For this month’s post, I asked one of next semester’s graduating seniors, Yuchabel Harris, to share some of her thoughts on resiliency and how she continues being obedient to Jesus when it’s difficult. As we draw near to the end of the semester, I want to invite you to read her words and reflect on your own calling and the legacy that you are leaving this semester as we transition from one season into the next.
How do I obey Jesus when it is difficult? I remind myself that access to hope, grace, and justice comes from Jesus. All that is good exists because He exists. I have to remind myself about the call that Jesus has led me to. Jesus has called me to something so much greater than myself. He has called me to feed those who are hungry, bring water to those who are thirsty, and be the voice for the voiceless. Jesus asked me to accept this high call. He does not need me, but He wants me. He wants me to join Him in His kingdom, a place where there is no pain or suffering, and live there with Him for eternity.
Jesus wants all His children to join His kingdom. I want others to accept His invitation as well. I want to see many people encounter Jesus and experience His love. And in obedience to the Father, we share the gospel with others, giving them the opportunity to respond to Jesus. As a college student, sometimes I get overwhelmed with academics and ROTC. With all the exams and field training, it becomes difficult to find time to do ministry. But if I don't spend enough time devoted to do God's work, some students may not be reached. When I operate out of obedience to Jesus on campus, I can lead more students to Him. – Yuchabel Harris, Senior
The week leading up to Sonburst was one of the most nerve-wracking weeks of my college life so far. I have gone on retreats before, but something about them always makes me nervous. Knowing that I would be going on a retreat with students that I barely knew as well as allowing them to see me completely vulnerable was really challenging. Fortunately, God changed that feeling very quickly. As soon as we arrived I felt a sense of comfort. When the theme of this year’s Sonburst was introduced, I was unsure of what was to come in the next two days but Kathy helped me to see that God does not see us as a blended people, but sees us for who we individually are and loves that. This inspired me as a Latino who grew up in a predominately white community. As I went to my first seminar, I was hit with the reality that just because I may not speak Spanish or may not fit a specific part of my culture, I am still Latino and God can still use me to reach people in my culture and others. God revealed that because of my background, I was not restricted to just Latinos, but that I could reach other cultures as well. God also taught me the importance of community. I am the type of person who likes to be alone at times, but I made the commitment to seek out community over the next four years. This walk is hard, but knowing that there is a group of people who support you and who are willing to be there for you is important and necessary. So with that said, I want to say thank you to this community for accepting me into it and I cannot wait to grow with you guys! – Andres, Freshman
Sonburst is something that I can honestly say helped further my relationship with Jesus, even if it was just a step. It was one step further on the right path. Going into Sonburst, I was not mentally prepared at all. Everyone was so excited to finally be able to go to this conference, but I could not get away from the tests, quizzes, and papers that confronted my week. It was something that I could not look past. The biggest realization for me was that my education was before God. I had always said that God was first in my life, but seeing how one week of classes made me reluctant to want to be in the presence of Jesus spoke volumes to me. I was always so worried about how I would look as an educated black woman that I put God aside in order to achieve my own goals. It was so amazing to be with my community and share common thoughts about the struggle that we have endured. It was a relief to know that I was not alone nor will I have to struggle alone. Ever since I have returned to my campus, I have a greater love for community and better understanding of why being there for someone or discipling them is so important. – Jillayah, Sophomore
Two years ago at the Sonburst conference my freshman year, I had no idea what to expect. I witnessed God’s love for me, which compelled me to follow Jesus, so Sonburst has a special place in my heart. This year, we investigated love for God’s people. I spent time diving into my ethnicity and was able to see the “very good” that God created when He made me white. As a white individual I realized that I am not a blank person, but I do have a culture- I am innovative, persistent and hard-working. I learned how to build deep relationships and acknowledge barriers in a multiethnic setting. I also discovered how to connect my own self to the athletic culture I grew up in, which has since transformed me into a better athletic small group leader on my campus. Over the weekend I was also able to dive into great conversations while leading a small group of 6 girls. I saw God break down so many walls during our time together. One girl in the group brought tears to my eyes when she accepted Jesus’ calling during the last night session. It brought me right back to the moment I had done so myself in the same very room, and I could see that the Kingdom was rejoicing over her. The part that I loved most about Sonburst was the limitless, boundless, shameless setting that God clearly provided for students. I ended the weekend feeling at peace, not only with God, but with my community, and myself. – Marina, Senior
I’ve been reflecting recently on society’s broken view of love. We all long to be loved. But we doubt our ability to be. We set up qualifications in our mind: what it will take for us to be desirable, to be valuable. What it will cost for us to be loved. We fight to be attractive enough, intelligent enough, athletic enough, humorous enough… But we can never quite live up to our own qualifications. We try to earn love, buy it, ignore it, or fill our need for it with a temporary high. But because we live disconnected from the love that we were formed for, the love of God that fills and sustains us, we live with a deep sense of emptiness.
