Before we left New Hampshire everyone kept telling us how lucky we were to be leaving the snow piles of winter for the warmth of a New Zealand summer. It has been refreshing to play outside after dinner, enjoying long days and birdsong. I will send pictures soon of the flowers here so that my loved ones in the frozen north can enjoy some color! But in terms of ministry, it is a bit shocking to adjust to another crazy fall semester, having just come off one of our own in the U.S. The start of the new school year is always the busiest time on campus, so we’ve been shifting gears back into overdrive to stay ahead of the landslide of nearly 20,000 students returning from summer break. At the same time, we are trying to determine how best to give away the unique aspects of the Lifelines ministry to staff and students who are already feeling the pressure of the fall semester.
A week ago our Lifelines team helped out with a massive Student Life outreach, handing out free “jandals” (flip-flops) on campus to all the students walking by. The goal was to get 3,000 contacts in three days, and I believe we reached it. Students would come by and fill out a brief survey then get fitted for a pair of jandals. A few upperclassmen even came by sporting their jandals from the year before. We had the joy of meeting students from parts of the world I have never even heard of, and more familiar places, like Colby College in Maine, and Susquehanna University, which is my tiny alma mater in Pennsylvania.
The survey card read, “We at Student Life are a relevant group of Christians at universities around New Zealand, who are on the journey toward Jesus.” The tagline was followed by four questions related to a student’s spiritual journey and his or her desire to know Jesus Christ. Several women that I spoke with made a special point of asking to be contacted because they want to get involved with Student Life.
The first occasion for such involvement took place just a few nights later, as students were invited to join another one of Student Life’s main outreaches on campus, which involves handing out sausages and treats to party-going students on the street. This huge outreach afforded more opportunities to hang out and engage in casual spiritual discussions with students.
This Sunday ushered in a host of new opportunities for spiritual growth as world-renown Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias came to the Otago campus. Ravi spoke Sunday at the university’s giant rugby stadium, and has been here with his team throughout the week engaging with students, professors, and community members. His thought-provoking topics have included relativism, violence, suffering, sexual identity, and truth. At Sunday’s main event, Ravi asserted that “the average person today doesn’t care about facts, but feelings.” According to Ravi, a new word has been introduced to the dictionary in 2017: “post-truth”. He said of our culture, “we are even willing to use falsehood and spread lies saying the end we have in mind is a noble end.” Why? This is an indication of the total depravity of the human heart. “Either we live by His law or we become a law unto ourselves,” he warned.
I have read of the challenges for missionaries to unreached people groups who have tried to explain concepts, like sin, that have no translation in that foreign language. We are facing similar challenges today as we try to introduce the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life to a world that has no real concept of truth. The very definition of truth has changed.
Lifelines staff members use experiential activities to produce specific emotions and then help students connect those emotions to Biblical truths. We have found that when students experience the Word and connect with God and the Body of Christ on an emotional level, then it becomes real to them. As I write this, Dan and Mark Lovejoy are rock climbing with a handful of the student leaders and some of their “mates,” leading an experiential program on faith as the students climb and practice some faith and trust on the wall. Before the week is out we will lead two more outings. In a world that places such a high value on feelings, one’s personal experience becomes truth for him or her. We want these students’ experiences to be encounters with Jesus Christ.
With thousands of students to follow up and Lifelines trips scheduled on the weekends, it is all hands on deck. We are excited to have Austin, a recent graduate who is vacationing here in New Zealand, volunteer with us for the next couple of weeks. Jack, the Lovejoy’s oldest son, was recruited to help hand out jandals, and our Micah and Emma spent hours preparing for and serving students at today’s Student Life barbecue while Caleb and Aliza joined in for the clean up.