It’s now the second week of the Uni exam period. Many of the students are now finished for the year and are drifting back to their homes for the long Summer holiday, or getting involved in summer casual work here in Canberra. My focus of work has moved from the campus to writing sermons for Crossroads UniChurch and preparing for our end of year FOCUS mission.
My previous post finished at the beginning of the final week of the Uni term at the University of Canberra. Let me fill you in on how the rest of the week progressed…
The highlight of the week, as always, was the Wednesday time on the campus. As we have done throughout the year, a group of students got together around 10am in the central concourse at Uni to work on a stall and seek to strike up conversations with students going past. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is that we have done this all year, and during our outreach weeks we’ve done it every day, yet there are still students in the final week of Uni who have never heard of FOCUS. We met at least one Christian student that morning who had never realised that there were Christians meeting together on the campus. (Where do these people spend their time?)
More FOCUS people tend to congregate around the stall as the morning goes on. Around 12pm, there were probably 20 people sitting around on the grass and tables near the stall. Simply being there in the middle of the campus, a group of loving, joyful, Christian young people is an incredible witness to the campus. We are easily the largest grouping of people on the campus. I love sitting back and looking around the group. It amazes me to see the way in which these people – many of whom were strangers at the start of the year – relate, eat together, joke around, pray together, in short: be a part of God’s new creation, right in the heart of the old.
There are people from different countries who are studying on exchange, or as International Students. There are people from quite different Christian backgrounds and people who 2 years ago would not have acknowledged Jesus as their Lord at all.
Thinking about it takes me to Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 4:20 that “…the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power “. Sometimes I have talked with students who are struggling with doubt, who are asking whether the gospel is simply a way of talking that creates a world in which we choose to believe. The doubt runs like this: ‘If enough people all say the same thing they can continually talk each other into believing that its true.’ [Some academic theologians hold what amounts to a sophisticated version of this idea because they struggle to see how we can demonstrate the truth of something outside of our speech about it.] Regardless of the philosophy, it seems a sadly anaemic view of what is happening in the lives of believers. The gospel is a word from God that brings about change in the state of the world. Although Paul was talking about a different situation in 1 Cor 4:20, he highlights that God’s kingdom is not merely a matter of language, rules, or saying that a thing is so. It is about the work of God in bringing about the New Creation, and bringing his people into that Creation. It is about actual, real changes in the world, and in the lives of people. Sadly, other Christians err by equating this power of the Kingdom with miraculous healings, supernatural knowledge, and so on. For me, as I view the profound changes in the lives of God’s people, as they are completely reoriented towards worship of Jesus, that’s when I get tingles. I see the Spirit of God at work and I’m led to pray “come Lord Jesus!” because I so deeply want to see the end of this project that God has commenced among us.
The lunchtime Bible talk went well, there were a good number of students, including quite a few people who came along for the first time. We’ll be praying that they’ll come back again at the start of next year. Marcus spoke from Romans 11 (a strange passage for the final talk for the year) which finished off our series from Romans. Again, I was tremendously encouraged by the fellowship of Christians, gathered to hear God speak, and seeking to be his witnesses on the campus. Please continue to pray, and consider financially supporting this work, even when I’ve moved off to Sydney. It’s vital work and has proven to be a great way to help build the Church right around the country, and even around the world.
Friday night was our annual FOCUS Extravaganza. It’s the big end of year farewell party. It’s always a great time. The event is put together under the direction of the student presidents at both ANU and UC. They generally have a lot of fun with it. There were a range of strange awards for the unique achievements of ordinary FOCUS people. There was a graph showing the rise and fall in the quality of Stu Collett’s jokes throughout the year (he peaked about 2 months ago, it seems). The Ministry Trainees put together a presentation showing a day in the life of an MTS trainee. It seemed to consist mainly of busking for support (will write Bible Studies for money!), fishing things out of bins, and polishing the shoes and cars of the senior staff… Funny, I didn’t really remember it being too much like that.
Marcus Reeves and I sang a duet for the departing MTS trainees – borrowed heavily from Delta Goodrem’s Lost Without You, It was a quality production…
Especially moving was the open mic time. People shared their memories of FOCUS and the people who had shared God’s grace with them over the years. The nights like this, where you can zoom back the lens and see the big picture of God at work in people’s lives, are what enable us to keep working hard when all we can see are the details and the struggles.
I’ve been a part of the ministry on the campuses in Canberra for 10 years now. First, as a first year Law student, with a lot of arrogant questions, and very little idea about the scale and beauty of God’s truth and his plans for us. It was the effort and time that a ministry trainee named Tim Bowden put into me then that fired my love for the Bible and began the process of my understanding how I’m to play my part in God’s project. There have been lots of turning points as I grew and learned. There have been times when I have drifted a long way from serving God, and times when I have acted in ways that have been completely alien to the identity he is working in me. But I’m not the person that I was when I arrived here as a 17 year old. I’ve gone from being a student, to a student leader, to a Ministry Trainee, to helping to direct the campus ministry. All the way I have been led and cared for by God, through his people and his word. And I’m hungrier than I have ever been to know more and see more of Him.
My priorities have been reshaped, my understanding of God has been deepened, my worship of Him has been enhanced through a greater appreciation of His grace, and my future – both in the short-term and long – has been swept up into the mission of God to redeem this creation and create it anew. I don’t think that we should ever for a moment believe that FOCUS is all that God is doing on our University campuses, he is always working, and endlessly creative, yet for many of us, it is the way that God has chosen to bless us personally.
The reality is that, while this time at the University has been incredibly significant for me, I’m still just a speck among the millions of intertwined lives and stories in which God is at work. Because I know that God my Father has known me beforehand, and will not forget me in the future, I can contemplate this truth without the terror or despair that it provokes in the pagan. The reality is that most of us will be a dim memory around the University campuses in three years time, in ten years we will be completely forgotten. in the history of this world our lives are like the morning fog on a winter’s day in Canberra, gone by 11 am. But the Spirit of God continues to do his work, convicting the world with regard to sin, righteousness, and judgement, he will continue to do it in and through the lives of Christians until the end of this age. I can’t think of the names of too many people who I know were a part of UC FOCUS in 1996 but I’m profoundly grateful to them for handing on a ministry that has encouraged and strengthened us in 2006. And if in 10 years time there remains a vibrant community of young Christians who are passionate about living out the call of Jesus on the Universities in Canberra then we will have built well, not in vain.
2 Cor 13:4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.