Thursday, April 16, 2009

Memories of Campus Ministry

(Editor's Note: I wrote this as a column for our church newsletter, in preparation the Rev. Omar Hamid Al-Rikabi's visit to First UMC - Siloam Springs on Sunday, April 26. Omar - an Asbury Seminary grad! - is the executive director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Arkansas - Fayetteville.)

I still remember the conversation I had with the Rev. Sid Robbins, standing in the parking lot of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, in Joplin, Mo. following a district youth event.

I was getting ready to start college and trying to “figure” things out. Sid (a pastor who had a heart for youth) gave me two pieces of advice - meet Chad Stebbins (who eventually became my college advisor and nurtured my love of journalism) and meet the Rev. Roger Nichols, then-director of the Wesley Foundation at Missouri Southern.

Like a pebble dropping into a pool of water - the ripple effects from that conversation would have life-long implications for me.

The Wesley Foundation - the campus ministry at Missouri Southern - became my “safe haven.” If I wasn’t pulling an all-nighter in the campus newspaper office, you could probably find me hanging out at Wesley.

The ministry was a constant in my life and gave me a safe place to explore the bounds of my faith. It also provided a safety net as I explored college life.

It also provided me with a ministry designed specifically for college students - as I struggled to make the transition from high school. I was a commuting student, living at home during college, so the Wesley Foundation became a positive aspect in my campus experience.

It was through the ministry of the Wesley Foundation that my call to the ministry - which began at camp as a high school student - was nurtured and given a place to grow.

The Wesley Foundation also introduced me to other college students through out our jurisdiction who had a passion for ministry. Ultimately many of us became the largest incoming class of “state school” graduates at Asbury Seminary.

On Sunday, April 26, you'll have a chance to meet the Rev. Omar Hamid Al-Rikabi, the director of the U of A Wesley Foundation (and a fellow Asbury Seminary graduate).

Through our apportionments, and our connection to other United Methodist churches/ministries throughout Arkansas, our congregation plays a role in helping Omar minister to students looking for their own “safe haven” on a college campus.

I’m very thankful for what Omar is doing at UofA, as well as all of the campus ministers working with college students throughout Arkansas.

While my Wesley Foundation was small - it no longer exists due to budget cuts within the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church - its graduates continue to impact the lives of students in a variety of ways, including, but no limited to: as youth pastors, high school teachers, college professors.

Hopefully, as annual conference draws near, Arkansas will not make a similar decision and cut funding to the Wesley Foundations throughout the state. While the ministries may not be the "flashiest" or the "largest," as a friend (and fellow Wesley Foundation grad) Barry Sanborn (a 16+ year veteran of youth ministry) likes to say, the ministry will be consistent - in the lives of students constantly facing change.

May we never lose the constant presence of Wesley Foundations - and the message of Jesus Christ - on our state campuses.

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