FIRST-PERSON: The collegiate mission field
ONTARIO, Calif. (BP) -- When you think of the mission field, what comes to mind? Perhaps a foreign country or exotic locale, plane tickets and passports?
In the Great Commission, Jesus says the mission field is "all the world."
Let me encourage you to remember that college and university campuses are an important part of the mission field -- a mission field ripe for harvest. They exist in your town or city. You may even drive by one on your way to work.
Many of us spent years on the collegiate mission field. As college students, some of us were born again in college, reached by a Christian roommate, college ministry or local church. Others of us wandered from Christ while in college or experienced a crisis of faith. For good or ill, college is a life-changing experience.
Consider the size of this mission field, encompassing roughly 20 million college and university students enrolled in the United States. By one count, there are 235 countries in the world -- only 59 of which have a population of more than 20 million people. That means there are more college students in America than citizens of 75 percent of the world's countries.
About 1 million of these students are international students, many of them from countries with little Gospel witness. Humanly speaking, their best chance of hearing the Gospel and coming to faith is during their time at college in America.
Here at Gateway Seminary in California, I recently went to lunch with a new student from Japan. He had never heard of Jesus before coming to America. While attending a college in Southern California, he was invited to an event at a college ministry where he heard the Gospel and came to faith. Today, he is training to go back to Japan as a pastor.
We must not forget the mission field in our backyard. On or near these campuses, there are Southern Baptists ministers leading groups of students to reach other students with the Gospel, disciple new converts, connect them with local churches and lay a foundation for a lifetime of faith.
More than ever, the collegiate mission field is a large, diverse and often hostile environment for many Christians. On some campuses, open mockery and bullying of Christians and Christianity is tolerated and, in some contexts, encouraged or sanctioned. Yet on these campuses are men and women coming to faith, growing in faith and clinging to faith against the torrent of social pressure and spiritual opposition often masked as academic criticism.
Having noted the size, diversity and challenges of the collegiate mission field, allow me to suggest the following actions steps:
First, pray for college ministers. Find out the names of the college ministers on a campus near you and pray for them and the students in their ministry.
Second, investigate how your church can support college ministers. In some states, college ministers are self-funded missionaries. See how you as an individual or your church can support these missionaries or sponsor their outreach events. It may be as simple as opening your home to some college students for a cookout. Yours could be the only "American home" an international student is invited to during their time in the United States. What a privileged opportunity.
Third, if your church is near a college or university campus, consider how you might take a direct role in campus outreach. Find out if there is a Baptist collegiate ministry (sometimes called Baptist student ministry or Christian Challenge) and support it. But if none exists, then see if your church can stand in the gap. Years ago, a church I attended in the Los Angeles area started a collegiate ministry. It was a small group, but we saw several students come to faith in Christ and many more grow in their walk with Christ.
Lastly, do not forget about Baptist colleges and universities and other Christian schools. Every year, young men and women come to faith at schools like California Baptist University. These campuses draw unbelieving students, introduce them to the Gospel and graduate new Christians into the workforce.
Let me share a personal story. My wife grew up in a non-Christian home in Southern California. She received a scholarship to a private Christian school and for that reason decided to attend. While a student, she was faithfully and lovingly evangelized by her Christian roommate, and she eventually accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. She became the only person in her immediate family to graduate from college and the only Christian.
Colleges and universities are mission fields. Lives are being changed. The stakes are eternal.