“Woah. That guy would never have come to a Student Life event,” Dre said of one of the non-Christian students who came rock climbing last Saturday. The Student Life director in Dunedin, Dre was elated to see non-believers, new believers, and strong believers enjoying each other and talking seriously about faith.
“This is fun; it doesn’t even feel like work—but I get five hours to build relationships with these guys.” Although five hours may not seem like much, it is extensive compared to the common hour-long appointments squeezed in between students’ classes. More importantly, these students have the chance to experience the nature of Christ, becoming the recipients of His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness—all His attributes—displayed through the community of believers as we serve them and engage in meaningful conversations.
There is a desperate need for authentic Christ-centered community across the globe. Here on the party campus of Otago University in Dunedin, students face an intense culture of binge drinking and raging sexual promiscuity. The student guys will commonly drink 30 beers in an evening. Women, too, struggle with binge drinking on a smaller scale, but it is the inhibition that accompanies drinking that poses the bigger issues; our staff women told us that the average woman at Otago University has 19 sexual partners each year. The rate for men is likely higher.
We are created for community. The need to be in relationship sometimes drives us to pursue community through sports or book clubs, or through drinking buddies and one-night stands. Apart from Christ and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, every community will fall short of what it is designed to be. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15,16). Through outdoor programs, we encourage Christian students to live together in authentic community which reflects Christ, and we strive to give non-Christian students the opportunity to experience a Christ-centered community for perhaps the first time ever so that they may “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
Twelve Otago students have accepted Christ in the past few weeks. Seventy students attended the Student Life opening barbecue, and fifty showed up the following week for the first Action Group. The Body of Christ is compelling.
Darren is one of the students who accepted Christ a week ago. On Saturday, he and several new and not-yet believers joined us at Sandfly Beach for a program about community. More than twenty people took part in a giant sand-castle building effort, followed by sand-dune jumping and a pick-up game of rugby. “What will you do to invest in this community back on campus?” We asked when wrapping up the event. In response, Darren invited Patrick, a new student with a mixed religious background, to join him at church the following day.
Both men biked through the rain to attend our church service. There, they heard again the message of salvation, and they were welcomed by a new group of believers who were different in make-up—mostly working adults, retirees, and families—but similar in the love of Christ to the students they have met in Student Life. They experienced the diverse Body of Christ that is truly united through the One God who is at work in each of us.