BLAND – If desperation is the mother of invention, then pandemic may well be the mother of creativity. Loving and serving others is more complicated in a post-coronavirus world, but it’s far from impossible: it just takes some imagination. MBCollegiate campus missionaries have been finding creative ways to serve students and their communities despite the disruption and challenges of this season.
Some campus missionaries brought smiles to faces with small but meaningful gestures that let people know they are loved and not alone. Over Easter weekend, Campus Missionary Greg Xander and his family delivered Easter care bags to the front porches of the few students who were still in town. They delivered six goodie-filled bags to students from South Africa, India, Korea, Mexico, and the U.S. “Or to say it another way,” Xander writes, “a Hindi, a Muslim, a Catholic, and three Christians.”
Scott Westfall, campus missionary at Missouri Valley College, organized a socially distanced “coffeehouse” during finals week. Through delivery or safe pickup from the parking lot of Bethany Baptist Church, the BSU blessed students with free hot or cold gourmet coffee drinks. Their group of fifteen students who had remained on campus took shifts to make and distribute over thirty drinks. “Every night we stayed later to talk and spend time praying over students,” says Westfall. Through the event, they connected with thirteen new-to-their ministry collegiates and identified two students who needed help moving out of the residence halls. Westfall also presented the gospel to two international students.
Campus Missionary Travis Hamm from Collegiate Impact in Kansas City spent a Saturday morning “TPing” his neighbors in a whole new way with the help of his wife and kids. They decorated paper bags with cheerful artwork, filled each bag with toilet paper, and attached a little note introducing their family and expressing their availability to pray for or meet needs. They delivered the toilet paper to each front porch on their block, 18 houses in all. “Over the next few days, we received multiple texts and phone calls from grateful neighbors, some of whom we hadn’t met since we moved to the neighborhood in August. The simple gesture seemed to speak volumes of love and hope to our neighbors,” says Hamm.
Campus missionaries are also meeting essential needs in a time when many have been left without necessary resources, including food, housing, transportation, and money. When campuses first began shutting down, some students were given little notice to collect their belongings and move out without the help of family or friends. Christina Boatright from the BSU at North Central Missouri College snap chatted her availability to help students move out. A Resident Assistant reached out asking for help for an international student, and Boatright made good on her offer. Greg Xander helped a Korean student move out of the Truman State dorms on short notice, as well.
Toward the end of the semester, Campus Missionary Jon Smith from the Missouri Southern State University BSU helped a student with legitimate financial needs. Unfortunately, “college students were mostly left out of the stimulus package,” he says, leaving students, many of whom work in the gig, hospitality, or restaurant industries, without a way to pay their large tuition bills and living expenses.
The Truman State BSU has been working with the international student office and another on-campus ministry, Campus Christian Fellowship, to provide aid to the 300 international students stuck in Kirksville due to the pandemic. These students are the most vulnerable, facing travel restrictions, work limitations on student visas, language barriers, and lack of housing options. Together they are helping coordinate assistance for these students to get food every two weeks at local food banks and weekly transportation to and from Walmart for groceries. “It is opening up more ways for us to be interacting with the Truman staff as we do these things together and with CCF…no one group can pull it off on their own with the distancing in mini-buses that needs to happen,” says Xander.
Aaron Werner and the BSU at Crowder College have also provided dire assistance to international students. When four Brazilian students found themselves stuck in the States, one of the BSU’s Friendship Family partners provided housing while the BSU and a local church helped financially. When the students were finally able to fly home in early May, Werner transported them to the airport.
Martin Luther is known for having written during the plague of 1527, “I shall avoid persons and places where my presence is not needed…If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely.”
Campus missionaries are following his wise advice to go freely and serve hands-on where their presence is needed while finding ways to serve creatively from a distance whenever possible. Their efforts remind us all that pandemic is not an obstacle to the gospel but rather an opportunity to shine the light of Jesus even more brightly.