TRENTON – Not all is doom and gloom with quarantined life during COVID-19. For Campus Missionary Christina Boatright at North Central Missouri College (NCMC), the pandemic has opened doors she never saw coming.
When the coronavirus hit and classes moved online, “it was a big adjustment,” Boatright says.
Students living on campus had a one-day warning to move out of the dorms at staggered times. Despite having her broken hand in a splint, Boatright helped four students move out, none of whom are believers. They were extremely grateful for the help. “They saw that Christians are here to help them, not hinder them,” she says.
Boatright quickly found it impossible to get all her students onto one weekly Zoom call. She switched methods and started livestreaming, individually conversing with students over video chat throughout the week. She would check in with them, send Bible verses and let them know when the livestreams were. “They started contacting me back. Actually more of them were contacting me than I was contacting,” she says.
Before the campus shut down, the BSU hosted free weekly lunches for students every Wednesday, serving between 15-100 students, many of them international. Under lockdown, students who had never participated in any other BSU activities started reaching out to Boatright. “They are struggling with anxiety or trying to write papers from another country with no one to help, and their English isn’t that great,” she says. She started helping them in those areas, which has given way to spiritual conversations.
One student from an island in the Caribbean contacted her as he was writing a paper on the spiritual effects of quarantine on Christians. They ended up conversing about the gospel. “For him to reach out and want to talk about the gospel was pretty amazing,” Boatright says.
The pandemic has fueled deeper conversations about church, faith, and what the gospel looks like in this context. “They’re conversations I wouldn’t normally get to have with these students,” Boatright says. “I’m seeing an uptick from kids. They’re asking questions. … Is it wrong for me to be anxious? Is it wrong for me to be struggling with this?”
A lot of students are finding the transition to online classes surprisingly difficult, despite the bad rap their generation gets for being glued to technology. “They’re way more anxious, struggling to do their classes well,” she says. “I’m encouraging them, praying with them, hearing them out, having gospel discussions. I’m seeing God start to move in some hearts where there wasn’t movement before.”
The fact that her ministry is thriving has come as an unexpected blessing for Boatright. NCMC is a two-year school, which makes ministry continuity difficult from year to year. Most of her core students graduated last year, leaving her with just a handful of students. “This year was tough…lots of rebuilding and really investing,” she says. Never did she anticipate that during a pandemic that has physically stratified her ministry, she would see an increase in students’ engagement with her and with the gospel. “When this hit, I thought it would be so much harder. But all the kids who are returning next year now realize that the BSU is open for them even when we’re not physically present.”
Her advice to others who are trying to reach college students during this time is to “be gracious with yourself. We’re all experiencing new. You may not be as technologically advanced or as fancy as other groups you see. Just make it clear that you care. They just care that you care about them right now.”
Though she’s fought her fair share of discouragement during the lockdown, seeing God work in such unforeseen ways has been a reminder to her that “God’s word never fails. It’s not going to fail us now.”