The circle of students grew quiet as our freshman orientation leader began to speak in a serious tone, encouraging us to “open up” and “be vulnerable.” I listened curiously, interested in what we were about to do. He offered his first get-to-know-you question:
“What’s your gender pronoun?”
At that moment, I realized just how different my secular college experience was going to be from my private Christian school.
Attending a secular institution has posed unique challenges. I’ve witnessed the emptiness as fellow students look to partying, sex, and drugs for fulfillment. I’ve seen my classmates’ anxiety as they chase academic success.
A secular institution can be a dark place. Spiritual warfare on the college campus is real. Yet, in the midst of all of this, the Lord in his sovereignty placed me at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
It has been a blessing like no other.
I’ve seen King Jesus use the secular university to show his power, for his glory. While there are many good reasons to consider Christian universities, attending a secular university has done at least three things.
1. It has forced me to ask hard questions.
This past semester, I attended a religion class with a specific focus on heaven and hell that made many unsettling claims about the Bible. Yet, God has bolstered my faith in new ways by placing me in that class. I gained further insight into what my nonbelieving friends were hearing in the classroom about Christianity and the Bible.
When I had questions, I asked my believing friends, pastors, and parents for their wisdom. Several of my housemates and I even gathered around our kitchen table to FaceTime with my dad about our theological questions.
Though hard to wrestle with, these discussions have led me again and again to the feet of Jesus—the best place for my mind and heart to be. My faith is stronger, not weaker, as I’ve confronted difficult questions about Christianity.
My faith is stronger, not weaker, as I’ve confronted difficult questions about Christianity.
2. It has bolstered my evangelism.
I’m blessed to be in a campus ministry that emphasizes evangelism. College students have a unique opportunity—we live, eat, walk, and learn alongside thousands who don’t know Jesus as Lord. My Bible-study leader encouraged me to ask God to break my heart for the lost, and this is a prayer I’ve seen the Father answer.
I’ve wept, prayed, and read Scripture over UNC’s campus. It can be a very dark place where hope can seem far away. Yet I’ve watched Jesus save, and I’ve witnessed his faithfulness time and again.
The secular campus can be a very dark place where hope can seem far away. Yet I’ve watched Jesus save.
For the past couple of years, my friend Caroline has worked with the UNC Women’s Soccer team in their media department, and she has openly shared her faith with players. This past year, one of the girls on the team, Alexis, became a Christian and was baptized. (Watch the story of her conversion on YouTube.) Now, Alexis shares the gospel with the other girls on the team.
This is only one of many stories of God’s work on the college campus. My campus pastor encouraged us with words from Acts 18: “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
God has commanded us to not be silent, for he is with us. He has many on the college campus who need the good news—and we have an opportunity to share it with them.
3. It has shown me the gift of the local church.
Church felt like a normal part of my life from a young age, but attending college has strengthened my love for the local church. It’s been a home away from home. When my housemates and I were quarantined, my church brought us food. Church members have welcomed us into their homes. Elders have prayed over me and helped answer difficult questions. Pastors have exhorted us to go make disciples.
There has been so much encouragement that elders see us as just as capable of ministry as older adults. They have spurred me on to be in the Word and to know King Jesus more.
As I’ve witnessed the emptiness of the secular world, I’ve been more thankful for the rich blessings of the church—where we can worship God for who he is and see him in the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters.
I’ve been more thankful for the rich blessings of the church.
As I think about the past 18 months, I am reminded of the Lord’s kindness in showing me more of himself. Through being forced to ask hard questions, encouraged in evangelism, and loving the local church more deeply, I have seen Jesus more clearly. I hope and pray that no matter where this year’s high school graduating classes are bound, they too will behold Jesus and become more like him in the next four years.