“Please don’t have her ask me to start a college ministry,” I prayed as I met with my pastor Meli to talk about what I’d be doing for my senior year practicum 25 years ago.
Meli outlined the internship involving visiting the sick and dying, co-teaching two Sunday school classes, attending staff meetings and retreats and shadowing her through her day.
And I kept praying she wouldn’t ask me to start a college ministry. I had already watched 3 attempts crash and burn, including one where she did all the teaching—and Meli was an incredible teacher. I didn’t want to be in charge of and blamed for the 4th failure.
But sure enough, Meli said, “And as a project, you can spend 20 hours a week starting a college ministry!!!”
Super hyper bummer.
She didn’t ask me to do it alone. She gave me a partner—Dave—an InterVarsity staff at Northwestern who had just returned from 7 years serving as Bible Study Trainer for English speaking Africa.
Dave and I began meeting regularly—when Dave remembered to meet. He was suffering from complete reverse-culture shock being back in America. Keeping a calendar and setting up appointments was an American habit especially difficult to regain. I’d call, “Dave, were we supposed to meet today?”
Long pause. “Oh. . . yes. . . please forgive me.”
The times we met, Dave tried to move us forward in dreaming about church college ministry but I felt so cynical that I shot down every one of his ideas. “That was tried before, it won’t work.”
This went on for weeks.
Finally, Dave said, “I think we just need to find one or two students to pray with us that God would start a college ministry.”
“Dave,” said I, “I KNOW the college students who attend this church—there’s not a single one that I think would be willing to do that.”
“Oh. . . but I always trust God for that.”
It was as if 10,000 arrows of conviction shot through me. I realized I felt hopeless and unmotivated because of my deep fear of failure and my addiction to achievement. Dave’s gentle words “Oh. . . but I always trust God for that” exhorted that it wasn’t my job to create a college ministry. It was God’s. And if God wanted a college ministry, He would provide the students to pray and the vision and resources to follow. College ministry at 1st Presbyterian Church of Evanston was up to God, not me.
All day I’ve been writing about the founding of the Northwestern Graduate Christian Fellowship 25 years ago, something Dave roped me into when I stayed that fall for graduate school. We’re throwing a reunion over Memorial Day and honoring Dave, who’s stepping down from student ministry.
With Dave, I had the privilege of starting both a college ministry at our church and a graduate student ministry at my alma mater. Yet more important were his simple words. They have become a cornerstone of my life and ministry ever since. Virtually every time I get myself in trouble—worrying about how I’ll solve problems with kids, or marriage, or friends, or work, or money, or everything else about life, it’s because I’ve forgotten the first step in everything God asks me to do. Always, I need to go back to that cafeteria table in the student center and remember: