Last weekend was the College Ministry Fall Retreat, and it was an awesome experience! We went to Lake Granbury, where Jim and Dana Sager generously allowed us to use their house for a few days. Several students and ministry partners spent time meditating on God in nature and in Scripture, got to know one another closer, and also had a ton of fun out on the lake.
As enjoyable as all of those things were, something else was the highlight of the retreat. Three students from Texas Wesleyan University came with us, and they are all new to Southside. One of them is from Mongolia and has been in the USA for about a month, but he was interested in coming with us, so of course we welcomed him!
The key highlight was this - on Friday night we did a prayer walk where students got some time to pray alone and also with others. Our friend from Mongolia began to ask questions about prayer, and another student compared it to meditation. We said, yes, prayer is like meditation in some ways, but when you pray, you can talk to God. He looked a little surprised and said, “You talk to God? I want to do that!” He asked if he could pray in his language, and I excitedly told him that he could.
Even if the rest of the weekend had gone terribly (which it did not), it would have been worth it for that moment. Helping to teach someone to pray - something I have often taken for granted - convinced me of two things:
1) College ministry is the place to be if you want to reach the world. I know of no other place where one might find themselves teaching someone from Mongolia to pray while spending a weekend at a lake house in Texas. Yet, that sort of thing comes with the territory of college ministry. If you want to reach the world with the Gospel, but leaving Fort Worth isn’t an option, pay a visit to a local university. God is working there and we can come alongside Him.
2) Christians do some weird things, and we should own that. Instead of trying to explain away our reason for things like prayer, we should lean into it as a unique action. If you believe that prayer is an avenue for communication with God, that’s a little weird. But don’t treat it as something that must remain private. It is a part of our unique identity as Christians and children of God - let those strange uniquenesses serve as a light to others. We are distinctive, let’s own that and God will work through it.
Those who are visiting our church or ministries from a non-faith background appreciate our kindness and welcoming spirit, but often they are truly captivated by oddities like prayer, singing, communion, baptism, and family language. Where else in the world do you immerse someone in water and then call them your brother or sister?? These things are key parts of our identity - we can dampen them for fear of looking weird, or we can own them and see how God works through us.