One of the key influences on a student coming to faith in Jesus today is out of the context of hurt and broken relationships.*
This one might feel a bit strange to have on the list, but I think it reveals something important for us to remember. Every student who came to faith at university, came to Jesus in the midst of also carrying pain, unforgiveness, anger and things not being well, either at home or at uni.
For some, the broken relationships started happening the closer they got to Christ, as not every student's family were happy for their child to have found faith. For others, forgiveness through God literally transformed their ability to forgive their parents and their past.
Homesickness is common especially in the first few weeks of university life, but as young adults finally step out from under their family's roof and culture, we often find that they begin to reflect on what life had been like at home. As this happens, sometimes the pain and broken connections that they had been carrying alone come spilling out to new friends, as they process the relationships they have just left, maybe for the first time.
There was a real theme of forgiveness that shone through in my interviews. Here's what some of the students said:
“God softened my heart to forgive my dad.”
“A big part of it [faith journey] was forgiveness.”
“I was feeling pretty lonely.”
“All the sadness and pain in my life I could let it go, I could forgive.”
I wonder how much our churches and our friendships talk about God’s forgiveness and reconciliation? How much do we 'go there' around human to human relationships? Do we even know to ask?
The chances are, every student we meet has a story to tell where there will be walls and barriers up around certain people and relationships in their lives. We know divorce rates are high, blended families and complex living arrangements are much more normal, and bullying, especially in the online space, means many more young people have experienced difficult relationships for years by the time they arrive on campus.
Jesus being able to overcome these barriers, knock down these walls, heal these divisions and bring fresh grace for past hurts, has been a key way people have met Christ and also found freedom in how they relate to other people. None of this is new news, but it is still good news and helping students get right with other people, not just God, is actually a really important thing.
Perhaps we need to make sure that when we do teaching on relationships in our student community, we don't just immediately head down the romantic route and boundaries chat... what about exploring what it means to be good siblings in Christ? To honour our parents? To forgive as many times as you have breath? To stand up for yourself but to also extend grace?
Broken relationships is a big theme in the narrative of today's students' lives. It may be unspoken, but it is there and a story that Jesus really wants to rescript with hope, healing and reconciliation.
*These statements are taken from research completed for my Masters degree in which I explored commonalities of students coming to faith in Jesus in England today. I gathered data from a spread of institutions, geographical locations, church expressions and interviewed an equal number of male and female students, with some diversity in background and ethnicity as well. Although my findings have limitations and my scope of data had to be small, I believe what I have discovered is still very useful for local churches seeking to share Jesus with students and so this blog series explores the top 12 commonalities discovered. Enjoy!