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Evangelical Christianity on Georgetown’s campus

Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. | Reuters/Joshua Roberts

It’s 3 a.m. in my dorm. I’m never awake at this time; frankly, not much good happens at this hour on a Friday night in college. But not tonight.

Friends and I were engaged in hour four of conversation about Jesus. Because of that conversation, an atheist friend later told me he is almost ready to make a decision for Christ. That night, the power of God was working. It was that power that made this the best night of my summer, that gave me renewed hope for the kingdom of God on campus, and that yes, kept me up until 3 am. Despite significant obstacles and resistance, God is visibly moving in the lives of students on my campus and campuses across the globe.

When I decided to attend Georgetown University, I knew what I was getting myself into. Mentors warned me about the pressure of being a Christian at a largely secular — though nominally Catholic — school and they haven’t been entirely wrong. Many students don’t affiliate with Christianity; the ones who do generally employ it as a label. Even fewer are Protestant, making the experience as an evangelical on campus difficult. Most days I feel on edge, as on the surface it seems that religion is at best a social group and at worst derided.

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Yet, God has let me dive beneath the surface. My single prayer leading up to school was that God would provide a ministry field at Georgetown. He has since blessed me above and beyond with opportunities to see the roots of spiritual revival here. His hand is evident and imminent.

This is not to say that there aren’t obstacles to evangelical Christianity at Georgetown. While many students want to explore Christianity, institutions on campus don’t always aid that search. From my experience, the Protestant ministry run by the university seems most concerned with inclusiveness. This is not a bad goal. However, in trying to cater across beliefs, establishing foundational truth is difficult. Most people who I ask about their Protestant ministry experience reply “it was fine.” That is, well, fine. But “fine” doesn’t provide a secure refuge from the institutional pressure many active Christians face here.

A prime example was last weekend as Georgetown held its annual club fair. The front lawn was filled with all the campus ministry groups — except one. More than 10 tables reserved for evangelical ministry groups were left vacant. They had been told not to show up by the Georgetown-run Protestant ministry for reasons that were never disclosed. Instead of warm faces and informational fliers, searching students were left with bare tables and lingering questions.

The order was a microcosm of what I would describe as a lack of urgency to push for a stronger evangelical community on campus. These smaller groups are charged enormous hourly fees to reserve space on campus for meetings, providing an additional burden. As a part of the school, the administrative Protestant ministry doesn’t face these obstacles. While this is only my personal experience, there appears to be a concerning apathy regarding earnest ministry expansion.

Another difficulty with spiritual life on campus is the lack of evangelical or traditionalist Protestant churches in the immediate Georgetown area. Many students, especially if spiritual seekers or new Christians, aren’t keen to wake up early and pay for an Uber or bus ride. A recent trip with seven students to my local church, barely two miles away, cost us close to $60. The proximity also inhibits the ability of students to get involved in weekday church ministries like small groups. While Washington D.C. seems to abound with churches, the lack of plants in the immediate Georgetown area confines students to campus ministries which can be difficult to connect to.

It is a blessing, though, that we serve a God who isn’t hampered by people. I’ve been amazed at the deep spiritual yearning here at Georgetown. The one evangelical ministry table at the club fair, my Bible study group, received over 30 connection cards in just a couple of hours. This group, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, along with groups like Campus Outreach and Anchor, are enthusiastically fighting the uphill battle for evangelical students at Georgetown.

In my personal life, the conversation I mentioned in the introduction is one example among many. A few weeks ago, a coworker I’d known for only a few days randomly mentioned that she’s begun reading Mere Christianity. I was able to take her to church for the first time in her life the next week. Others have opened up to me about struggles with mental health and concerns over friends troubled with addiction and anxiety. Even on the night I moved in, I spent about 20 minutes talking to two drinking friends about church, God’s justice, and purity, all questions they raised (yes, while intoxicated).

Beyond nominal affiliation, Georgetown isn’t a Christian campus — but I am increasingly convinced that it knows it is lost. College students are confronted with personal struggles and global difficulties daily. My generation isn’t hostile to Christianity. Rather, they often arrive at school questioning their worldview.

To paraphrase James, students are tossed to and fro by the winds of this world. It is in this place that they become open to Christ’s beautifully loving heart, expressed in Matthew 9: “…he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless…” College students are harassed by trials, and we often feel helpless as we transition from one stage of life to the next. It is here that Christ meets us. He is moving on campuses, no matter what student administration, government, or people stand in His way.

I urge you to pray. Pray for college students you know. Pray that they will see their need for Christ. Pray that they find solid faith communities. Most of all, pray, as I did, for a fruitful ministry opportunity at campuses across the world. God is faithful. He will answer.

Originally published at Juicy Ecumenism

Elijah Martin is a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and an autumn intern with the Institute on Religion & Democracy.

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