Tips From a Campus Minister on Caring for University Students During COVID19

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I take a sip of my freshly pressed coffee and ask a question I’ve asked many times: What is going on?

This is just another meeting, like many others I’ve had throughout the semester, but different in that it is taking place online.  

On the screen in front of me, one of our international students takes a drink from his water bottle and begins telling me about the transition to online coursework. He wears the tired expression of a man weary from the stresses of online studies and working from home with his wife and young daughter in the next room. And his voice wavers slightly as he expresses his disappointment at the cancellation of his commencement ceremony; the uncertainties of finding work after everything wraps up. As our call concludes, we commit to meeting together each Friday to continue our conversation and pray together.  

I down the last of my coffee, sludge and all, and click the end button. The screen goes blank and I write down a note to remind myself to add this regular meeting to my calendar. This is the new normal—at least for now. 

Last week, I wrote a piece considering some creative ways that church and campus ministry leaders could collaborate in serving students as they return home from closed campuses and begin online studies. But what does it look like for every member in a congregation to support students during this pandemic? 

Here are two tangible ways you can come alongside students and support them:

  1. Reach Out. Do you know a college or university student from your congregation? Send them a text message, an email, or (it may sound crazy) a letter or care package. Use whatever format you like, but reach out and check in. Everyone wants to be known and remembered, especially in times of anxiety, confusion, and change. Some churches have made an effort to have families “adopt” students and young adults in the congregation. They commit to checking in, and praying for, one another on a regular basis. If you don’t know a student, or have any in your congregation, reach out to a campus minister and ask if they have any students who would appreciate someone coming alongside them. Having intergenerational engagement, showing care and sharing stories, are crucial for sustaining and strengthening our faith.  
  2. Meet Up. On the heels of the first point, make the effort to meet up with students online. Schedule a hangout on Google, set up a Zoom meeting. Find out where they are and what life is like for them right now. Let them see the reality of your own life (messy house, off-the-wall kids, and all). Be prepared to listen and give space for them to express their fears, frustrations, and doubts—be it about their academic pursuits, work, or faith. Read Scripture, lament, and pray together. Or maybe do something fun, like playing a game. Every person and situation is different, but try to use these unique circumstances to do “life together” in powerful, formative ways—ways that hold the brokenness, sorrow, and struggle of life in our fallen world in tension with the experience (and hope) of healing, joy, and renewed life in Christ and the already and not-yet Kingdom of God. 

My hope is that this post provides some simple, empowering ways for us to support one another, living into that which the author of the book of Hebrews call us: to “consider how we can spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together…but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24-25) 

Tyler Helfers is the campus minister of Areopagus Campus Ministry at Iowa State University, a Resonate Global Mission partner.

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