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Meeting Jesus on Campus: Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at Western University
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By Haydn Jensen


Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship certainly has a senior presence among Christian ministries at Western. They have been active there since 1928 as a founding chapter of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of Canada. But, don't you dare assume Inter-Varsity's ministry is dated or out of step with today's student world. The opposite is more the case. Why? Inter-Varsity likes to invest in young leaders and entrust young staff with the responsibility to lead with their young enthusiasm and fresh perspective. This model of leadership has proved invaluable in engaging university students in considering what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Let me introduce you to Ryan Barrington and Alix Nori. These are new staff just beginning their placements as new Inter-Varsity staff at Western, and look after what is properly called Western Inter-Varsity’s Multi Ethnic Chapter. (Inter-Varsity also has a Korean Christian Fellowship group at Western.) Although the group varies in size from year to year, right now Ryan says about 40 are consistently involved.

Ryan shares that his own involvement with Inter-Varsity as a student completely transformed his life. He grew up going to church but says he never experienced God in transformational way until he became involved with Inter-Varsity. A key impact for him was in the way Inter-Varsity conducts inductive Bible studies. The idea is to study the Bible by asking three key questions: What does it say? (observation); What does it mean? (interpretation); What does it mean for my life? (application). Often, this requires students to consider a text from a first reader perspective (culturally and historically) and then apply the teaching to our time and culture.

It's not unusual for students studying the Bible in this way to find their commonly held and superficial assumptions crumble upon closer examination of what the Bible actually says. This can be unsettling! Thankfully, Inter-Varsity combines their commitment to careful Bible study with an equally strong commitment to loving community. Ryan shares that for him this meant freedom to ask his own tough questions and speak out with the confidence that he was very much cared for by staff. For Alix, loving community also meant taking risks together, rather than simply huddling for security with a group of like-minded people. Part of Alix’s university experience was to go on an Inter-Varsity Global Partnership to East Asia where she and others could, in her words, “experience God’s kingdom in a powerful way." This challenged Alix to see living for Christ differently and led her to Inter-Varsity staff work--a calling to provide mentorship and care in a university setting.

With Inter-Varsity's clearly Bible-centered focus, it's no surprise that both Alix and Ryan spend a lot of time running weekly Bible studies and training student leaders to run them as well. They offer studies for people who are already Christians and also offer seeker Bible studies designed for people who are not already Christian, putting extra care into ensuring that those new to the Bible feel comfortable and free to participate fully. Perhaps you can appreciate the care needed to help one or two people new to the Bible feel welcome to contribute to a discussion in a room where everyone else grew up going to church.

Prayer also plays an important role for Alix and Ryan. Wanting to expand students understanding and introduce them to prayer approaches from various Christian traditions, staff offer opportunities for prayer walks, liturgical Common Prayer (Anglican), breath prayer, and so on. Likewise, worship

Let's not forget about food. Or fun. Yes, Christians enjoy these things also. Inter-Varsity at Western knows this is integral to healthy community, and makes sure students have plenty of opportunities to socialize and enjoy meals together. With potlucks, regular meals and even an upcoming coffee house talent show, Inter-Varsity leaders know how to balance spiritually focussed time with healthy social activities.

The main challenges Alix and Ryan have faced so far this year have been raising their financial support and also having to let students do all the start of year work while the staff pursued support partnership. The staff duo didn't get officially on campus until the beginning of October 2014. In an interesting sign of God's providence, both Ryan and Alix received the last remaining support needed--$6,000 each--on the same day. Playing catch up in October, Alix and Ryan commented that they had to deal with some stressed out and tired leaders who were learning some hard lessons about their own ability and capacities.

On the encouragement side, Ryan has been strengthened by seeing God provide. Provision comes in many forms, and for Ryan one encouragement came on four wheels. Just when the car he had been driving was damaged in an accident, a donor provided him a car at dealer cost - which was minimal. This car was newer and with fewer kilometers than what he had before. That's encouragement!

Any pastor or missionary will tell you that ministry is full of joys, setbacks, and a strange mix of seasons that shift from seeming like nothing is happening to everything happening all at once. It’s fair to say that any ministry worthwhile is never easy. Ryan and Alix can use our prayers and encouragement. They work with students who are trying to work out what they believe--not just want their parents want them to believe. For some that Ryan and Alix have the privilege of walking alongside, they can see that wheels are turning and that something is happening. Sometimes it’s hard going, and we should commend both the students and the staff for working through big questions together.

To find out more about Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, the Western chapter, or Alix and Ryan, check out these links:

Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of Canada: www.ivcf.ca or 1.800.668.9766
Western Inter-Varsity's Multi Ethnic Chapter: western.intervarsity@gmail.com