I. hate. waiting. I check Google to find the quickest way to work. I upgraded to the faster internet connection. My Volkswagen is turbo-charged. I want to get there, get it done, make it quick. In some ways, this mind-set has been helpful. It’s made me more productive, efficient, but in other ways, including planting ministry at Virginia Union University, it’s a character flaw.
Planting is by nature a slow process. Patience is required to allow a seed that’s placed in prepared soil to take root and grow. This is the stage our campus ministry is in at Virginia Union. We’re planting.
After we chartered as an official Chi Alpha chapter last year, I quickly forgot that fact. I thought we were off and running. Guys were connecting in greater numbers in our student-led small group and a women’s small group was primed to start. Students were being led to Jesus and being baptized every semester. Outreaches on campus were making waves—it was happening and happening fast! Chi Alpha @ Virginia Union was going to be huge in a hurry. But that’s not the typical planting process and it wasn’t the case for us either. Soon we were faced with a student leader needing to step down. We saw those new Jesus followers transferring or just not returning to campus and some of our most promising potential leaders were being pulled away to other opportunities. We were frustrated, disappointed, and even at times infuriated. All of those emotions were valid, but shouldn’t have been unexpected. As we stepped back and recognized where we were as a ministry there was a realization. We needed to take the good with the bad and allow the seed of this new ministry take root. This is planting.
We went back to work, building relationships and trust on campus. We submitted to the process of becoming an official student organization. Just finding a faculty advisor took over 6 months! Not quick, but all part of the planting process and we’re beginning to see the roots taking hold. Chi Alpha is now an official student organization. Our staff workers Marcus Floyd and Jasmine Yanez were invited to take an upfront role in a Union chapel service highlighting student organizations. Students are beginning to adjust their schedules to prioritize the Chi Alpha community and that community is continuing to grow.
Jasmine and Marcus were recently invited to an Easter dinner hosted by the VUU International Student Association. In the middle of the event the ISA director Ms. Michele Brown, addressed them both and said, “you are a part of our family.” Chi Alpha at Union isn’t huge. Our grow curve isn’t on a record pace, but we’re more rooted than ever. And as those roots go deeper into the soil of Virginia Union we believe our impact on the campus will be more significant and sustainable. It’s a slow process, but it’s worth it.
Tucked away behind the Lombardy Street traffic circle is Virginia Union University, just two blocks away from Virginia Commonwealth University. It is a quiet campus of 1,800 students, founded at the end of the Civil War.
I graduated from VCU in 2016 and began pioneering ministry at VUU as part of the staff of Richmond Chi Alpha. Even though the schools are only a few blocks away from each other, the atmosphere and culture are notably different when it comes to campus ministry. Acknowledging the difference of my Chi Alpha college experience at VCU has opened the door for me lay down my own preferences and comfort zone and to have a fuller understanding God’s heart for students at this Historically Black University.
I am learning to resist being a bulldozer with my own personal ideas of what the Chi Alpha should look like here. This includes being willing to learn about the students, what they are wrestling with, what led them to VUU--- hearing their story and walking alongside them. Many of the students in my small group are first generation college students. The expectation and pressures are high. As I ask questions and meet students where they are, it highlights my need for the Holy Spirit to transform their lives through faithful discipleship instead of leading based on my previous experience of being a student small group leader at a very different campus. Pioneering is fruitful when you love and engage students and culture with a teachable heart.
Prayer walking has helped me to have a heart for the campus as well. I find myself asking more and more, “How can I serve this campus with a heart like yours, Jesus? How can your kingdom come in the dorms and in the common area where students gather? How can Chi Alpha play a role in that?” Sharing Jesus with students makes a difference when it starts with prayer.
Students that are not in athletics or in Greek life often find it hard to find community at VUU. This is one way we can meet needs by providing authentic community. Malik is a freshman I met during welcome week. He was worried about how he would make friends in college and he even questioned God’s existence, but through the Chi Alpha community, he has dedicated his life to Christ and found genuine relationships. It has been so exciting to see lives being changed on campus through the VUU students in Chi Alpha. Guys and girls are seeing their relationship with Jesus and the Chi Alpha community too good to keep to themselves.
Through pioneering, God is increasing Jesus’ heart and character in me. I am blessed to be an African American. Though my ethnic background has opened doors for me, there are still many things I need to learn. I have to stay informed on issues in the African American community locally and nationally. I need to acknowledge the differences between VUU and my original campus. I have to be a listener, asking questions on how best to serve students. I have to build on a foundation of prayer. And I need to look for ways to meet students’ practical needs. These are some of the insights I am learning on this journey.
Malik* arrived at Virginia Union with hope. He had a difficult life. His family fled violence in his home country, but not before he personally was marked by it. They were able to find asylum in the US, but Malik struggled finding a place in his adopted homeland. His experience, his values, his world was so different, but VUU was offering everything he was looking for. It promised community; a place where he could develop real friendships. It offered challenging academics; a place where he could grow his knowledge and ability. It offered purpose; a place where he could begin to bring change to a world that desperately needed it. Malik saw endless possibilities in his acceptance to one of the oldest HBCUs in the country.
Marcus Floyd, missionary associate with Chi Alpha Campus Ministry in Richmond, met Malik three years later. He was no longer brimming with hope, he no longer saw VUU as an answer to the challenges he faced. It was in fact another milestone in his life journey that was filled with disappointments. He struggled to find the promised friendships, finding either a highly competitive or apathetic environment instead. The promise of academics and purpose fell short too to the point where every semester he questioned why he remained enrolled. Marcus and Malik met through a mutual acquaintance. Jason*, a new member of Chi Alpha. He told him about the friendships he was finding in this campus ministry and Malik had to check it out. He visited once and was hooked.
Malik found, for the first time as a student at VUU a place of relationship. The people who were a part of Chi Alpha had genuine care and concern for him. Even though they didn’t share the same core beliefs, he was Muslim and this group was full of Christians, their love for him kept him coming back. He even signed up to join them on a retreat. That’s when it all came together. That’s when he realized the reason they were different. The reason why they loved and accepted him was the one thing that made it so unlikely to join them in the first place. It was Jesus. On Saturday night of that retreat weekend, Malik surrendered his life to Jesus.
Why is it vital to plant at HBCUs? We need to plant there because there are thousands of students just like Malik at every one of them. They’re looking for community, looking for purpose, looking for God. By planting loving, intentional communities on these campuses, these students can see the relevance of the gospel in powerful, life-changing ways. We owe it to students like Malik, and Jesus who loves and pursues them, to try.
*Names have been changed for privacy.