January 2007 - Vol. 4

Mark speaking with London university student

Steps of Faith: sowing seeds of good news among university students

by Mark Jordan

What is it like to be a full-time student evangelist at one of the world's largest universities in the heart of London, UK?  When Mark Jordan completed his university studies in Glasgow, he decided to live and work with the Servants of the Word in London, UK.  Mark joined the staff of Koinonia, an evangelistic Christian outreach to university students in London.  Mark recently finished his three-year tenure with Koinonia to join the Servants of the Word formation program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Mark reflects on some of the spiritual lessons he learned while evangelizing university students.
A few months ago I had an opportunity to speak with a guy who was beginning a period of missionary work with a local church in London. He was 23 and eager to begin his work with students. We talked mostly of the need for perseverance in this work. The need for pressing through challenge and discouragement. We also chatted some about the rewards of doing this kind of evangelistic work. It got me thinking afterwards about some of the lessons, blessings and frustrations of doing university outreach work in London.

One of the main reasons that at times I became discouraged in this work is because I didn't see the things happen that I wanted to see happen. This would be discouraging in any line of work, but in a spiritual work it should have quite a different perspective on it. A perspective that slowly becomes a way of living. Continually, I've called to mind the fact that God is sovereign. If I believe that he does have a plan (and I do), then this brings tremendous freedom in the knowledge that his purposes will be worked out. This in turn helped me grow in learning to rely on God working out his purposes. Sometimes I've clearly seen God's purposes. Sometimes I've seen when my purposes and the Lord's don't quite match up. Sometimes I simply don't understand the purposes of the Lord. I was struck by the story of Uzzah in the Old Testament, the man who touched the Ark of the Covenant when the oxen carrying it stumbled and was struck down by the Lord for his action. In the story David cannot understand why this happened. "And David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?"(2 Sam 6:9)

For David this incident did not make sense. That's partly because he didn't see the full picture; he couldn't understand or see what God was about. In his limited sight it seemed such a waste. That's because in this situation he lacked spiritual vision to see what God was doing. Over the last three years, I've grown in understanding that life and service of the Lord is fundamentally a spiritual work. Since we cannot see and understand all the realities going on around us by ourselves, we need firstly to be spiritual people - who know the mind and heart of God and who can see with eyes of faith. Service in God's kingdom, whatever form it takes, should always press us closer to God, and help us to become more effective in fasting and praying  for God's will to be done. This in turn helps me to grow in detachment and freedom to do what I think God really wants me to do (rather than what I might think is the best plan for success).

At the same time however, its natural to be encouraged when we see people make steps towards the Lord. Indeed being able to rejoice when I get to be part of someone's spiritual journey towards the Lord is important. Recently I was talking to a student who became a Christian, in part through our work in Koinonia. I finished the conversation and sat there and thanked God for it. What a privilege. If there was one phrase that could have been my battle cry this year it would have to be "small steps". Hardly inspiring I know, but I think it does show something of the progression that individuals make towards the Lord and our part in helping them make these small steps.

I got to know a first-year English student who came to our Koinonia coffee stall this past year. Every week or so we would see one another, each time being another small step in talking about the Lord. He said to me one week that he thought he really should try and go along to a local church. I agreed. For him there was something beginning to move as he started to become open to re-exploring the Christian faith. Small steps.

I started playing cards with a first-year student I met at the university. For a while we mostly talked about sports. He made a good connection with Koinonia and got to know other Christian students and staff workers. By the second school-year term, he was ready to talk more openly about faith and Christianity and what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Another small step of faith.

Another student I met last year came to one of our social events in Koinonia. He enjoyed the contact with Christians and continued to come to some of our weekly meetings. He not only enjoyed the social contact and discussions about faith, but he also decided to start attending church with some of the men. It's obvious to me that God personally calls these individuals to himself. And I also recognize that God chooses to work through people, like myself even, to help others grow in faith. What a  privilege to be a part of God's work of drawing others to himself!

One of the things that God revealed to me early in my time in London was through a passage in Isaiah. It was a call to "Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees."  I think it really describes one of the main things that we are about in Koinonia. We're helping people who may have some faith or no faith at all, to draw closer to the Lord and to remain steady in their faith in the face of difficulties and temptation. London allures and calls. We help students to choose for life -- the fullness of life that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

It was a tremendous privilege for me to see the Lord's hand in the lives of these young men as they grew in faith. But I've had a deepening realisation that in this work that cannot be my reward. If my reward is only seeing the results of God's action in people's lives, I will often be disappointed because I won't always see or recognize what God is doing. I often will not get to see situations change, or see those that I pray for and encourage respond to the Gospel. We sow seeds of faith widely. It is only God who can bring faith alive in others. At the beginning of my work in London someone said to me that in this work my reward would have to be in Christ alone. I accepted that as true, but it's a truth that has gradually sunk deeper into how I think and how I act. It brought a certain freedom as I began to appreciate it more and more. That was what I said to the guy who was starting mission work in London. "Let your one reward in this line of work be in plumbing the depths of your relationship with God. If you can do that, if you can use this work to push you ever closer towards the Lord, then you'll survive and maybe even thrive at this stuff."

[Mark Jordan grew up with his family in the Community of the Risen Christ in Glasgow, Scotland. He is currently in a formation program with The Servants of the Word in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.]

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