I see this emptiness everywhere on the college campus. Students that are trying to find their place in the university world are really trying to figure out if they can be loved, to fill the void they experience on a daily basis. This is the struggle of every college freshman who hits the clubs during their first weekend on campus, starts an unhealthy relationship before their first class, or becomes consumed by homework and a drive to achieve after they get their first syllabus. It is a search to belong.
In his book, Fast Forward to Mission, Alan Hirsch writes that “a community that embodies the life and teachings of Jesus is the kind of community that is itself deeply attractive to a lonely and lost world.” InterVarsity’s New Student Outreach gives those of us who have encountered the truth of Jesus’ love an incredible opportunity to offer this definition of fullness to an empty and broken campus. Last week at the University of Tampa we got contact information from nearly 300 students who know that they need more to satisfy them. We have spent hours since then inviting them into real community. We’ve eaten dinner together, played volleyball, hosted a game night featuring Giant Jenga, introduced ourselves through a Bible study and a panel, celebrated a birthday, eaten breakfast for dinner, played the world’s largest kickball game and eaten dozens of cookies. Each of these moments were an opportunity for us to incarnate the love of Jesus that we have ourselves experienced. They were a chance for us to look students in the eyes and welcome them as Jesus welcomed the outcasts, the poor, the sick, the sinners, and the tax collectors. Through these events we were able to show students at the University of Tampa that Jesus wants to meet them where they are, that real love and genuine friendship do exist, and that God Himself is offering these things to them.
As we continue in this semester my prayer is that the urgency and desperation that we felt to reach students during New Student Outreach never fades. My prayer is that we would move and operate out of a deep knowledge of the love of Jesus and offer this truth to everyone we encounter on campus. My prayer is the same as Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3: 17- 19).
And that through this the students at the University of Tampa that don’t know Jesus yet would come to grasp hold of His love, and all their empty places would be filled with all His fullness.
Over the past few weeks, Nehemiah 3 has been heavy on my heart. For some reason this image of the exiled Israelite community rebuilding the ruined wall around their city seems very connected to the work that is happening on campus at UT. I think it's the communal nature of the project. In Nehemiah 3, the names of over 40 men that worked on the wall are listed, from priests to perfume makers to goldsmiths to rulers. Each of them had a section of the wall to rebuild. I take incredible comfort from the fact that none of us are called to labor for redemption and reparation alone. Simultaneously, I am challenged by the way Jesus is calling each of us to find our own section of the wall to labor over. Every single one of us who is connected to the ministry of InterVarsity at UT has a part to play in seeing brokenness repaired and wounds healed, from staff and volunteers to students to prayer partners and supporters. We are all called to build something on this campus together.
This is comforting because following God’s call on your life, particularly through leadership, can be lonely. But when Nehemiah led the Israelite community back to Jerusalem he didn’t bear the burden of the task on his own shoulders, or even elect a few superior wall builders for it. In the same way we need to recognize that we are not building a ministry at UT alone, and the burden of all 7,500 students coming to know Jesus doesn’t rest with just one or two of us. We are a part of a network, a community, a city- and we are laboring next to one another. God hasn’t just chosen a few of us; He has called each one of us to find our place at the wall.
