I remember my first weekend as a student at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. I was too shy to fully participate in the many freshman bonding activities the university offered, so I missed out on that crucial window of time when initial friendships most easily form among new students. I would often hang out in my dorm room in Flint Hall with the door open, hoping someone from my floor would stop by and say hello, but no one really did.
I remember knowing at that time that my faith was in crisis. Though I grew up going to church, I realized that I didn’t have a true relationship with God, and I wasn’t really sure what to do about it. I had enough trouble with human relationships; how was I supposed to have one with someone I couldn’t even see?
I remember attending the Baptist Campus Ministry’s on-campus worship service for the first time, at the invitation of a few fellow freshmen. The other students there were so welcoming and really made an effort to get to know me. As I continued to attend worship services and began joining them for Bible study, I felt like I understood God’s grace for the first time and what it means to know Him.
I remember being baptized in the pool in Archbold Gymnasium. I had been “sprinkled” in the Presbyterian church as a child, but after truly committing my life to Christ, I felt led to participate in believer’s baptism. I made a promise to God that I would never turn my back on Him again.
I remember going to Baltimore for my first-ever mission trip during spring break of my freshman year. One day, I paired up with my collegiate minister to share the Gospel with students at the University of Maryland. I was shocked that not only was he boldly approaching students to strike up conversations about Jesus, but that most of those students were interested in talking!
I remember teaching a Tuesday night Bible study in Hendricks Chapel with an older student. I had never led a Bible study before, but she showed me how to dig into Scripture and ask questions to encourage group discussion.
I remember wheeling sound equipment from the chapel to Gifford Auditorium every Sunday for our worship service. The buildings were close together, but during Syracuse winters when the campus was covered in six inches of snow, the trip was treacherous at times. I served as a worship leader at our church for two years, and had the opportunity to encourage younger students to use their gifts on the worship team.
I remember waking up early on Friday mornings (even though I didn’t have classes that day!) to meet with a small group to memorize Scripture. We sat in the windowsills of the chapel and worked our way through the first part of Romans 5 that semester.
I remember meeting one-on-one with older students and staff over bubble tea on Marshall Street. Those women poured into me and helped me truly understand the love of Christ. Later on, I met with younger ladies one-on-one myself, to love them and walk with them through their own journeys.
I remember attempting to teach an ESL class for South Asian women during a spring break mission trip to New York City. Everything about that experience was outside my comfort zone, but it made me realize that we don’t have to go across the world to fulfill our obligation to reach the nations.
Now, five years after graduation, I am heavily involved in a small church revitalization and thank God for the leadership opportunities He continues to give me there. I’m also grateful to be serving the SBC as an employee of the Executive Committee. I really don’t know where I’d be—or who I’d be—if God hadn’t brought me to the Baptist Campus Ministry at Syracuse.
The college environment is unique. Students are desperately seeking authentic relationships, searching for meaning in their lives, and trying to figure out their futures, all while being constantly inundated with competing ideas and worldviews. In many cases, you only have four years to earn the right to influence their lives, introduce them to Jesus, and equip them to become multiplying disciples. It’s not an easy task, but the return is incalculable.
Off the top of my head, I can name seven in my circle of friends from the Syracuse University BCM who have gotten involved in Southern Baptist ministries in various ways: four have been IMB Journeymen, two have attended an SBC seminary, four have served or are currently serving as collegiate ministers in partnership with the Baptist Convention of New York, one is a NAMB church planter, and one works for an SBC entity. But that’s only a small part of the story. Countless alumni have become leaders in their local churches or participated in church plants because they were uniquely equipped to do so through collegiate ministry.
Mine is just one story from one college. Through my work with the Executive Committee and relationships with other campus ministers, I have heard amazing stories from schools around the country. Relationships are being built. Students are being saved. Leaders are being trained. Disciples are being made. God is using collegiate ministry to change lives, and the Kingdom is stronger for it.
Rebecca Wolford is communications specialist with the SBC Executive Committee and is a member of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee.