The Hope to Create Community
Posted on March 30, 2021 by VMMissions Staff
TranSender Vicki Barnes finds a deep yearning for friendship and hope as college students grapple with the isolation and disorientation of the pandemic. She leads campus Bible study groups and focuses on identifying and nurturing student faith leaders.
The question was put to me: What am I hoping for? I know that regardless of where I am or what I am doing, my purpose is to make disciples. But I have struggled to understand my unique purpose. While in college, I knew I wanted to go into campus ministry. This caused some tension with my parents and I went through periods of time where I felt I wasn’t cut out for this. I thought to myself, “Maybe I should just do what is normal for a post grad.”
My relationship with God didn’t really begin until I was 17. I had dedicated my life to Christ as a child and was baptized at 10, but it took years until I was ready to take God seriously.
When I was in my senior year of high school, I reached a very low point. I had struggled with depression, anxiety, and insecurity for years, but this time there was anguish that I’d never felt before. I was unsure about my life because I knew I wasn’t following God, and I wondered if I would ever experience joy or happiness again. I cried for days. I couldn’t sleep well for weeks, and I took days off from school to try and get better, with my family trying to help as much as possible.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I began to experience restored hope, and a solid foundation developed. I clung to the simple words, “I need Jesus.” This realization signaled the end of most of my friendships. I didn’t find new friends until college. But when I did, so many things changed. That is what has driven my passion for ministry: relationship! It is never just yourself and God! We are encouraged to develop friendships. I want to see strong friendships develop among students who encourage and empower one another, and who go out and find others to empower.
Vicki Barnes (left) and fellow tranSender Gabrielle Thorne serve at Eastern Mennonite University and James Madison University, respectively. Photo courtesy of Vicki Barnes
Since my assignment began in the fall, I have seen a deep yearning among students for friendship, especially after months of social distancing, periods of isolation, and not meeting new people. Mental health issues among students are rampant and COVID-19 made issues that already existed worse. We are in a setting where all around us people have lost jobs, lost family members and friends. Nothing seems secure. Not knowing where to turn, it can be so easy to place hope in temporary things, like relationships, substances, and social media. It can be even easier to shut down and lose hope all together.
This fall was a hard time to try to build up a ministry. I was so discouraged. Honestly, I cried the first night we were supposed to have our first women’s study of the semester. Everyone was busy and no one showed up after we had struggled to find a time to meet. I was encouraged by a friend to pray fervently, to remember why this is needed, and to place my hope in God to make it happen.
I waited about a month before relaunching, taking some time to pray and invite other young women. We began meeting on Saturday mornings in the discipleship center on the EMU hill with beautiful views of the mountains from all angles. My heart was overjoyed. At our first meeting, I brought clementines and leftover cupcakes from my birthday celebration earlier that week, and opened up the space to ask the young women what they needed. Hannah* talked about her loneliness, about how she didn’t have Christian friends to walk with. Katie* shared her need and desire to explore a deeper relationship with God and to find faith on her own. They both agreed that they wanted to improve their devotional lives. After our second meeting, we went to Merge to get hot chocolate and ended up hanging out for a long while just chatting.
My hope is that God will use me to help students on campus be able to hang together as they navigate school, vocation, recreation, and relationships, all the while growing in their conviction of who God has called them to be and what he has called them to do.
*Not their real names