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Engaging the Community: A Conversation with Momentum Team Member Wanda Thompson

Tell us about yourself! What is your role in campus ministry at Loyalist College and how are you connected to Momentum Campus Ministries?

Wanda: I am a retired 62 year old woman. I am presently the team leader for Loyalist Christian Life. We’re the Momentum branch of campus ministry at Loyalist College in Belleville.

What are some of the programs you offer at Loyalist Christian Life?

Wanda: In the past we offered an on-campus Huddle group where we studied the Bible in a small group setting. During Covid we offered online anxiety courses as only students and staff were permitted on campus. Throughout the season of Covid, we focused on helping the students get connected to a healthy church community and making sure they were plugged into a young adult group. I spend most of my time supporting students by being available for lunches, coffees, walks, phone calls, etc. Making sure students have a safe place to share their hopes, dreams, and challenges was the main area of our focus this year.

It was a small team this year; there was just myself and Mike Mathewson, who is a young adult and youth pastor from the Trenton Wesleyan church. In January, the college reached out to us and asked if we would be willing to host a spiritual conversations program under the Wellness program umbrella. This was a breakthrough for us as we have not been received by the college administration on an official basis. Mike took the lead on this opportunity. Initially it was online only, and students could ask any question they wanted about spirituality. When some Covid restrictions were lifted during the last six weeks of second semester, we got to do it in person!

I think what has really surprised me is that even in the limitations we faced, God still made a way for us to locate and minister to students. With only our website and Facebook page to make ourselves known, we had seven students out for our first connection in September. The students were so willing to call and say, “I'm struggling, may I come over?” It always surprises me how eager young adults are to be supported by the older generations.

We also had a weekly prayer meeting during the time Mike was hosting the spiritual conversation program and a team who meets monthly to keep LCL in prayer.

What is your favourite thing about working with college students?

Wanda: It's the privilege of helping students navigate pivotal moments in their life. Though every stage of life holds its challenges, young adults are faced with a number of choices at this junction in the road. Making a wrong turn at this point could result in significant negative or positive long term effects. If we can support them as they navigate this period, hopefully they will steer away from the dead end streets. I don't know anything that's more rewarding. Knowing you're a safe place for students to share their lives is an honour which I both humbles me and gives me great pleasure.

What is the hardest thing about campus/young adult ministry?

Wanda: I think it's the busyness of students’ lives. Because we only have maybe, at the most, three years, mostly two, and sometimes only one year to connect with the students, there's not this same sense of settling into the community. They're very focused on achieving their goals, which are to get their education and meet their all needs while attending school. I find a lot of students come out in September and October. In November and December, it wanes considerably because course loads get heavier. So, it’s trying to be balanced in what you offer the students so as not to overwhelm them.

Tell us a bit about the impact of your programs. What effect does having a place to connect have on these students?

Wanda: I can’t look at number growth as success. To me, it’s when students call me at 10:00, 11:00 at night saying, “I didn’t have anyone else to call!” Or when they say, “Can I come over?” Knowing you’re there and they can come see you for support. This is how I assess success. It is the evidence that what we’re doing is of value. I look at the notes and the thank you’s. I don’t always see what the students see in terms of the impact, but I’m glad they feel safe in our presence. What a gift!

Bottom line, it gives them the hope to face the next day—or that day! Students are able to come and tell us they’re at their wit’s end but then at the end of the conversation they feel empowered to go back out and face the circumstance at hand. The situation hasn’t changed, but their resilience has been replenished.

It’s also listening to the voice of the Lord to bring encouragement to students. It blows me away how God does it. It’s taught me the importance of abiding in Christ, to hear His still small voice and act on those nudges to reach out and encourage students. It can be as simple as a text, phone call, or an email or as involved as having a meal together or going to an event.

How can our churches and local communities better engage with post-secondary students? How do we become more sensitive and aware of the unique challenges and experiences students navigate?

