It’s been an eventful Orientation Week at Southern Cross University (SCU). In fact, it’s one of the most memorable I’ve had since being here. ‘O-week’ went from the Wednesday to the Friday, and involved many new students coming onto campus.
It’s a key time of the year for our Christian Group ‘Evangelical Christians’, as we connect with new students, share the gospel as opportunities arise, and serve the wider university community. A number of interesting things happened, which I’ll now share.
Something Very Strange Is Going On.
[An incident took place in O-week, regarding an alleged cult in the area, but since an investigation is still pending, I’ve removed this section of the blog post. It will be reposted at a later date, once the investigation is complete].
I did manage to be part of a small incident that took place during Orientation Week. Our Christian group had a stall set up in the Main Plaza of campus, next to the International Student Social Club stall. I was manning our stall with Joe, our student President, and the International Student stall was manned by two female international students.
I noticed that a gentlemen in his 50’s was talking to the international students at their stall, and had been doing so for quite some time. On our campus it’s quite common to have mature-age students, so I didn’t think more of it, although he had been talking for quite some time (20 mins or so). As I was sitting at our stall, Joe turns to me and says that I might want to go over to the International Stall, as he’s hearing the older gentleman saying some inappropriate things.
So I went over to the International Stall, and stood there listening in whilst filling out a contact form. It turns out that the gentleman in question was making some unwanted sexual innuendo, commenting on the beauty of the students, and asking for their personal details. It was all very creepy, and it was obvious that the Internationals felt pretty uncomfortable.
And so I thought I needed to get these two female internationals out of this situation, preferably in the most natural, low-key way possible. It turns out that a BBQ lunch was being served in the plaza, and so I said that we should go and get lunch before the line gets too long. To cut a long story short, the internationals were able to leave the situation, and get lunch, and I started talking to the gentleman. It became apparent pretty quickly that something wasn’t quite right: he seemed a little unhinged. Not only that, but he wasn’t a student at all, so he had no reason to be on campus.
I then went to walk back to our stall, and noticed two security guards coming up to me. I mentioned to them that this gentleman had made the international girls feel quite uncomfortable, and they said that they’d been following him from a distance, as he was a ‘person of interest’, who ‘had a record of this sort of behaviour on other campuses’.
Eventually the security guards talked with him, and asked him to leave campus, which he did so peacefully.
I managed to talk to the international students, and they were fine, although pretty creeped-out by the gentleman in question.
And We Made Connections.
On a much brighter note, we did manage to connect with a large number of students (certainly most of the ones who came into the plaza). This year we decided to cook free pancake breakfasts in the plaza each morning of O-week, which the university not only OK-d, but also advertised it on their official O-week Programme.
Anyway, it meant that we were able to serve many pancakes to hungry students, and chat with them as well. Most of the students were 1st years, who didn’t know anyone from a bar of soap, so they were happy for a friendly chat. We invited them to our group, and to a number of activities that we had running.
As a look back over O-week, a number of thoughts come to mind, particularly in relation to how Christian ministries such as ours, as well as Churches in general, ought to relate to the wider community.
1) Transparency. Transparency. Transparency.
The O-week incident with the (alleged) cult urgently brought to mind a very important principle that Christians need to keep in mind: we need to be very upfront and transparent about who we are, and what we’re on about.
It’s no secret that cults are often very sneaky and deceptive in how they relate to people. Seemingly innocent sounding events are put on, but with a very hidden agenda.
But being deceptive is not a Christian way of loving others, or promoting the gospel. Transparency isn’t some new modern principle that Christians have been forced to adapt to. It’s actually built into the logic of how we proclaim the gospel. The apostle Paul wrote as such in his second letter to the church in the Greek city of Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:2):
2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
No deception. But simply setting forth the truth plainly.
For us, at our campus Christian group Evangelical Christians (EC), this has meant being very careful about transparency as we run events (such as cooking pancakes during O-week!). From the beginning, we were upfront with the university as to who we are, and what we intended to do. The university advertised it as an EC run activity: we all wore our EC t-shirts: there was an EC banner and advertising right there as people grabbed their pancakes. As we talked to people, inviting them to come to our group, we let them know who were.
Transparency, and not deception, is the Christian way of loving people, and sharing the gospel.
2) No manipulation or coercion as we share the gospel.
The other thing about cults is that they manipulate and/or coerce people into joining them, and staying with them. But again, as per 2 Cor 4:2, this is completely foreign to the New Testament ethic of gospel proclamation.
Indeed, the late Christian social critic and activist Chuck Colson continually pointed out that Christians are not meant to im-pose the gospel onto others: rather, we pro-pose: the gospel is the great proposal, inviting people to come to the wedding supper of the lamb.
It’s a proposal that needs to be given openly and honestly.
It’s a proposal that people must be free to accept or reject, as it is impossible to force any person to accept Jesus and Lord and Saviour against their conscience. Not to mention that God isn’t pleased with fake, contrived worship (Pharisees, anyone?).
(For more on how Christian ministries and Churches can trip up at this point, please see my earlier post: ‘Is Your Church Toxic?‘)
3) Relating to the wider community without compromising the gospel.
Being a Christian community on campus urgently raises the question of how we relate to the non-Christian culture around us: do we keep ourselves as separate as possible from everyone else? Do we blend in as much possible, in the hope of ‘becoming all things to all men, so as to save some’ (1 Cor 9:22)? Or some combination of the above?
Well, it’s an interesting question. When I first started on campus in 2010, our group was threatened with being kicked off campus, thanks to a fairly antagonistic gay activist (but that’s another story). Our group was under a bit of a cloud, at least as far as some parts of the University administration were concerned.
However, we’re now at the stage where the University not only welcomed us doing events like pancakes in the Main Plaza; they not only advertised us on the uni website; but they also asked us to do it again in following Orientation weeks.
That is a big turnaround.
Having done some thinking on relating to culture thanks to my old buddy D.A. Carson, via his book Christ and Culture revisited, it seems that Scripture presents a number of distinctive (and at times different) ways of relating to culture, which Christians are free to wisely choose from depending on their situation. That is, there is no ‘one size fits all’ model that every Christian at every time and in every place has to use. (Now sure, there are non negotiables, e.g. do not worship your culture’s false gods, but there is much flexibility).
So for us, the way we related to the campus in my early days is a little different to now: at that time, we were somewhat more under the radar.
But now that our relationship is much better, and are enjoying the ‘favour’ of the university, we can do things that we otherwise would not have done (e.g. pancakes in the Main Plaza!).
All in all, it was a great O-week for us on campus, and we look forward to (transparently!) continuing our mission of making Christ known on campus, throughout the rest of the year.