For those of us who are old enough to remember, the big headlines in 1970 were about the breakup of the Beatles, the Apollo 13 crisis, the Kent State killings, and the Vietnam war. It was also the Jesus Revolution,” and many Jewish youths were becoming believers. As a 20 year old, those events were the backdrop of my life. But when I remember 1970 the whole year (and all the years since then) was profoundly shaped by my decision as a college student to follow Jesus with a passion that exceeded my zeal for any cause that I had ever marched for. Without a local body of believers to support that decision, it may have been just another phase for me, like bell-bottoms and pet rocks.
Meals, rides, a place to hang out after services, financial support for outreach projects — these were some of the practical ways our congregation cared for me. Listening to me, praying for me, sorting out the ethical dilemmas of the age, and giving me a safe place to unload my “agenda” and confess my sins were the soul care that I received. I can still see those faces, feel those hugs, and hear those words of wisdom. My local congregation sustained me while the culture was running amok.
My own children and their friends are college students and beyond. As each of them has left home to head out to the great unknown, I am so aware of what a large group of believers it takes to escort a child into adult faith. I know I am counting on my generation to nurture, listen to, feed, and just start conversations with the 17 to 25-year-old crowd, just as their parents are counting on me.
Here are some ways we can make that happen:
- Find out the names of the college students in your congregation, both home and away, and commit to regular prayer to see them through these critical years. Better yet, get a group interested in this vision. In my congregation we had a prayer group that “met” for a few years through e-mail!
- Look for ways to hang out with the students you meet. I still make a coffee cake recipe that I learned from a woman 32 years ago who thought it would be fun to cook together.
- Drop an e-mail or a care package to a student away at school and ask them how you can be praying for them. At Rosh Hashanah, send a challah and a jar of honey; at Purim send hamentaschen.
- Go out of your way to start a conversation, and be ready to be supportive and listen.
- Keep in mind that this is a NEW generation and wild hair, piercing, and tattoos are common. See past that to the heart within.
- Many of these students, including your own, are somewhere in between the faith of their parents and their own. See yourself as a part of that journey.
Last weekend we celebrated the high school graduation of my youngest child. I looked around at the festivities and noted the adults who celebrated with us who were HER friends and thanked God for the role each has played in her faith formation. I’m counting on believers in her new college town to care for her and I’m ready for the new crop of students coming my way this fall!