Penn State Berks is a mission field. I truly appreciate the work of Benson Hines in helping many people to see that college campuses are much like tribes on foreign mission fields. Each tribes has its own culture, history, language and so on. Our purpose is for people to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Since the members of each campus tribe have a different culture, the methods we use may end up differing from campus to campus (tribe to tribe).
One unique aspect of campus tribes, as opposed to unreached people groups throughout the world, is that many students on campus have prior experiences with Christians. Such experiences color their attitude toward Christians as a whole. This became starkly clear to me recently. A couple weeks ago we had a men’s night as a bunch of guys from CSF went to a pizza buffet, then returned to the dorms for a game of Risk. It was getting late and one student, having to get up at 4 AM for ROTC stuff, left to get some sleep and another student who had walked by took his place. The new student is Jewish. A bit of conversation ensued about Jesus which remained friendly. The Jewish student knew the Christians from before and was not interested in a religious discussion. I introduced myself to him as the pastor for CSF.
A few days later I emailed one of the Christian students, saying I would like to buy that Jewish student lunch and get to know him. The Jewish student refused, saying he feared I would try to convert him. Later that same day he saw me on campus and came up to me to explain, saying he had had some negative experiences with people like me (Christians, pastors). It is interesting because he seems interested in discussing spiritual topics, truth and so on. If I recall though, a Christian (perhaps a pastor) had invited him to lunch once and the whole lunch had become a debate about religion.
On one hand I guess he was right, I would try to “convert” him if by that he means I believe that Jesus Christ is the savior and that belief, being central to who I am, would naturally come up in conversation. On the other hand, I was taken aback because I am (or at least, try to be) respectful to those who disagree with me. I try to listen as much, if not more than I talk. I think it is just my job to be a friend, to build a relationship, to show Jesus in my words and actions but to leave the actual “converting” to the Holy Spirit.
This encounter has reminded me of the great challenge we face in reaching the campus tribes! So many students have been hurt by religion and are not even interested. My prayer is that the students in CSF would find ways to befriend people, to overcome these challenges, and to present the beautiful good news of Jesus Christ with love, kindness, humility and respect.