In InterVarsity lingo, NSO stands for “New Student Outreach,” the first few weeks of the school year in which InterVarsity staff and student leaders meet incoming freshmen and other new friends and invite them to become part of our communities on campuses all over the country. These posts are a few snapshots of the beginning of the school year on a few of the campuses where I either staff or oversee other IV staff. This story happened on Wednesday.
The first week of school keeps rolling forward! On Wednesday, UMSL (the University of Missouri-St. Louis) had their student organization fair, which they call the Fall Expo. If you’re unfamiliar with the campus ministry world, these fairs happen on most major university campuses and they are one of the primary ways that organizations like InterVarsity meet new students on campus. At places like UMSL, dozens of student groups will set up booths and give out information about their organization as students walk past.
I actually found out about the Fall Expo too late to reserve a space. However, as God continues to teach me, planting/re-planting is much more about partnership and learning from cultural experts than it is about my imported expertise. My friend Andi has been running a fantastic InterVarsity ministry aimed at reaching internationals on campus at UMSL for the past few years and she is also very gifted at organization. Andi was the one who told me about the Expo and, in the same breath, also mentioned that she would love to share her booth with me. She was willing to use half the space they would normally have to connect with students to help me have a place of legitimacy on campus – what a gift!
I called a former UMSL student named Robrion and we showed up with our fliers, fruit snacks left over from Sunday, and all the extroverted energy we could muster. In the course of a couple hours, we managed to connect with over 50 new students and more than 20 of them signed our contact cards to tell us they were interested in hearing more about our upcoming activities. A few of the students seemed like they were particularly interested in having a place on campus where they could be trained to see themselves as missionaries – this is exactly what I’m looking for at UMSL and at Flo Valley. We even got to connect with two Christian faculty members which is a huge gift for me as we come to a new campus. Christian professors/administrators can make a big difference in lending credibility to a group like ours.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve been learning this week has been the incalculable value of partnership as we take risks for the Kingdom. I feel like I have done something everyday this week that scares me and that I would have had every opportunity to run away from had I not had someone with me in the trenches. There is something about community that makes us braver and more willing to sacrifice and step into the fray than we would ever be on our own. I am a true introvert but, if you pair me with someone who is counting on me to say yes to Jesus, I will talk to anyone, anywhere. Send me on my own and I may suddenly have loads of work to get done on my laptop in a quiet corner somewhere. But when I remember to call a friend or invite a student or co-worker to come with me, I see Jesus do amazing things on campus. Praise God.