My summer looks like a sea of a thousand faces. Faces of young people I mainly I never get a chance to know the names of, hear their stories, find out where they’re hoping to go to uni. But with every face I see, my whispered prayer is that they would thrive in their walk with Jesus through the wildness and adventure of the university landscape. My hope is that I see them again in my world of student mission come September.
I can also get overwhelmed by the mammoth task of student linkup each summer. These masses of young people are about to leave home and church and I know we are only scratching the surface with the few thousand we so far prepare for the culture shift and connect to new churches. But whenever I wonder if I’ll get swallowed up by the student linkup sea, I remember the story of the moment he came home and I keep going.
He was a first year student and he hadn’t connected to a new church when he left home. Everyone figured he would be fine, he’d been brought up in an incredibly strong and brilliant Christian family and he loves Jesus. He was heading to a city inundated with great churches that engage with students, so the thinking was that student linkup wasn’t needed in his case.
But for whatever reason, he didn’t find a church to call home and struggled to find Christian friends that engaged with life and culture and the world like he did. And to have no community to point you towards Jesus, remind you of the love of God, just be there to say “keep going, you matter, this matters, we know your name and we know who you follow too, we are in this together” wears down a person. It gets really hard to be a Christian student and not have a church family.
I met him for a cup of tea because I’m friends with his mum and the brief time we’d met before, we also got on really well. I had maybe an hour and a half with this fresher lad, in a trendy tea shop, but as we spoke of life, shared our stories, talked of Jesus, it was like God just sat down with us. And with one hand holding a cup of tea, it was like Father God put his other arm round his student son who had been feeling a long way off. Like that moment Jesus describes in the story of the prodigal son, when the son is walking home and the dad sees him first, because he’s actually been waiting for him, looking for him every day, all along:
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15: 20).
And then the tears came. It wasn’t a big loud thing. It wasn’t dramatic. We didn’t even say much. It was just a deeply moving moment of coming home again, remembering who your family are, remembering what it’s like to know you are loved, you are held, you have not gone too far.
He cried, I cried, I’d imagine Jesus joined us for that bit too. And that evening I introduced him to a local church student worker who has journeyed with him ever since and seen this lad through uni. He graduates this summer and he is finishing well. Thank God quite literally, for His local church family and that it’s never too late to come home.
Every year this experience reminds me why I will always bother to try and student-linkup as many young people to churches as possible. That moment we cried into our cups of tea keeps me determined to see many more coming-home moments for the thousands who will go on this life journey to university with Jesus and realise the family of God is already there, waiting to greet them.