You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. (1 Peter 3:15)
Greetings from Kent! I hope this letter finds you well and filled with hope as we start to transition from summer to fall. We’re experiencing a lot of familiar annual rhythms, but with a lot of unfamiliar dynamics this time around. At times, I’ve felt sad about the losses that have piled up this year. Other times, I’ve felt angry about the disruption this pandemic has caused to all of our lives. And honestly, most of the time, I’ve just felt confused about what’s supposed to be happening. At the same time, I’ve also felt encouraged in the Lord and his steadfast character through times like these. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “We do not grieve like others who have no hope… [because] we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” We know that our hope in the restoration of all things through Jesus has implications for our every need, joy, sorrow, and expectation — both in this life and in the life to come.
Speaking of hope, at this time of the year we’d normally have a clear (though closely-clustered) path towards a new school year. We’d be expecting about 4,000 new freshmen to move into the residence halls and many more returning students to move into apartments around campus. We’d be planning to cast wide nets with big events for students to encounter Jesus and His people during the first weeks of the semester. We’d be expecting opportunities to engage thousands of students at a time with spiritual surveys and personal follow-up invitations into a community of believers.
This year, however, we don’t know how many students will choose to stay home and take online classes away from Kent (in fact, the University is telling us that their numbers are changing by the day). We’ve won’t be allowed (nor do we feel it would be wise) to meet physically in large groups on campus. Our ministry strategy must be dramatically reimagined in an age of staying six feet apart from each other. We’ll have to be much more online than usual. We’ll have to be more “grassroots” and decentralized than usual. We won’t be able to use big retreats or worship events to create focused spaces for students to experience God’s presence. Very little about this school year will feel familiar.
At the same time, there’s something beautiful about the life of faith in Christ! As I’ve been praying for this upcoming school year, God has reminded me that today’s college students need the hope of restoration in Jesus — perhaps now more than ever.
Usually, I like to use our August prayer letter to provide a run-down of all the specific events happening on specific days. But the situation is so fluid at Kent State University that our plans are being adjusted pretty regularly. We’ve got lots of creative ideas (and preliminary plans) including get-to-know-you games that work with six feet of separation between participants, online workshops, and outdoor Bible studies. We’re staying focused on being flexible and nimble, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. But we’d still love for you to be praying for us in this. Is there a verse or passage of Scripture that has shaped how you view current events as of late? If so, please pass that along! In addition, since we’re in this strange season of uncertainty, preparing for a school year unlike any we’ve ever experienced before, we’d love to know if you have any fresh ideas for ministry under our present circumstances! Has your church done anything cool to account for all the changes with COVID-19? If so, please pass those thoughts along! And in any event: Please keep praying for all the students headed to Kent State before classes resume on August 27th.
We don’t know exactly how the next few weeks are going to play out, but we’re not completely blind going into this fall, either. The summer gave us a number of opportunities to learn and prepare. In July, we had an outdoor gathering on campus. We invited students to come and sit — six feet apart from each other — on the Student Green, where we prayed through a Psalm and listened to a teaching from the Gospel of Luke. I was so proud of our students that day! Many made the trip from one or even two hours away to join, and they were joyfully willing to adopt whatever safety protocols we asked of them (masks, sanitizer, etc.) as an act of love to those who might be more vulnerable than college students. Our main encouragement that morning was to look at this long, difficult year as an opportunity to find our hope in Jesus, not our circumstances. We’re praying that students wouldn’t just seek for life to be as comfortable as possible as quickly as possible, but rather that they would strive to love their Lord and love others regardless of hardship.
Our online Summer Intensive with the rest of the H2O Church Network was also a significant learning experience over the past few months. Online community is a realistic and beneficial complement to real-world interaction. My favorite part of the summer was watching participants grow in their ability to listen well. As various world and national events entered into the conversation among the group, those with different views on a lot of different topics were able to practice being quick to listen and slow to speak, even on highly-charged topics. That patient listening also translated to their personal relationships with the Lord, as they were more willing to wait for His voice to speak into their lives. This growth in patience and listening with God and others will serve our church and these participants so well as we enter the fall.
So I’m excited to observe — and report — everything that happens in the days to come. I think we really do have a lot of reason to hope! Thank you for praying with us and for us. We are grateful for you, our team of Prayer Warriors, now more than ever. We’ll be in touch…