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.