In the last couple of weeks, as the new semester begins, I’ve heard three visions for life at university. Each had a slightly different message and way of using the Bible. I’ve sketched them out below.
Wanachuo refers to university students — it’s a neologism that reflects the emerging reality of Tanzania’s higher education explosion. (I’ve heard there are currently 60 different private institutions, not including the big government colleges).
1. You are a sleeping giant
At the opening service for our campus, the visiting speaker gave a dramatic message of inspiration.
You are a sleeping giant, he said. You are not insignificant, but you need to be awakened. The heroes of the Bible and the professors of the university are ordinary people who trusted God and stepped out in faith. As a mwanachuo, you are no different to them. Take a step!
Terah was happy to settle in Harran, but Abraham kept going. Harran was a promising land, but Abraham was seeking the Promised Land. Harran is a cemetary of vision. Don’t let your vision get bogged at university, because as a mwanachuo you are working for something beyond these few years.
You are here as a servant of God, and when God gives you a responsibility, he always gives you the tools to accomplish it, so you will be able. With responsibility comes accountability, which means that you need to play your part.
Like Peter stepping out onto the water, you need to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus in order to keep moving forward. Don’t focus on the problems; focus on the God who has all the solutions. Unaweza! You can do it.
Here the Bible was used as a record of the heroes through whom God has worked. Just as God worked mightily then, God can now work mightily through you. This was about motivating wanachuo to have the self-confidence to improve, progress, and succeed. I didn’t see this as a simplistic magical treatment of God, but at the same time there was little sense of any wider collective identity. The focus was squarely on God’s work in and through the individual, but aren’t we part of something bigger? In what sense are we called to work together?
2. You are responsible
At a student fellowship one evening, one student was teaching on the topic of responsibility. This was an example of neno/mafundisho, general Bible teaching.
She began with 1 Peter 2:13-17. Living responsibly under human authorities is part of your responsibility to God, for which each of us will be evaluated. It also means that others will find no cause in your actions to speak badly of God. For a mwanachuo this means performing everything that’s required of you in your classes, and working diligently even if you don’t find yourself at the top of the class.
She also looked at ‘ask, seek, knock’. God wants to provide for us and bless us — something he will especially do for God’s people — but usually we haven’t truly asked, sought, or knocked. If you wait outside someone’s door without knocking, how will they know you’re there? Instead of passively praying and hoping, to claim this verse involves living out our faith.
This message was targeting what I’ve started to call ‘cheap prosperity’, the notion that we sit around waiting for God to make us happy, the notion that prayer is a substitute for action. She was suggesting instead that while the Bible contains guidance for life, its messages can be misunderstood, so we need to do a bit of examination and synthesis.
This message was less a call for self-belief than a call for action. God calls you as a mwanachuo to work hard, to be a good example. But I wondered how tangible an alternative this provides to cheap prosperity. It went beyond the pursuit of individual success, and it hinted at higher purposes, but what compelling motivations might there be for wanachuo?
3. You are made to contribute to others
One fellowship evening had a seminar on the topic, ‘Shape your life’. The presenter was a TAFES associate.
He opened with the problem that ‘Where you are is not where you want to be’. For example, a mwanachuo begins a university program they might as well have picked at random, so perhaps it’s no surprise they lose focus. Another mwanachuo begins a degree she wanted to pursue, but she doesn’t maintain her commitment and ends up working in customer service for a phone company, and hating it.
Don’t be a victim of your circumstances, he said, but be actively involved in the direction of your life. ‘You reap what you sow.’ Shape your life. To what end? We are made to serve others.
It was a message packed with real-world illustrations and stories and, with a single Bible idea as a pivot, it concretely urged students to take hold of their time at university for the sake of a life they can see as their own — and it set this within a vision of other-centred living.
Like the two above, this message was designed to buoy up students and undermine passivity. But it went further, setting a broader vision, with a clear message about the meaning and purpose of life.
By popular demand, this guy returned for a follow-up seminar a couple of days later. Again he used a Bible pivot: ‘The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out’ (Proverbs 20:5). You can’t always tell what’s driving you, or what shape you want your life to take, so you need to delve into your heart and examine your motivations. But what is God’s purpose? You were made to be a contributor, to find your fulfilment in the service of others.
The life ahead of you, he concluded, demands your ability, your dedicated action, your attention to present and future. In the midst of life, staying connected with God makes all the difference, because while your situation may change, God is constant.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.