I came to EU (as the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students group at the University of Adelaide was called in 2001) because my Dad knew the staffworker and said it’d be good to go, so I signed up for Commencement Camp even though I knew no one. The lasting impression I have of that camp was the amazement with which I heard God speak through the Bible for the first time. My church had a strong culture of encouraging us all to read the Bible every day and to be part of a small group to study it, but up to that point, I had no idea why. Worship was a much more powerful experience of God’s presence; the Bible was dry and a bit random. I knew it was important and I was committed to reading it, but I didn’t really understand why we as evangelicals were so obsessed with it.
At EU I heard the Bible exposited for the first time, not in a dry kind of way but with conviction, and applied to my life. And I learned that the Bible wasn’t haphazard but one story that God had been crafting. This was an experience of the revelation of God, and his care for his people, me among them. And I needed to know God’s care. A year or so earlier, my family had left our previous church after allegations of sexual abuse were uncovered, and at my new church I felt out of place and unsure of who to trust.
The people at my church were passionate Christians but I wasn’t quite sure what was behind that passion; at EU, I knew what the passion was about. People wanted to know God through his word and to make him known on campus. It was compelling and infectious. And yet, my pastor rejected it. I was too intellectual, he said, all head and no heart. The Bible stuff I was going on about wouldn’t connect with the average Christian in our church. Perhaps he was right; at any rate, there were many aspects of my church that I didn’t appreciate fully. A new and exciting world had just opened up to me and I wanted to share it, but I had not yet learnt gentleness or prudence.
In my second year of uni, a false teacher came to our church young adults camp, insinuated that Jesus wasn’t the only way to the Father, and then wouldn’t affirm otherwise when asked outright. Plenty of people were unsure about what he said, but not many could articulate why. But EU had so emphasized the uniqueness of Christ that it seemed crystal clear to me. While my pastor urged caution, I wondered what it would take to get him to actually take a stand. I think my pastor read me as a dissenter and EU as the cause of that; in reality, what came across as arrogance was dismay, and his exhortations to pipe down for the sake of unity left me feeling all at sea. The only people willing to have a discussion with me about my questions were the folks at EU. Uni is a time of working out who you are, and like many young adults, for me that involved oscillating between things, and a degree of extremism. Sure I was ‘pugnacious’ but that was a front for a stack of insecurities. Whether or not they saw through the front, the EU leaders made time for me and consistently pointed me towards the gospel in all that mess. That was my experience of EU: love and truth.
It’s likely that I did a poor job of expressing both those things, so that was not others’ experience of me or of EU. I was also a completely ineffective evangelist at uni: I had no friends from school and my classes changed every 14 weeks or so, hardly ideal for making new friendships. But at EU I found that I could still be involved in evangelism as part of a team. I learnt to see myself as part of something bigger, and I’m so thankful to those who were much more mature than me and took a punt by putting this insecure hothead into leadership. One of the great things about being part of a mission to the campus is that it’s not just about the campus; it also provides opportunities for Christian students to be raised up. Leadership development is something of a by-product of mission. That’s messy – growth always is – but it’s as we try things that we learn. Now working on the staff side of student ministry, I hope to help other young women to have this kind of experience: of hearing God speak, of experimenting with leadership, of a safe space to sort through the cacophony of ideas they encounter.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.