As summer fades into fall and students across the United States return to university campuses, many colleges find themselves grappling with the impact of COVID-19 and social justice issues. To say the least, 2020 has been a challenging year for all—and adapting to a changing ministry context is something the campus ministry staff of Areopagus, a Resonate Global Mission partner on the campus of Iowa State University, has spent countless hours discussing and planning.
The past months on Iowa State University’s campus have looked different from previous years. Students who normally pack campus sidewalks have sadly been missing this year. A late-summer windstorm also affected the campus and surrounding community as power was cut off for days. However, no matter what our world may look like, celebrating God’s grace in the world of higher education is something Areopagus continuously strives to keep in the forefront of their mission.
Throughout the summer of 2020, Areopagus campus pastor, Tyler Helfers, found himself asking two questions:
How do I best serve our students, faculty, and staff at Iowa State University during this difficult time?
How do I best service our church?
These two questions were brought into focus through a summer book discussion. While many voices throughout the US rang out for justice and social change, Tyler sought to engage his students with a Christian voice. They dove into John Perkins’ book, One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love. Due to restrictions brought on by COVID-19, this group met over Zoom. Students joined in the discussion from three universities: Dordt University, Iowa State University, and Queen’s University in Ontario. Students representing three countries—Canada, Nigeria, and the United States—participated. Even though discussions were held virtually and looked quite different from the past, this group was challenged to imagine the ways in which true justice can take root and shape their own churches and communities.
Another way in which Areopagus has embraced our changing context came in the form of online discussion videos based on the gospel of Mark. Conversations took place over the summer months between campus ministers from Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, and Ontario. Each chapter of Mark was discussed and provided students with a valuable example of how to read, study, and interpret Scripture. Now that students have returned to campus, Areogapus encourages students to participate in the life of Trinity CRC in Ames. Invitations to the churches annual “Welcome Back” picnic have been sent out. The picnic is held outside on the Sunday before classes begin.
One very important aspect of campus ministry is to gather students, faculty, and staff into fellowship with Jesus Christ and other members of his body. Building this fellowship begins with a group of graduate students who are participating in Meals from the Heartland in Des Moines. Meals from the Heartland involves students helping to package meals for those in areas of our country where the COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard.
Although they remain ready to pivot at any time, Iowa State University began the 2020-21 school year with both in-person and online learning. As students return to campus, the ministry will focus on the book of Daniel, exploring what it means to be Christians on mission in a non-Christian culture. In addition to leading the student body, Tyler will continue to lead a Bible study at Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity. Many of those living in the fraternity house have not been in community with other believers to worship or study Scripture since the pandemic hit. It is encouraging for Areopagus to hear the eagerness these young men have for learning from God’s word.
As with most things this year, Iowa State University is aware that uncertainties remain. Pray Areopagus will find meaningful ways to minister to and connect with all students, especially their international student population. Pray also for the faculty and staff as they strive to provide a great education while also struggling with their own anxieties concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.
As students, parents, faculty, staff, and campus ministries look ahead to the coming year, strength can most certainly be drawn from the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism:
Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong-body and soul, in life and in death-to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
What a comfort not only for us during a global pandemic, but a comfort for each and every believer.
Written by Marianne Giebel, Administrative Assistant for Resonate Global Mission’s Central USA region