Baptist Campus Ministries serve students at community colleges across Alabama comment (0)
March 27, 2014
By Amy Jackson
Across the United States on most four-year college campuses, a variety of student groups and organizations regularly meet each week, ranging from Greek fraternities and sororities to religious groups to service organizations.
While community colleges, often attended by students who are in transition and from varied backgrounds, traditionally have a different atmosphere than four-year universities, that hasn’t stopped Alabama Baptists from leaving their mark there.
Statistics show that many students leave their faith after graduating from high school, which is why Alabama Baptists believe investing in campus ministries is important. Whether on a four-year university campus or at a community college, a focus on ministry to college students is vital to reaching the lost and discipling them in their faith journey, state Baptist leaders contend.
Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM) has a strong and growing presence on 27 community college campuses across Alabama. Ministry looks different according to the specific campuses involved; BCM has had an active and involved presence on some campuses, such as Southern Union State Community College–Opelika, for a number of years. For other campuses, BCM is a recent addition. Such is the case with Wallace Community College–Dothan.
Shea Murphy, president of BCM at Wallace–Dothan, has been a part of the BCM on her campus since its inauguration this past year. She reported that more than 80 students at the campus signed a petition to have BCM there. Their outreach on the campus officially started in fall 2013.
While each campus’ ministry varies according to student population and demographics as well as tenure of the BCM, they all share the same mission: to involve students in regular Bible study and discipleship to help them develop their personal spiritual walks and equip them to reach their campuses for Christ.
While ministry is happening, it doesn’t come without challenges.
Jake Duke, a campus minister serving at several community college campuses in west Alabama, including Alabama Southern Community College–Demopolis, Alabama Southern Community College–Gilbertown, Wallace Community College–Selma and Marion Military Institute, noted some of the challenges, which also serve as opportunities for ministry.
Many students attending community college have enrolled in school later in life to earn a degree, he said. Time also is a struggle for many students on a community college campus because many are commuting to campus for classes while also carving out time for work, studying and family.
But despite these differences, “The students are still the students,” Duke said. “They aren’t any different. You just have to find different times to be able to reach them.”
He spoke of a senior citizen in the past who had become involved with BCM and noted that her presence was a real encouragement to his students.
While not having a permanent building on campus can be difficult, some BCMs take advantage of creatively utilizing space offered to them by their campus.
Shannon Hughes, BCM campus minister at Southern Union State–Opelika and Auburn University, leads a Bible study in the campus’ student union building each week and also fosters relationships on campus with the administration. Her colleague Steve Thompson connects with students by setting up video game consoles in the student union, where he engages with students every Thursday by playing video games and having conversations in between their classes.
Though there are challenges, the joy of ministry and effects of evangelism and discipleship are evident in many reports from Alabama’s community college campuses.
Eric Sexton, collegiate/student minister for Etowah Baptist Association and campus minister for Gadsden State Community College, described the fruit he has seen from students engaging in international ministry at Gadsden State.
“[Our] BCM ... has had a long-term relationship with the international program,” he said. “We have three ‘international welcome’ parties a year ... [and we host] annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners so that our international students can experience a holiday meal.”
Several of their students also have committed to be a part of a program called “12 Weeks of Intentionality,” where they challenge each other to have at least one spiritual conversation every week over the course of three months. The experience, according to Sexton, has been both challenging and rewarding, as he reports that “all of us are growing and learning about how to be more intentional [through this program], both in our walk with God and with the world.”
BCM students at Southern Union–Opelika have likewise opened doors for conversation through the use of Soularium cards, which use images to start conversations about the gospel.
Murphy said the first BCM activity at Wallace–Dothan was one of service to the community. They offered water and snacks to participants of a breast cancer awareness walk.
Report after report of students who encountered the gospel through BCM’s ministry on their campuses tell the story of the significance of this ministry and its place and purpose. There are countless examples of students who became believers through the ministry of BCM or recommitted their lives to the cause of Christ and have had tremendous impacts on their campuses as a result of these decisions.
However, the gospel proclamation is not merely contained to these individual campuses through the efforts of BCM; these seeds planted have the power and potential to reach the nations. For instance, Sexton shared that he has been meeting with a Nigerian student at Gadsden State who was recently baptized. Sexton said he truly believes “that BCM gives [this student] an opportunity to connect with students like him, and together we are all storying through the Old and New Testament. One day I believe he will take the gospel back to his home country. He can go through doors that I can’t.”
Ministry like this is made possible through the prayer and financial support of Alabama Baptists in cooperation with BCMs across the state.
“That’s one thing I’m proud of Alabama Baptists for ... [being] willing ... to go where no one else is doing anything and to reach students where they aren’t being reached otherwise,” Duke said. “Thank you for supporting what we are doing and for having a heart to reach college students — not just at the ‘big’ schools but ‘little’ schools too.”