How your Christian Union can make the most of travel

I told one church leader what the seminars were at the Christian Union (student-led, interdenominational mission team on the university campus) Weekend Away:

Conversational evangelism,
Community and Hospitality.

“I hope the students choose the one on evangelism – it’s far more relevant to mission on campus than the others” replied the church leader.

But is it?  Should we just cancel the other seminars and have everyone narrow their focus to evangelism?  Asides from the dualism of his assumptions, here’s 5 evangelistic reasons I think he’s missing out:

  1. Most people explicitly mentioned in the book of Acts that come to faith, do so while away from home.  There are thousands of International Students on our campuses from some of the most unreached places in the world.  If we understand travel, we’ll understand them and be able to prioritise getting alongside them with open arms and warm hearts.
  2. God is a God of all peoples.  He desires that an international band of followers congregate round his throne one day.  It’s bizarre if our churches and CUs don’t mirror that by welcoming in, and even prioritising the “outsider”.  How can we do this?  Well, one way is by knowing and experiencing what it is to be an outsider ourselves, in other cultures, in other lands or even where other religions are practised.
  3. The CU who travels together on mission, often not only benefits the culture who has invited them to visit, but learns things they can put back into practice in their home culture far more effectively.  Perspective is an incredible thing that can shape every day – why not get your CU thinking through this travel option?
  4. Everyone has questions on our minds and yearnings on our hearts.  That’s what it is to be made human.  But we don’t always express them with our lips, unless experiences in life force those questions to the forefront of our minds/hearts, and unless we have those we trust beside us who we can share deep things with.  Travel allows us to share hours of the day together, to be vulnerable with each other, in a way that little else does.  Why not travel with our non-Christian mates?
  5. Travel dominates conversations, fills Instagram feeds and echoes longings on many student hearts.  Know how to relate the gospel to travel?  You’ll know how to relate so much of our culture to the gospel too, in ways that students will be able to relate to and understand.

So what does a CU that loves travel look like?  Here’s 5 further top tips of practical things you can do to help that involve travel, or understanding it:

To welcome the traveller:

  • A welcome week!  Whether it’s international students arriving at a far off place, or just Irish students from 20 miles down the road, it’s amazing to be welcomed by a warm community of people.  Speak to your staffworker or Friends International worker about running some basic welcome activities/events or having a welcome pack from the CU/local churches for every overseas student.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if the first person that every first year student met was a Christian, offering a warm smile, help with their luggage and a welcome pack?  Could you even offer the university that there’ll be Christians to pick students up from the airport?  Don’t just duplicate what’s already on offer!
  • A homestay program.  The college holidays hit and all local students go home to be with family.  But what about the international students?  They’re left alone and often with days that they aren’t away travelling.  Could you work with your staffworker to link them to local Christian families who’ll offer a warm home to visit around Christmas and Easter?  Often those friendships go far beyond the day that they visit!  And it’s really easy to organise – all you need to do is get word out there – even a 2 person CU can do that!
  • An International Cafe community space.  Once a week pick a cultural theme or activity, hang a few flags up, play some music and voila, you’ll have an international cafe!  The purpose of it isn’t to entertain people or to get huge numbers, but to build deep relationships with the local helpers, who are all Christians.  Sometimes a Bible study might run concurrently to it, for the many who want to find out more and are naturally curious.
A homestay program just needs a flyer (even a culturally insensitive one like this one worked fine!!) and a staffworker who can liaise with local churches who can host.
A more-fancy-than-usual event when we partnered with the local Chinese Christian Fellowship for Chinese New Year – they did all the hard work!

To travel with the local student:

  • The CUs across Europe that are most effective, are generally those that have community groups with leaders who live in the halls of residence.  Why is this?  Well, because of what we said earlier: people who journey alongside each other are vulnerable with each other too.  And even if that travel is only a twenty minute walk to lectures every day, or a trip to the shop together – the depth of friendship adds up quickly, particularly when people eat together in community too!  So why not start Bible study groups in your halls?  University College Cork CU even had a “3,2,1, GO!” rhythm in place, where they do a Bible study each week for 3 weeks, and then reach out with the good news of Jesus in small ways in their hall of residence on the fourth week (eg: Text-a-toastie and a question about God).
  • Don’t have halls of residence in your college?  Some colleges where most students commute in, have car-sharing arrangements or public transport where many of the people are students.  One student in Carlow offered a lift to a lady every day of term, and she became a Christian before the end of the year!  Another deliberately didn’t put her earphones in immediately every day, leaving chance for conversations with people to develop at the bus stop and as time went on.
Some of my first ever smallgroup/hall group, before a once-a-term formal meal which the whole hall of residence went to.

And so we could go on.  Have you seen good ways that we can all be integrating our faith with our travels as mission teams on Irish universities and campuses?  Let me know!

And in the meantime, please don’t just denigrate travel to the thing you’ll never think about, because it’s not as important.  God can use travel to revolutionise your CU and cause ripples across the nations: will you let Him?

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