Harvard University was founded in 1636 with a clear Christian mission statement: "To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ." Today, Harvard's purpose is starkly different. No longer upholding a mission statement citing Jesus Christ, the university only expresses that its charge is "to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society."
A bastion of liberal secular education, Harvard University is certainly not the most open environment to Christian faith and values. The same is said of Yale, Dartmouth, and Princeton. Still, God is working within Harvard University and America's Ivy League universities.
Harvard is a mission field for ministry leaders like Jerry and Judy Ball. Known as "Papa" and "Mama" to hundreds of students across the nation, the North Carolina couple felt a burning desire to organize a multi-generational Bible study and prayer ministry specifically for Harvard and other Ivy League students, campus ministers, staff and faculty. Called Ignite Ivy America, the Ball's student ministry is an annually gathers Ivy League students living in thoroughly secular environments together to "encounter Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit."
"Mama" Ball, as she prefers to be called, sat down with the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) to explain the origins of Ignite Ivy America. "After hearing of the statistics that only 5 percent of the students in the eight Ivy League schools are believers while 50 percent of the world's leaders graduate from these eight schools, the Lord led us to partner with several other ministries in hosting Ignite Ivy America conferences," said Ball.
Mei Sheng, a Harvard University graduate student studying Biological and Biomedical Sciences, says she has been hugely impacted by a Christian conference uniquely geared for Ivy League students. Originally from Malaysia, Mei grew up in a Christian home but said she only truly recognized Jesus as her personal Savior six years ago. "I met Mama Judy Ball in 2013, and she invited me to the Ignite conference taking place that summer," Sheng told the IRD. "I have been blessed by the Ignite [Ivy] family in many ways ever since."
"I have been to Ignite twice," shared Sheng. "First in the year 2013 and second in the year 2014. The first time, I went with skepticism and doubt; God met me and I now believe that He still speaks clearly and His Holy Spirit still moves as powerfully today as He did in the Bible."
"The second time," She continued. "He challenged me to enlarge the place of my tent and to intercede in His Name. He showed me that I can minister to others, not by my own credentials, but that He has put His treasures in jars of clay."
In addition to Harvard, Ignite Ivy America student leaders and staff minister to students at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Penn, Princeton, and Yale. In July, students from each of these campuses will gather in for Ignite New Haven near the Yale University Campus.
As Ignite Ivy America grows as a campus-centered ministry, officially sanctioned university Christian ministries are facing antagonism on some college campuses. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), perhaps the largest Christian campus ministry in the nation, is being "de-recognized" by several universities because the student-led organization requires its leaders to affirm traditional Christian doctrine, including on sexuality and marriage. InterVarsity chapters were "de-recognized" and stripped of official recognition by Dartmouth, Vanderbilt, Bowdoin College, SUNY Buffalo, Tufts University, Rutgers and all 23 campuses in the California State University system.
In the face of unprecedented hostility to Christ on campus, Mama and Papa Ball are unshaken. The couple says they are determined to keep "igniting the Ivies" for Jesus Christ.