The challenge, then, is just that: finding your spot at the wall and picking up the work. For every student at UT that is leading a small group, that is your section of the wall. The athletes, the men, the women, the artists, the ROTC students. This is your section of the wall to labor over. And I would encourage everyone who is connected to the ministry of InterVarsity at UT in any way to take some time in this next month to ask God what your section of the wall is. How is God specifically calling you to work towards seeing His people redeemed and renewed at UT?
“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age- old foundations; you will be called the Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58:12.
“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:21-22
This year for spring break students from the University of Tampa had an opportunity to go on one of two trips, to Miami and or to the Cayman Islands, to share the hope of the gospel with students on campuses in those places. We want you to be able to hear what Jesus taught them through those trips.
Jesus really pushed me in my evangelistic walk with Him during my time in
the Cayman Islands. I had a different approach when conversing with the students there as opposed to at my campus in Tampa, specifically because I didn't care what my image looked like. I knew that my only mission was to share the Gospel with the students, and I was probably never going to see them again after that week. At UT, I tend to worry about my image too much, and that hinders my evangelizing with students. Jesus taught me to trust in His word and His power and authority. My image should be made solely in Jesus, and not by what society thinks. If I am rejected because of His name, I will accept it, as He has also had to accept being rejected by His own children. He taught me it is worth being rejected by many so that one person will have the opportunity to here the story of Jesus. - Micah, Junior (Cayman Islands Trip)
Swerve! This is a word we learned from some of the friendly UCCI students. Apparently it can mean a lot of different things depending on the context. It could mean “yo” or “yeah buddy!”, but I actually think the real definition of the word swerve sums up the Cayman trip perfectly. The dictionary definition of swerve is “to turn abruptly from a straight line or course”. It is easy to get caught up in my own college routine and forget to look at the UT campus with God’s eyes. In Cayman, God taught me how to “swerve”, how to turn away from my tunnel vision and see every student as brothers and sisters who need to hear the good news of Jesus. In Cayman I felt like I had no inhibitions because I didn’t know any of the students and what groups they were a part of, or if they would be easy to talk to or not. With God and my IV community by my side, I was able to fearlessly make friends with the UCCI students and share Jesus with them. In other words, I was “swerving” all over the place! And it felt awesome. It gave me a huge adrenaline rush. As Matthew 28 says, we are to go out and make disciples of all nations. My “I will statement” after this trip is: I will continue to remember and use what God taught me in Cayman, and “swerve” to find the lost at UT and wherever else God may send me and show them the light of Jesus. –Catherine, Junior (Cayman Islands Trip)
Going to Miami, and ministering side by side with both IV staff and my peers from the various Tampa schools, for me was a blessing that I did not expect. I felt God calling me to go from the moment I heard about the trip, but it took me a while to say yes to Him. God showed me throughout this time how much I really needed Him in every aspect of my life. While ministering on campus he showed me more in depth what it means to put my faith in Him. He showed me the importance of a loving and encouraging community who can push you to seek God more. Later on as the trip progressed and we began serving the homeless I met multiple families in need and it broke me. My own family once went through a time period where we also needed assistance to get by from day to day and I know what that feels like. It is extremely hard on a parent to not be able to provide for their families but it also makes assistance in this time of need so much more highly valued. I was touched by these families and I feel that this is an area that God is calling me to do ministry in. These instances and so many more were my personal testament of what God has done for me during that week, but the experience was so different for each person who went.– Tim Stevens, Freshman (Miami Trip)
There will be 350 new students on campus when we start back to school next week; 120 of them are new freshmen and the rest are transfer students. How can we of InterVarsity love these new students well? And how can we continue to relentlessly pursue the seniors who we’ve been inviting to small group Bible discussion for the past seven semesters- and everyone else in between?
Our challenge at the beginning of this semester is to say yes to Jesus yet again. Understand that saying yes to Jesus has nothing to do with how capable we feel, or are. God isn’t looking for glamorous, charismatic leaders. He isn’t looking for perfect, polished, put together people. He is searching the crowds for those who will say yes to Him. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all- surpassing power is from God and not from us,” writes the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 4:7). This semester is honestly not about us, or how qualified we are to lead. It’s about who and what we will invest our lives in. Jesus is the one who equips us and gives us authority. If we make our whole lives available to His purposes, we never have to doubt that He will use that.
