‘EU’ and ‘EGF’ will make our Christian personals alien to the university. Apart from their academics, they feel incompatible in their universities. Conversely, the universities consider them incongruent in their system due to their exclusive faith claims. Therefore, the universities and our Christian personals are outfacing each other when it comes to the matters of principles and values. Our Christian personals feel off-guard to impact what a university is, does and prospects: teaching, curriculum, research, social and political engagement, the classroom and all the supporting facets of a university administration.

The most prevalent response in such a situation is; that students and professors make their Christian faith as personal affairs and not articulate it in the university affairs. They have a limited engagement with the university. Therefore, students and faculty’s gifts and scholarships are overlooked to advance the Kingdom of God in the university. The university student ministry exists in the margin while the centre of the university remains untouched. Another standard response is sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ in personal conversations or vocally in public events. In these evangelistic efforts, we win few people for Christ yet the heart of what the university is and does remains untouched. In this model, there is no connection between the Christian faith and the curriculum or the research agendas or the university’s conversation in the public sphere. We lose those students who question the relevance of Christian faith with what we study, what university does, what research is all about etc. The third celebrated response is a defensive and reactive apologetic model. This model identifies those academic or moral developments in the university that threatens the Christian faith; find Christian persons from inside or outside of academia who have authority to appraise and to apprise such threats, inviting such persons to mount a defence within the university or to equip students, graduates or staff workers with strategies or books or materials that convey authoritative defence. This model goes into the centre of the university, and touches what the university does: the curriculum, critical thinking etc.; however, due to its basic orientation, it aggressively defends the Christian faith and creates a ‘we and you’ air within the campus. It is not supportive to the beneficial endeavours of the university and doesn’t celebrate God’s wonder that happens within the university: like in literature, history, nanotechnology, post-colonialism, ethnomusicology, economics, biotechnology etc.

Terance Halliday and Vinoth Ramchandran propose the dialogic model of ministry where the Christian personals enter into conversation with the university. It engages the mind on both sides. According to Halliday,

“We are called, first, to think “Christianly” about everything that goes on in the university. We are called, second, to enter into conversations with all others on the campus—undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff. These are conversations about the issues the university is thinking about and the curriculum the university is teaching. These are conversations or dialogs that are infused by faith.”

Ramchandran states that the university ministry is a distinctive calling. He advocates that the dialogic model comprehensively reaches to all that university is, does and prospects in teaching, research, administration, social and political engagement in the public sphere etc. The light of Christ touches every corner of the university. It respects the intellectual gifts of the students and faculty, celebrates the university’s beneficial endeavours, listens carefully to carry on respectful conversations, and touches the heart of the university. It brings students and faculty to the frontiers and prepares them for the positions of leadership not just in their profession, but in society, in government, in public service, in the corporate sector, in the market, and in media. Such thoughtful conversations bring the Christian values, Christian teachings, and ultimately Christ back to the world of university.

The ministerial approach of Paul illustratively demonstrates traits of the dialogic approach. Paul usually starts with the proper study of the system of the city (Acts 17:16; 1 Cor. 2:1-5); finding the core issue that pollutes the ecosystem of that city (Acts 13:6-8; 17:16, 24; 19:24-27); than starts conversations with the people through preaching (Acts 13:16-41; 22:1-21) or public lecture (Acts 17:22-31; 19:9-10) or living witness (1 Thess. 2:9); bringing Christ and Christian values into conversations and making attempts to clean the waters (Acts 14:14-17; 17:23, 29-31; 19:26); later hand over the matters to the church to continue their engagement and impact to transform the ecosystems of their cities. Paul through personal inquiries, prayers and writing letters further equipped the churches for their continuous witness and impact in their cities.

Alike any other approach, it is imperative to train our Christian university personnel for the dialogic ministry. UESI has to involve in surveys and research to study the culture of the university; to appraise modes of teaching and training; use the common resources to build a bridge of conversations; making the Christian faith relevant to what the university is and does. We have to bring findings of survey and research, issues of academia, society and politics into our believers and graduate Bible study cells, discipleship and leadership training camps, study centres, graduate conferences etc. for discussion and deliberation, to find out the relevance of our Christian faith into those issues, to train our students to initiate and involve into conversations actively and courageously in their campuses.

Students and professors can use their expertise to study their campus and university affairs; find the polluting factors that affect the ecosystem of the university; prayerfully and wisely start conversations through all possible means, like starting classroom discussions, writing in magazines or on college display boards, participating in debates and open forums, raising pertaining issues regarding curriculum, research, administration, hostel etc. In all these matters students and professors start thinking ‘Christianly’ and courageously engage in dialogues to bring Christ back to their campuses and to make the university and its affairs more humane and just.

Ankit L. Harry, was Staff Worker with UESI Gujarat for 18 years. Currently he is working as an Assistant Professor at Allahabad Bible Seminary. He is also serving as Chairperson of SPEC in UESI-UP.

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