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“Chaplain, you are the reason we are still here,” the student said.

“Thanks, but you don’t need to  exaggerate,” I replied.

“I’m not exaggerating,” he said.

Others in the room agreed.  

Many of them are international students here at Medicine Hat College in Alberta. International students pay triple the tuition of domestic students, struggling with the high cost of living in a new land. Lonely and isolated, they congregate in the Interfaith Centre where I work as a chaplain—the only minister on campus.

Here they find, and here they forge, a new community. Here they find a regular supply of food and hygiene items in the food pantry I organize. Twice a week they receive bread, donuts, cinnamon buns, and savory foods from a local bakery and tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers from a local greenhouse. Sometimes they find onions and other vegetables as well. 

Chaplaincy has connected them with churches and other resources in the community. Their beds are covered with handmade quilts from the woman’s quilting group at a local church. They come in, they sit down, they begin  to cry. We talk, and they talk amongst themselves, they get up and leave—smiling, even laughing. Countless conversations and countless prayers centering on finances, family, academics, health  and a hundred other topics take place daily. Can you help find me a job? I need a place to live! Do you know someone who can help me move?

They make new friends at community cooking on Tuesdays. They encourage each other over free lunch at the Tuesday life group gathering. They line up for free soup on Wednesdays. They gather for worship and Bible study on Thursday. Sometimes they bring a friend. Sometimes a passerby joins in.  

It can be a fine line between giving up and dropping out of school or pressing on, but they are still here. I’m not the only reason they are still here. It takes a community to support campus ministries like mine, and you are the reason they are still here. Thank you for investing in the lives of students.

George Koopmans served as pastor of the Christian Reformed Church in Medicine Hat, Alberta, for close to 17 years before moving a mile down the road to serve as a Christian Reformed Campus Minister at Medicine Hat College. George is thrilled with this new chapter in life, serving a totally new demographic while still sharing the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

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