A group of college students are gathered around, listening to each other’s opinions. In their midst are donuts and a large sign that reads, “Is there absolute truth?” Students of all faiths and non-faiths give their input, respectfully challenging one another. It’s a breath of fresh air in comparison to how most discourse happens nowadays.
One of the students involved in the discussion is a Norse pagan. She approaches Garrett, the Campus Ambassador who organizes this. “I’ve learned more about communication, sharing dialogue, and learning from one another in these meetings than from any of my communications classes and professors, “she tells him. “Here, I’ve learned what truth and tolerance actually mean.”
Garrett Berk is a Campus Ambassador in Oregon. He’s worked at Willamette University in Salem, Western Oregon University, and will be working again at Chemeketa Community College. In Oregon, Campus Ambassadors from different universities and colleges work together. They meet, share resources, and serve on each other’s campuses.
Garrett has been a CA since 2013. He connects with college students, seeks opportunities for evangelism and discipleship, and trains student leaders. His days are filled with one-on-one meetings with students, customized mentorship plans, and arranging outreach events. One of those events is the Agora, where students of all backgrounds gather to discuss philosophy or even silly questions like, “What’s the perfect weapon to use during a zombie apocalypse?”
Ultimately, he wants to see students come to Christ. He also wants young Christian adults to learn to serve, take ownership of the ministry, and disciple other Christians.
Garrett was raised in Washington by Christian parents. After high school, he began to investigate his faith and ask himself if his beliefs were his or his parents’. He started interning for a church in Vancouver and a passion for vocational ministry was kindled. He served as a greeter, led prayer ministries and small groups, planned events, and programmed and directed services. In order to be better equipped at shepherding people and answering their questions, he enrolled in a bible college, and later seminary, in Portland.
Later, he married and moved to Salem, Washington where he and his wife, Jessica, got connected to Missions Door. Jessica hosts out of their home and mentors female students. “She’s the one with the shepherd’s heart,” Garrett shares. Jessica also teaches Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and enjoys educating students about budgeting and living debt free. A couple of dozen students have gone through the courses and learned to be good stewards of God’s money.
Garrett and Jessica have dedicated their lives to pouring into others. In February of this year, they experienced the reversal. Jessica was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. Garrett dropped everything to be at her side and had the full support of Missions Door and his supporting churches. Thankfully, Jessica was re-diagnosed as late stage three and successfully had surgery a few weeks after her diagnosis. She’s finished her last round of chemotherapy and is in remission.
The Berks were overwhelmed by love and support. Cancer survivors from their church visited them to let them know what to expect. Supporting churches checked in on them and prayed. Their CA team handled everything work-related while Garrett didn’t step on campus for two months. Students offered to babysit and helped however they could. “We didn’t have to cook a meal for months,“ Garrett says. “We still have DoorDash giftcards,”
During chemotherapy, Garrett took time off every three weeks to take care of Jessica after her sessions. Both of them are excited for Garrett to return to the campus full-time. While things look much better now than earlier, they know that this will be a part of their lives forever. Every three months, Jessica will get a scan. They’re praying for the cancer to not return, but they refuse to let fear rob them of their job each day.
Impact on Students
After cancer being on the forefront of their minds for six months, the Berks are excited to put it on the back burner. However, this chapter of their life had a lot of impact on them and others. For Garrett, it’s affected the way he sees ministry, and his empathy and compassion for others. For the students, it’s instilled that life is not meant to be lived in isolation. This was the Berk’s hardest trial, but they couldn’t imagine doing it without the Church body.
Different students have been impacted by the Berks and CA. Erin* first discovered CA at the Agora. She began attending their worship meetings and retreats. Jessica immediately knew who she was – Erin was one of her second graders years ago! Erin remembered her as one of her favorite teachers. The Berks met regularly with her, and she eventually gave her life to Christ. Another student was a Kuwaiti Muslim who became convinced of the historicity of Christ and became a believer.
Tolerance and Truth
The Agora is one of the best ways to connect with new students. After covid, they were one of the few clubs that set up a sign-up table during the first few weeks of the terms. Even nonbelievers expressed their appreciation for their dedication to the community. The Norse pagan student loved the Agora so much that she invited CA to her weekly campus radio show.
Garrett wants to do away with the idea that Christians are ignorant. “Being a Christian doesn’t mean you abandon reason or thought,” he says. In today’s climate, the Agora also emphasizes that tolerance doesn’t mean agreeing, but respecting and dignifying one another. “Absolute truth is real because God is truth,” he adds.
More than anything, Garrett loves to see God’s kingdom grow outside of college campuses. He gets excited when students can’t be as involved as they normally are because they’re starting to serve somewhere else.
He and Jessica would love prayer for their family as they transition into life post-chemo. Pray for good medical news and maintenance therapy (Jessica’s medicine can be serious side effects). Pray also for Chemeketa’s new faculty advisor for CA, as many college faculty members are often reluctant to “out” themselves as believers and associate with a Christian club. If you’d like to support Garrett, you can do so at his page here.
*Name changed for privacy.