The college experience is an exciting and enlightening time for young adults taking their next steps of life’s journey. It can also be a time of uncertainty and fear, especially for the growing number of students who come to the U.S. from all around the world. It’s easy to understand why a university can be a fertile mission field.
Zach has been involved with campus ministries since being appointed by Missions Door in 2015. He started at a school in Massachusetts and moved to a university in Connecticut joining the Bridges program just over a year ago.
“When I first came here, my perception of cross-cultural ministry was that it was a little bit more niche than most campus ministries,” Zach said. “If there’s one thing I have learned, it’s the exact opposite. Ministries like ours are increasingly important.
“To have not only the skills but the vision to sit down with someone, especially college students who have the world in front of them and help set them on a trajectory for life by sharing with them truth and hope in a way that they can understand and respond to… that’s extremely rewarding.”
Building Trust & Respect
Most of the students in Zach’s program are from India, China, Africa, and South America. Some are Christians, but a majority are of different faiths, notably Hinduism and Islam. As with any student, they’re primarily focused on academics and their social life. Bridges exists for students who are searching for something more, “like having a community of people, and being able to engage about spiritual matters and seeking God,” Zach said.
With the support of local churches, Bridges hosts monthly dinners on campus, a weekly Bible study, and outreach events, such as a recent blueberry-picking excursion. “Our goal is to build relationships where we have the opportunity to earn students’ trust and enough respect to be able to tell them about Jesus in the hope they would embrace following Him,” Zach said.
The first step in building that trust, Zach said, is finding out about the students’ needs. Some want to practice speaking English. Others need help with driving lessons, learning to play guitar, or even writing a term paper.
“Through meeting those needs, we often get opportunities to build deeper relationships,” Zach said. “Over time, that opens itself up pretty quickly to conversations that have to do with Jesus, what they think about Jesus, and how they respond to Him.”
‘No Longer a Slave to Fear’’
Bible study is an important aspect of the Bridges ministry. Each session usually begins with an ice-breaker question, such as “When was a time in your life when you’ve been most afraid?”
“One time I was in a car accident,” one student said. Another told of a time she was scared after failing a test. A young man from Syria, who came to the U.S. as a refugee, related his true fear to Zach during a ride home after the meeting: “The thing I am most afraid of is God. Every day I am afraid He might be angry with me. I’m afraid that I don’t make Him happy.”
“Earlier that night, we had sung the song ‘No Longer Slaves,’ which includes the lyrics: I’m no longer a slave to fear; I am a child of God. I explained to him that through Jesus, you have a relationship with God. It’s like a relationship between a father and a child. When you have that kind of relationship you don’t have to be afraid of God.
“There are many moments when you can see the lightbulb going off in someone’s head,” Zach continued. “The opportunity to be in that moment—when he was revealing one of his deepest fears—and be able to give him truth and hope that through Jesus, he didn’t have to have those fears of God… that was incredibly rewarding.”
Help Bridges Continue Momentum
The Bridges program has been active at a university in Connecticut for just over a decade. Though Zach and team have built a network that includes support from more than a dozen local churches, they need to engage with their volunteers on a deeper level and continue adding to their team so the ministry can grow.
“As leaders of the program, we want to give volunteers the opportunities, encouragement and training to take the next step with students. That involves spending time with them beyond the program’s structured events, inviting students into their lives, and creating opportunities where they can share the Gospel together,” Zach said.
Bridges also needs your financial support. “We want to get 100% fully supported financially, which would allow us to spend even more time focused on the students,” Zach said.
A third way you can help is to simply pray for Zach and his ministry. “We’re dealing with a lot of students who come from other religions and faith backgrounds. It’s really hard for them to see Jesus as a viable option without God opening their eyes first. Getting people to pray for the students and for us is equally important.”
You can contact Zach through Missions Door if you wish to support his ministry.