Wanda: That's a good question I've been pondering lately. We have to have conversations withi

n the church and families. We need to be more educated about the culture that they're living in and be willing to discuss and educate one another. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable, but I have had my eyes opened and my heart broken as I become more aware of the perilous times we are living in. Things my generation took for granted, things we would be able to attain are now almost out of reach for this generation, as it stands today. Take housing for instance. I am hearing students wonder aloud whether or not they will be able to afford an apartment, let alone mortgage a house. There is also the lack of awareness of what they're truly dealing with because our society has changed so quickly in recent times.

I think the other piece is having the understanding that young people want our input. I think we need to be far more intergenerational in our approach and how we do church. Instead of separating kids ministry, young adults, youth, can we just be together like a family? Because we truly are supposed to be a family.

If we see our faith community as a family, there's a bunch of people that we could be doing relationship with. Some of the stories have an overall theme. Where parents lacked the necessary tools in their tool box, being in a church community where there were opportunities to build close knit relationships with others help us to see other healthier ways to deal with situations or subject matters. It also enables students to acquire social skills with multiple generations. A comment I made to a student, “This is exactly why you are as well adjusted, because you had people outside of your immediate family that you could confide in, listen to, and see something different, acquiring the skills that you couldn't get at home.” It's the old saying, it takes a village to raise a child.

And campus ministry helps carry that development forward. What would you say to those older generations who are struggling to connect with the younger generations? How would you encourage and challenge them?

Wanda: Invite them into your lives. Invite them into your home and not only out of town students but those in your congregation. It may feel awkward at first, but you'll be surprised at how much they long to be in your presence and develop a relationship with you. I think that continues to surprise me. It's given me an eye to look at all generations. I'm more intentional now of seeking out the younger generation and connecting with them.

How can we as a community support our local college students in a practical way while they are studying?

Wanda: It can be as simple as verbal encouragement. It can be as practical as asking students, “Do you want to come over for lunch? Can I make you a meal?” Treat them like you would your own, right? What would you do for your daughter or son or your grandchild who was going to college? What would you do? Would you prepare them a little care package? Would you make them cookies or a freezer meal? Adopt an out of town student as one of your own. Bring them home, let them be part of your family for holidays, for Christmas. Send them cards, talk to them, give them a call. Just engage. It sounds so simple, but I don't think it's much more difficult than that.

If I can share one story about how I have seen this happen in my own church community. A mature adult international student came to Loyalist last fall. They were introduced to LCL by one of our intercessors at another church. We provided a tour around our area (the tourist spots as well), provided rides when needed such as for groceries, etc. They decided to make my church their home church and joined the men’s small group ministry. At one point they were in need of new housing, so I suggested they put a notice in the church bulletin and in doing so they found excellent accommodation with a couple in our community. When it came time for them to find a vehicle, another couple made a significant personal sacrifice to provide one for them. Recently, their spouse and children immigrated and the couple has extended the present housing arrangement to the rest of the family until suitable housing can be found.

This has been such a beautiful example of how we can enfold people in our local church communities by providing practical support in all the areas needed. I have been awed and encouraged by this story!

That’s great advice about engaging students and drawing them into our lives, Wanda. And it is so doable with the resources we have to share!

Speaking of resources, how can we pray for you and your ministry in Belleville and at Loyalist Christian Life?

Wanda: I'd like a larger team so that we can be as effective and efficient as we possibly can. Pray that the college will recognize this as a legitimate ministry, fulfilling a legitimate need. And for partners, for more churches to come on board, recognizing that we're not in competition but that we fill a unique space on campus and function as a bridge for local churches.

And it's also trying to decide, what do we offer students? What's the main focus? Is it, how do you navigate living for Christ in a secular society? What are the tools you need? Or do we focus on the other hot topics students are concerned about, like mental health, dating, relationships, pornography?

Prayer for these decisions and needs would be greatly appreciated!

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