This is a short story. It is an imagined experience of a first year student called Timothy, and his first few hours on campus as a university starter this September 2020. Sometimes our imagination for this year's students can fuel our prayers and dreams, especially in previously unimagined circumstances. This story isn't exaggerated or unrealistic. This story could be true. We still have time. Read on.
Timothy was nervous. Excited, sure, but nervous? Definitely. Today was the day he started university and as he watched the back of his family’s car disappear out of sight, complete with his parents probably drying the tears they’d tried to hold back moments earlier, his stomach turned over. This was it. Adulthood started now.
“God, help me” came the whispered prayer as he turned to face his new university dorm room, wondering where to start with the unpacking. In the distance he could hear more car doors slamming and the rumble of suitcase wheels over concrete. There really were hundreds of people, just like him, moving in together as strangers, but soon-to-be friends. At least that was the hope.
Timothy sat on his bed, the mattress creaking as he bent down to open his backpack and pull out his phone charger and his battered bible, both of which he put on the bedside table. Somehow this already helped him feel more at home, more connected. He shifted to take his phone out of his pocket and the screen lit up. He could see a couple of notifications waiting for him, from the app he’d downloaded last month. A wave of relief washed over him as he clicked and read.
The Student Linkup app had been a huge help in calming his anxieties about all the unknowns of the big move. He’d already been using it to message with a few local church student workers, and it seemed that the one called Ben had messaged Timothy again to check he’d arrived safely on campus. Another message from another local church student worker, Aliya, confirmed that if he was at a loose end tonight, there was in fact a bunch of student small groups doing ‘welcome nights', with pizza, all spread around outside in a large courtyard a few streets from campus that he’d be more than welcome to join. There was even a second year student who’d be waiting to walk with any new arrivals from right outside his accommodation building in an hour’s time. Perfect.
Timothy had grown up being part of the local church, his parents were followers of Jesus and although his home church had been small, and more rural, it had been a great place to call home for him and his family. He’d been part of a town-wide youth group for most of his teens, and had been grateful for the ‘Preparation for University’ course that a bunch of them had all gone through together during the summer, led by a couple of their youth leaders online. Somewhere buried in one of his suitcases of clothes and shoes, he’d actually brought the ‘Student Linkup Box’ with him from that training, since it had the work book he’d been scribbling his fears, questions and prayers in. He’d also kept hold of the student-specific bible study that he figured could be good to do in his first few weeks of settling in. Although he was still a little nervous, he couldn’t deny that he felt pretty well prepared in his faith to start student life.
The sound of voices and footsteps just outside his room made Timothy look up from his phone. With another quick whispered prayer of “let’s do this”, both to himself and to the Holy Spirit he knew lived inside of him, Timothy stood up. He pocketed his phone and strode towards his bedroom door, grabbing the particularly heavy text book he’d had to buy for the start of class. Opening the door, he dropped the book-turn-door-wedge, and popped his head out to see whether he had indeed heard the sounds of another new housemate moving in. He was immediately met with the smiling eyes of another guy, still masked up, who had just dropped his bags outside the room opposite and was looking up and down the hallway, taking in his new home for the next year. The masked lad said his goodbyes to the person on the other end of the phone, swiftly pulled out his earbuds and dropped his mask around his neck.
Timothy went to stick out his hand in greeting, then remembered that even though they would be part of the same social bubble for the year, he probably still shouldn’t start shaking stranger’s hands, and so quickly pulled it back with a “sorry, forgot, I did just wash them though!” They both half-laughed, half sighed as they let the breath out they hadn’t quite realised they were holding and did the awkward elbow-touch of greeting that seemed arbitrary now but kind of a good icebreaker anyway. Timothy caught sight of the vintage print t-shirt his new housemate was sporting, and in no time at all the two had struck up a conversation on just how much better the bands of the sixties were and who they’d been listening to on the drive to campus that day.
Despite his initial nerves, Timothy was ready. He had prayed and prepared to be brave in making the first move of friendship, to walk across the corridor, to introduce himself. Timothy had even thought through how he wanted to invite his new housemates to join him in trying church that night. Because, well, why not? He didn’t feel any pressure as a Christian to share his faith, and he certainly didn’t want anyone else to feel pressure to try church with him, but he did have conviction. He knew that it was authentic, kind and quite honestly, a great opportunity, to share that he followed Jesus with his new friends. Since he would be looking to try out a couple of church communities, in his process of deciding where to commit during his university years, of course he was going to open up the invite. After all, he knew church wasn’t just for Christians. And everyone could use a little hope and faith right now.
An hour later, Timothy, Ant - his new friend from across the way with the t-shirt, and now Carly and Jasmine from the floor below, were all throwing on jackets and locking their doors as they headed out to try church and certainly enjoy pizza with the student group Timothy had been introduced to via the app. Jasmine had in fact been to church as a child and so was very open to reconnecting with a faith community again. Ant and Carly wanted friends, liked pizza, and were at least curious about the idea of church outside, so decided in the spirit of trying new things, they’d come along for the ride. And so went the first three hours for Timothy, in his life as a student following Jesus on campus. He’d needed to show courage, he’d trusted the world wouldn’t end if he’d gone to the small group welcome party alone that night, but now he was strolling alongside some newfound friends in the cool of the evening, ready to discover more of God’s mission amongst students and excited to join in.
What are you imagining and praying for students this year?
Are you Timothy? Are you about to begin life on campus? Download the Student Linkup App to message with new churches today.
Want to be better prepared for uni life? Grab yourself a Prep for Uni box
Are you a church looking to welcome students? Register your church today, get on the app, start connecting
Want to create small groups to reach students? Learn how with our small groups big mission resources.
[Photo by David Kennedy on Unsplash]