It seems that in the last few days the topics have been pretty depressing as there has been a lot of focus on Steve York, who is the UCSD college student who starred in a porn video, which was then shown over the television network on campus. After an interview with Hugh Hewitt, and then after some blog posts this last week regarding the issue, it tends to paint a pretty bleak picture of college students and the campuses they are a part of.
So over the next few weeks, in the midst of other blogging news and topics, I will be posting on the things that I love about college students; the things I love about the transition in life that occurs during college; what I love about being a college minister; the amazing things that college students do and are a part of; and looking at some ways that you can help, understand and reach out to a very important segment of our population.
The Situation at Hand
It’s easy to criticize and point fingers because that doesn’t really take that much effort. But it is another thing to reach out, and get involved in the life of another person. Pointing fingers and criticizing I have found makes little difference in someone’s life, especially if there is no relationship there.
I tend to work with a population, college students, that are pretty easily stereotyped in both positive and negative ways. Negative: Parties, drugs, sex, rock and roll, anti-social behavior, rebellious, etc. These are some of the negative things that we often hear about college students and their life. Positive: Generous, studious, ambitious, future world changers, voluteerism, fun, etc. These are some of the more positive things that we often hear about them.
Your view of college students will probably be shaped by several things: 1) How clearly you remember you own college days, and what that experience was for you; 2) Whether or not you have had, or will have children in college; 3) The friendships you have with current college students, etc. All of these things help determine how we view college students and the lives that they lead.
I work in a church as the college director, so I have very different views of college students than is often portrayed. But I also spend many hours a week with college students on their campuses, seeing how they live, what they have to deal with (struggles, temptations, ups and downs, etc.).
And because of this, I don’t think I have an idealistic view of the college years, but rather, I have a pretty good perspective on college students and the ways that they can be influenced for better or for worse. It is one thing to have them in the church each week, filling them up with Good News, and great relationships in a relatively safe environment, but it is another thing to send them back onto their campus where their is a constant source of temptation, oppossing views, etc.
What can you or I do to help out a college student?
Identifying a College Student in Need
Is there any college student that you know that may need a helping hand? Open your eyes and look around. Maybe they are a part of your church. Maybe they live on your street. Maybe you work with them. Maybe they are friends with your children. Someone in need might not be what we typically think of. They may not be suffering with some ailment, or contemplating suicide, or experimenting with drugs, but they might be able to use a helping hand in some way.
Maybe they are living away from home and don’t have a home away from school to go to. Maybe your home can be a refuge for conversation, discussion, or a home cooked meal. A lot of students are away from home for the first time in their life, and they need a place that brings them a sense of stability that they often don’t find in the dorms or apartments. And maybe it’s a beautiful reminder of their own home.
Maybe they just need an encouraging word, or someone they could turn to for advice. Maybe they are wanting to form a more formal mentoring relationship, which many Christian students are looking for.
It could be thousands of things, but is there any college student around you, who you can identify, and who you can extend a hand to?
Once you do, what comes next?
Reaching out seems almost too simple, and what does it really mean? It means extending a hand, offerring help, or making yourself available to someone who may need your help, want support, or just need someone to listen. It is a very simple act with complex potentials that can go in many different directions, and take on many different faces.
Reaching out comes afer you have identified a college student in need. You could identify someone in need, but never extend your hand to reach out. Reaching out is this second step. It is the actual, physical formation of a friendship.
How do I reach out then is the question you may be asking yourself? My answer. In very simple ways, some of which I listed above. A conversation, a meal, a car ride, tickets to a game, etc.
A Simple Act
When I was a junior in college I was sort of treading water, not really sure what I was doing, or where my life was really heading. I had plans for my life, but nothing was seeming to materialize. And I was struggling with my own issues and temptations at the time, wondering a lot about this transition in college life, and what it would hold for my life. And there were tons of choices and decisions to be made daily, and it was sometimes difficult to discern in the midst of all the people and the oppossing voices.
Then one day I went to my school mailbox and opened it up, and there was a copy ofA Grief Observed by CS Lewis. Only this book and a note from a man named Don Browning. Don Browning was working at my college campus, and was in charge of a lot of the student and spiritual life of the campus, but I hardly knew him that well. But he had known that my mother died from breast cancer when I was 11 years old, and he had known that this diary of CS Lewis dealt with the loss of Lewis’ wife to cancer very early in their marriage. Don probably thought that the book would be helpful to me, or that I could resonate with the themes of the book.
I read the book very quickly, and I did resonate with a lot of what Lewis was saying, but more than anything, I was surprised, thankful, and appreciative of the fact that someone had gone out of their way and taken an interest in my life. It was simple, and I have never forgotten it. In fact, Don and I went on to form a good friendship, and he is responsible for giving me my first couple of opportunities to preach. If he had not given me those opportunities I might not have headed in the direction of ministry that I eventually headed down.
This simple act of giving me a book opened up many doors and possibilities for me, and I am thankful to him for this.
There is some college student out there who is waiting for someone to step into their life and reach out with a simple gesture, which will show them more than anything, that someone cares about them. Even if a college student has other people to care about them, it is always nice to have people take an interest in our life, and you never know that you might be the one to drastically alter the course of their life in amazing ways, just by a simple act.
So if you can identify a college student in need, then reach out with a simple act. It will mean more to them than you can ever imagine.