All of us will invest our lives somewhere. It’s the nature of how we were created, to pursue some purpose. We can choose to invest in academics, entertainment, relationships, ourselves… but we will only be truly satisfied when we say yes to pursuing Jesus with our whole lives. It is a risky investment. Jesus calls us to lay down everything; like He called the rich young ruler to in Luke 18. And this is our choice now, at the beginning of the semester, and every day after: will we choose our own possessions and desires, or will we follow Jesus to eternal life?
We can’t forget that our God is an eternal God. In the end, Jesus has loved UT long before we were ever aware of the campus. And He will love it long after we have moved on to new seasons in new places. But during our brief four years of being planted here and committed to this place He has invited us to join Him on His eternal mission. GPAs, degrees, and even friendships will all fade someday. But the impact that we can have on the souls of our classmates, dorm mates, and the random people that we meet in the cafeteria will last for eternity. God has invited us to be a part of the most lasting and incredible story ever told- and given us the right to choose whether we will accept that role or not. What will our answer be this semester? Will we be a people that reject our fears in order to say yes to investing everything in Jesus’ eternal purpose on campus?
God did incredible things in the lives of the freshmen that came to InterVarsity at the University of Tampa this semester. It has been a gift for us to walk alongside them as Jesus has called them into deeper relationships with Him, leading them to surrender their plans and expectations to His loving will. We wanted you to be able to share in that experience by hearing some of their stories in their own words.
I didn't know what to expect when I came down to Tampa for college. But within the first few days I met two of my best friends. One of them brought us to the Meet InterVarsity event and from then on I thought the community was awesome. When Sonburst came around I was not sure that I really wanted to go or what was it going to do for me, but it was the best decision I've made because I met Jesus there, and I gave my life to him. After that day I realized that the friends I had made so far this semester belong in my life and God put them there. This semester God has showed me what it is like to be accepted and welcomed into a community where everybody is loving and helpful. He has let me feel not so alone in this world, and when I think nobody is there, He is. So overall this semester was better than I expected and I have seen that I do belong here. I’ve also realized that God has a plan for me and I have to follow the path He has laid out. -Julianne Johnson
This semester God taught me a number of things. For one I learned that I should never be relaxed in my relationship with him. I should always be trying to learn more about him and striving to be more like his son, Jesus Christ. He also taught me how to be a part of a Christian community of believers that are not generations older than me. I learned how to open up to the people in this community for the first time and how to truly love someone in a friendship. Most importantly God taught me that I shouldn't beat myself up about things that I have done in the past and to actually believe that he does love me and always has. -Essence Hepburn
Coming to university, I didn't know what to expect. I had grown up in a church but fallen away and just recently came back. After signing up with IV, I was welcomed by an awesome community of people who love Jesus. It was in IV that I was really able to learn and develop my spiritual gifts. Eventually, God instilled a desire to lead in my heart, and when I let the leaders know they were super enthusiastic in helping me develop. I've seen Jesus work in awesome and amazing ways in the hearts of college students. I've also gotten to see a whole other side of him. Joining IV was the best decision I could've made. -Lawton Ho
Sometimes it feels hard to find a way to communicate effectively about what we do in InterVarsity. We usually say that we’re a movement on campus, a body of witnessing communities, otherwise known as small groups that meet across the campus to study the Bible, share life together, and do mission. But it never seems enough. Stories are happening in our midst every day: Stories of transformation and renewal in the lives of students. Stories that may one day impact the world as these students graduate and move into places of influence in their communities.
We want you to be a part of those stories with us, to be able to see the amazing things that God is doing on this campus right in the middle of downtown Tampa.
We want you to know what is happening in our community, so that you can pray and rejoice with us as we labor every day to see Jesus’ light come in dark places. We want to learn together by sharing resources with you on the things that are close to God’s heart; things like justice, reconciliation, and truth. We want this blog to open a door for you, so that you can step in and see, hear and feel what is happening on campus as we learn, grow and experience God’s presence in this place. Thank you for reading, and welcome to the new University of Tampa InterVarsity blog. We are overjoyed to share life with you in this way.
We could be anybody.