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Meeting College Students Where They Are
March 8, 2012
At California State San Marcos, a school with nearly 10,000 students and a large commuter-student base, Kelsey True felt overwhelmed. As a native San Diegan, CSUSM was not her first choice. She planned to transfer to a private university after two years to finish as a kinesiology major with hopes of becoming a physical therapist.
But just before she graduated last May, after spending all four college years involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, she made another four-year commitment to serve on staff on the same campus she had intended to leave. She is the first alumna from CSUSM to come on full-time staff with InterVarsity. It was something she never imagined.
As one of many commuter students, the last thing True expected was a meaningful community on her college campus. But she stumbled on an InterVarsity booth a few months into her freshman year, an experience she said got her “instantly connected.”
InterVarsity has been honing in on the university demographic since 1877. The organization was formed that year at Cambridge University in England, where a group of students, despite objections of school officials, began to meet and share about their faith.
They founded the British Inter-Varsity [inter — between; varsity — the British term for college level students] with the mission “to take the gospel to those all over the world who have never heard it.”
More than 130 years later, InterVarsity is still impacting the lives of countless students by giving them a place of truth amidst the craziness of college life.
“I found awesome friends and the InterVarsity staff really poured into me,” said True. She had grown up familiar with the gospel but says, “If I didn’t have that connection with InterVarsity from the beginning, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“It is estimated that close to 75 percent of Christian students no longer consider themselves Christian after four years of college,” said Ramiro Marchena, InterVarsity area director. “InterVarsity’s purpose is to establish witnessing communities of students and faculty at colleges and universities.”
Keep Growing in Faith
For students like True, the university setting is not the typical place to find what she calls “an extension of the church on campus.” But that is just what InterVarsity is.
“College often pushes students away from faith,” said True. “And the campus environment assumes God is irrelevant. So [students] often just stop growing in their faith.”
True eventually found she was not just hanging out at events, but fully vested in her conviction for the meaningful impact InterVarsity makes in the lives of college students.
“God truly changed my heart,” she said.
True decided not to transfer to a private university. She didn’t just stay at CSUSM, but she moved from off-campus into the dorms to serve as a resident advisor, an experience that provided her with opportunities to share her faith.
True began meeting the needs of students who, just like her, were entering into a new phase of life. She served as a mentor and sometimes as just an open door for students with questions about life and faith.
Creating a Community
Countless college students look for a place to belong and find purpose. InterVarsity’s goal, specifically at CSUSM, is to “create a community where there is no community,” according to Marchena.
“As we establish a community of believers on the campus, students who are Christian and arrive at a secular campus have a community of believers where they can not just survive in their faith but thrive,” he said. “The community is not so that a bunch of Christians can hang, but it is for the sake of witnessing who Jesus is to the campus. The witnessing community becomes a place where believers grow and flourish and where non-believers have an opportunity to explore who Jesus is.”
It was by exploring that Melissa found InterVarsity. Her freshman year in the dorms, she got involved in numerous activities including InterVarsity. She just wanted to get connected on campus. With not much of a back-story in Christianity (she came from a predominantly Muslim family), she began attending weekly Bible studies. It was through her involvement that she “encountered Jesus” and joined the servant team the very next semester.
Those involved with InterVarsity want to approach students like Melissa, who have no familiarity with Christianity, in the places where they are most comfortable. That is why all of their events take place on campus – in the dorms, classrooms, and gathering spaces — alongside the other campus clubs and organizations.
InterVarsity at CSUSM also is active within Greek life and regularly serves migrant workers in San Diego. A weekly outreach-oriented worship gathering brings together students from CSUSM, Mesa Community College, and Palomar Community College. In San Diego County, InterVarsity is also present at UCSD, SDSU, and USD.
It's Not About the Math
This past year, InterVarsity at CSUSM enjoyed a record year in attendance, first-time decisions to faith, and recommitments. And their goals for this next year are both quantitatively and qualitatively higher.
“Although it’s not about the math, we want to empower students to reach their friends for Christ,” said True.
“Without the financial support of individuals in the San Diego community the work that we do would be impossible,” said Marchena. “As we seek to reach the 50,000 college students [in North County] between these three campuses (CSUSM, Mesa Community College, and Palomar Community College), we need two things: To have fully funded staff workers on campus so that the ministry can run at full capacity on campus and to have the surrounding community in North County commit to praying for these campuses.”
People like True and organizations like InterVarsity are making their mark and having an impact.
To learn more about supporting InterVarsity, please e-mail Ramiro Marchena at Ramiro_Marchena@ivstaff.org.
The preceding article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Good News etc, in San Diego CA, and is reprinted by permission of the publisher. The photo shows Kelsey True (second from right) and her InterVarsity colleagues: Daniel Lui, Tyler Allred, and Anne Skidmore.