Imagine a city with thousands of people between the ages of 17 and 40, a city of people from all parts of the globe and all backgrounds, rich and poor, hungry and overfed. A city full of those who have left their families behind. A city of strangers – each one full of hopes and dreams, hungry for an education, seeking to be better than when they first arrived in the city.
Some fulfill their dreams; others see those dreams dashed. Some thrive; others drop out. Some have the time of their lives, others lose their lives. This city is called “university!” Engaging the university is such a dynamic and exciting area of involvement for SIM. There are so many opportunities, only some of which we have been able to grasp. University is a core mission field of unreached people from across the globe and down the road, from the city and from the bush.students
What are we already doing?
In Latin America SIM has opened cafes to provide safe meeting places, where students can play games, read books, make friends and learn English. In these cafes they find a community that cares and listens, a place where they can receive good counselling and find refuge.
In West Africa teaching English as a foreign language is an effective way to engage with students. We also teach computer skills, and create community and friendship through discussion, dialogue and social events.
In Ethiopia a key focus area for us is equipping the Church in topics such as sexuality and apologetics. In one university we have a philosophy lecturer who is making a huge impact in his department and among his students. In South Africa and Kenya we’re seeking to work with the local churches to reach out to the many international students who come from across the continent of Africa.
In Asia we’re pioneering a number of new fields through English teaching and openings for lecturers. In our sending countries we are considering how we can mobilize and motivate a new generation. We want to see them living for Christ, wherever he calls them. As they reach out in mission, they need to consider both what God is calling them to do and who he is calling them to be.
We are beginning to see the strategic value of engaging such a community of people. And there are some exciting new developments in the pipeline. Students are the future leaders of our nations, businesses, schools and churches. By investing in this community we are investing in the future.
The challenges students face
Aidah came to university from an underprivileged background. She had lived out in the bush and was a hard worker. Her father called her “good for nothing,” and said she could never go on to further studies because she was only a girl. But Aidah surprised everyone by doing all of her chores and studying too. Each night she stayed up late, studying by candlelight. Because the teaching she received at school was sometimes not adequate, she often did extra study on her own.
When Aidah was accepted at university, her family couldn’t believe it. She was the first in the family – or in the entire village – to be offered a place. Everyone expected her to get a good job one day and make enough money to lift not only her own family out of poverty, but also the other 45 households in the village.
Her father sold their pride and joy, a beautiful heifer, to pay for her transport to the city and the university’s registration fee. As she said farewell to her family and friends and boarded the bus, she was full of fear. What would life in the city be like? On arrival, where would she go? Who would she meet? How would she pay for her food? Where would she do her washing? What about textbooks? How could she afford them? Many university students worry about questions like these. They can feel terribly vulnerable.
David is studying medicine. He shares a room with 20 other young men, although there are only enough bunk beds and living space for six. They work on rotation throughout the night – some will sleep, while others are working. The only trouble is that the electricity is often out on campus. But David has found one street light just outside the campus that doesn’t tend to go out. He often sits under it to write his essays.
During the day he and the others take turns attending lectures since there are not enough seats in the lecture hall for all of them to get in. Then they just copy each other’s notes. David is very careful with his note taking. But sometimes his friends don’t listen carefully, and David tries to teach himself using the few books in the library.
David leads one of the Christian groups on campus, and during their free time they go out to the rural areas to teach and preach. When we met, we talked about starting up an ethics group on campus to engage with some of the medical issues they faced. I think David will be a good surgeon, and will also impact the Christian community.
Wherever I travel I ask myself, “How can we partner and work alongside those who are already working with students? And where are the gaps? Will we dare to go to the places where no one else is going?” Please join me in praying that we can take the opportunities that present themselves.
Emma Brewster – SIM