JEFFERSON CITY – With the Fall semester about to begin, MBCollegiate Campus Missionaries are making plans – and contingencies for what happens if their campuses move online.
Currently, most campuses are reopening, but it’s far from education as usual. Campuses like North Central Missouri College (NCMC), Crowder College, and Missouri State University will have in-person classes with indoor mask requirements and social distancing. On-campus organizations will be allowed to meet on campus as long as they make safe modifications to their activities.
NCMC Campus Missionary Christina Boatright says, “Our ministry is allowed full access to campus and we will be modifying our normal events to be as safe as possible – our annual start of school BBQ will be outside with pre-made dinner boxes; our ice cream and lawn games will have prepackaged ice cream instead of hand dipped; our Wednesday lunches will have less indoor seating; and masks, gloves are required for all volunteers. We installed a new touch-less hand sanitizer machine [in the BSU building], and we are hiring a student to help with weekly sanitation efforts.”
Circumstances are similar for Campus Missionary Aaron Werner at Crowder College. “I can still do things on campus like our BBQ, PIE Day and other events, as long as we make necessary adjustments,” he says.
While Campus Missionaries are grateful they can still do things on campus, changing the way things are done to include masking and social distancing, hold events outdoors when possible, serve pre-packaged food, and adhere to other guidelines required by the campuses is an arduous task. “The biggest challenge is just having to change nearly everything we do,” says Jason Yarnell, Campus Missionary at Northwest Missouri State.
Other campuses are taking a more conservative approach, further restricting activities and reducing or eliminating student organizations’ ability to meet on campus. Campuses like the University of Missouri-Kansas City are severely limiting the number of in-person classes and are asking students to adhere to social distancing both on and off campus. Individuals who are not students or staff will not be allowed on campus at all.
Travis Hamm, director of Collegiate Impact, sees this as a unique opportunity for his organization’s aim of starting ministries on all 17 campuses in the Kansas City area. “With opportunities to minister on-campus limited due to the pandemic, we’re not bound to campus-specific Bible studies and events. It opens the opportunity for students from our unreached campuses to participate, either virtually or at outdoor events around the city. When campuses fully reopen, we could be positioned well to have new works ready to start on other campuses.”
Many campuses will not return to campus after Thanksgiving. The semester will either end early or move online. But many Campus Missionaries are skeptical that in-person classes will last that long. “Most people I’ve talked to think we will not last more than four weeks before we go back to online only,” says Jason Yarnell, Campus Missionary at Northwest Missouri State University.
The question of if or when school will move back online is like living “with a dark cloud hanging over us,” Yarnell says. Ministries must be prepared to switch “at a moment’s notice,” says Aaron Werner, Campus Missionary at Crowder College.
The uncertainty is particularly difficult for international students. “International students are very nervous, more so I think than us Americans, because of how it can affect their visas,” says Greg Xander, Campus Missionary at Truman State University.
Though the circumstances are ever-changing, the Campus Missionaries’ hearts and prayers for the students remain the same: “That students would come to Christ who don’t know him, that we would continue to make mature disciples, and that we can connect with new students,” says Scott Westfall, Campus Missionary at Missouri Valley College.
“They [students] will still be everywhere on campus and their peers will still need community – and ultimately Christ. Pray that they rise to the challenge,” Yarnell pleads.