Last week I had the privilege of being invited to speak at the annual Student Outreach to the World (SOW) training camp at Stairwell’s “The Tops” Conference Centre, outside Wollongong, NSW. SOW is a ministry to students on four major university campuses in Sydney.
The aim of the camp was to set a foundation for the year to come. Relationships were built among the various campus groups, and across campuses, the students were encouraged and challenged from God’s Word. Everyone from final year students to those just heading off to uno for the first time came along. There were those who have been Christians a long time, and those who have grown up in the church but have never made a personal commitment to Jesus.
I was asked to speak through Ephesians 6:10-20, and we all had a great time together thinking and talking about the reality of the spiritual battle we’re engaged in this side of heaven (especially in places like university campuses), and taking stock of what God has provided for us to stand firm, in Christ, against the schemes of the devil.
As the guest speaker, I got to do a lot of standing back and watching. And there were a few things which really excited me and challenged me as I watched the students on camp. I want to share them with you here, in the hope that you might be similarly challenged and encouraged.
One of the things that was very obvious among the students was a passion for Christ, which seeped into everything they did – from the way they sang to the way they engaged in the morning study sessions on topics like Apologetics, or the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Things might have seemed a little rough around the edges, but there passion for Jesus more than made up for it. Perhaps passion really does trump polish.
2. Serious Conversations
It might be an age/life-stage thing, but the students never shied away from having serious conversations with each other and with me. They were eager to talk about the challenges of being a Christian at uni, about their church backgrounds and journeys with Christ, and about their concern not just for the salvation of specific friends, but for their ongoing godliness and growth. They were interested in each other, and wanted to know what others thoughts about different things.
“The gospel finally clicked for me when I heard it in English for the first time.”
3. Hunger for the Word
A large part of the camp was given over to sitting and listening to people teach from the Bible. If I were a uni student, I think my idea of a camp would be not replicating what I do every day in the uni lecture hall! But these students were eager and hungry to learn more about Jesus and the Bible. Every morning, between breakfast and lunch, there were tiered sessions for each of the camp years where the students could be taught about things such as how to read, interpret and apply the Bible, the doctrine heaven and hell, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and Apologetics. This was in addition to a session every night where we spent at least 45mins digging deep in the text of Ephesians 6:10-20. The book table also proved incredibly popular with the latest titles sitting alongside Christian classics form such writers as Martin Lloyd-Jones.
4. Mission and Ministry
It was clear that for most of the students, being involved in ministry and mission together was a natural part of their Christian lives. We heard testimonies of the annual short-term mission trips the students have taken to China and Japan, and I was also struck by how many students, in addition to their uni-work, and often part-time work too, were involved in their home churches in music ministry, kids’ ministry, youth ministry, and leading small groups.
5. Preparing for Life
The Uni Years are a unique life stage where young people have the opportunity to explore ideas, discover their identity and prepare for life. What I really admired was how many of the students believed that growing as a follower of Jesus is essential to preparing for life beyond uni.
6. Knowing and Believing the Gospel
Most of the students, though born and raised in Australia, have parents who were immigrants and brought with them a very conservative, evangelical and traditional form of Christianity, in their own mother-tongue. The effect of this has been to equip almost everyone on the camp with extensive knowledge about the Bible, about Jesus Christ and about church, but their salvation stories were uncannily similar: “The gospel finally clicked for me when I heard it in English for the first time.” It reminded me of the importance of communicating the gospel of Jesus in a way that doesn’t just fill people with information, but that speaks to who they really are.
I’ve come away from the camp immensely encouraged. Opportunities like this, outside of our comfort and familiarity, really do help to remind what God is like, and what he is doing in our world.
P.S. The talks that were presented on the camp will be presented at the 6pm services at Grace from 28 Feb – 27 Mar. More info here.