Christian Challenge: Welcoming students back to campus
By Margarete Nasir | Sep 13, 2021
When college students were leaving for their 2020 spring break, no one expected a pandemic that would close physical classrooms, resulting in a year and a half of quiet and empty campuses.
Now, college students across the state are back on their campuses, and Christian Challenge missionaries and student leaders are ready to meet them. This is a return to normal for missionaries and students after changes brought on by COVID-19.
“It’s crucial to meet new freshmen, specifically, but in this year of post-COVID, we have to meet new sophomores as well,” said Marc Hill, Christian Challenge state director. “We have a gap because of COVID.”
And these students are hungry for something that online campuses can’t offer: face-to-face connections.
“Students are really looking for community and to dive in more because they’ve had a whole year of not having that,” said Maddie Reimus, a campus missionary at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.
The beginning of the school year is important for college ministries every year. Informational tables set up on campus (“tabling”), Welcome Week events and “gospel appointments” fill the schedules of missionaries and student leaders across the state.
ASU Tempe Christian Challenge found success tabling and sending students out in pairs to share the gospel. They also celebrated a successful retreat over Labor Day weekend.
“If you get students to spend the night together, get them out of town, they spend on average more time together through a one-night event than they would for an entire semester,” Campus Missionary Brandon Reimus said. “It jump-starts relationships for a whole semester,”
At Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix Campus, Ellie Wendt, a campus missionary, spent countless hours meeting with students and launching an extensive social media campaign to attract new students and welcome those returning.
“Our strategy was to have a variety of events and to have something on campus every single day of Welcome Week,” she said. “Tabling every day and having an event each night gave us a presence on campus.”
In addition to their tabling efforts and events, campus missionaries and student leaders at ASU Downtown’s campus celebrated 20 gospel appointments — setting up intentional times to clearly share the gospel face-to-face with students — in the first month and are still looking forward to more in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, community college chapters found themselves in a unique situation, essentially starting over. Students who were second-semester freshmen when COVID hit are now in their junior year of college, completely bypassing most of their community college careers. On these campuses, meeting new freshmen also means meeting “new” sophomores.
Central Arizona College Campus Missionary Steve Dokka launched Signal Peak Campus’ Welcome Week with a unique perspective. They have committed the first 30 days of school as a “mission trip,” also serving the Maricopa Campus, which is currently still seeking their own campus missionary.
“The idea is to be all-in,” Dokka said. He challenged his student leaders to treat those first 30 days like an overseas mission trip, finishing their assignments early to prioritize reaching new students with the gospel. The chapter celebrated more than 70 students and staff reached through a pizza party and an additional 60 students reached through a welcome party ending with a gospel presentation.
Despite the challenges of COVID, Christian Challenge chapters on 16 campuses across the state celebrated God at work during Welcome Week and the reopening of the campuses.
Overall, experiencing the last year and a half of ministry during a pandemic has been a testimony to God’s goodness on college campuses. As Dokka said, “COVID showed me that God is still at work.”
How Can I Pray?
Pray for college ministers and their students. Pray returning students will have the energy and excitement to reach their campuses with great joy in the gospel. Also pray that students would be empowered to share the gospel on their campuses with their peers through gospel appointments, and pray for those students who accept the Lord as they grow in their relationships with Christ.
Margarete Nasir, a freelance writer and photographer, is a member of Mercy Hill Church, Phoenix.