Learning to adapt has been the anthem in many of our lives over the past few months, and universities are certainly not immune. Fervent efforts by Campus Ambassadors, such as missionary Devynn Brankel, have gone toward adapting to the new normal under the shroud of COVID-19 and encouraging university students to continue pursuing the Lord in community and in His Word.
Devynn began her ministry near the beginning of her college career. In her freshman year, she began attending a church called Damascus Road—a campus church and ministry that takes place on the campus of the University of Arizona. Though she was baptized as a young child, Devynn chose to reaffirm her commitment to Christ and was baptized again at Damascus Road as a sophomore. The following year, she interned with them and was appointed as a Campus Minister by Missions Door shortly after graduating in December of 2018.
Her heart is geared toward underclassmen—specifically the young women on campus. Devynn has a passion for encouraging and empowering women to grow in the confidence that comes with knowing and being intimately known by the Lord.
“I came to know Jesus when I was in that stage of life,” Devynn says. “I wouldn’t have gotten there without the awesome friends and mentors God sent my way. I want to be that person for the women in our church. I want to make a place where they feel so loved and inspired to be the most loving versions of themselves.”
Devynn prioritizes making spaces for students to truly embrace who God made them to be—where they feel known and loved in the presence of their friends and their Creator. She says these welcomed spaces can look like “crying about life, or singing praises together, and sometimes it’s dancing wildly to Come on Eileen.”
Adapting to the Change
For many of the Missions Door Campus missionaries, it’s hard to know what the “new normal” is going to be this summer and into the next school year. With a heavy value on community, Devynn and her team have been asking how they can best serve their people and keep the community involved.
“We have always just done life together,” Devynn says. “Figuring out how to stay connected when you’re not necessarily doing much has been really hard. It has made me more grateful for that aspect of our community.”
Since the quarantine and safer-at-home orders, the Damascus Road ministry has used technology to stay connected with their church community. “We tried to create lots of online opportunities for people to stay connected. Daily chats online, watching movies together online, restarting our book club, and lots of Zoom meetings!”
Creativity emits from Damascus Road, and in a wavering world, the ability to think creatively is a valuable asset. Everyone in the community is involved in their own creative way to keep moving forward, worshiping, and serving God’s Kingdom as a unified Body of Christ.
With a knack for all things artistic, Devynn recently developed the “Damascus Road Art Club” to encourage creativity and involvement with all who are a part of the church. Anyone who attends Damascus Road can submit an original piece of visual art, poetry, music, etc., which will then be displayed in a digital magazine.
When the ground beneath us feels steady, we feel steady. But the global pandemic was quick to loosen the ground we stand on. “If anything it has exposed the faulty foundations many of us have instead of God,” Devynn says.
Ministry in quarantine is a foreign concept, and Devynn emphasizes that everyone holds an important role in the Church. No matter what the circumstances, Devynn describes the best way to do ministry is to “invite people into the process and give them ways to be creative.” Working creatively and collectively is how we will all get through this. Every one of God’s people has value to contribute to the Body of Christ.
During these difficult circumstances, many campus leaders have been wondering how to keep students fully engaged. What Devynn and her team at Damascus Road have noticed is actually more consistency and higher attendance than usual—even among underclassmen who, under normal conditions, tend to be inconsistent and less willing to participate. “We’re not used to seeing this,” she says.
With social distancing regulations beginning to ease in Arizona, the plan is to resume ministry activities in person this coming fall. In the meantime, Devynn will continue with the virtual art club, connect with ministry partners, organize virtual events, and deepen relationships with students.