A change for good
This autumn, 460,000 eighteen-year-olds will be leaving home for the first time and starting a new life at university or college. It’s an exciting time that brings more independence, lots of friends, a new bedroom, a wealth of social activities, countless textbooks, the challenge of student cooking … the list goes on.
For Christian students and those they are leaving behind, these new experiences come with a whole host of emotions – the nervous anticipation of the student leaving all that’s familiar behind them; the hopes and worries of the parents as they drive their child down the motorway; the pride of the church leader as he says goodbye to another member of the youth group – all hoping that they’ll find good friends, a new church, and an enthusiasm to live for Jesus and share the hope they have in him.
Yet alcohol, sex and endless parties are most people’s idea of a typical freshers’ week – and first year – at university. And Christian students, who find it hard to know how to engage in this kind of culture, can end up either retreating or becoming like the culture.
The Guardian newspaper reported that Facebook is being used to ease anxiety and loneliness of students in the crucial first year. However, statistics show that 50–70 per cent of new UK students suffer from homesickness to some extent within their first two or three weeks at university or college.
For Christians, it can take months to feel settled in a new church, and many students will come from churches where every one knows them and they feel at home. For some, there is a great joy in finding a new church and being part of the family, for others it’s more difficult and they don’t join a church at all or keep going home at weekends.
Freshers’ week and the first term at university or college are all about students finding their feet, settling in and making the right choices. There are often high expectations as people embark on this massive life change, and for some it can all add up to a pretty intense time.
However, year after year students, parents and youth workers have testified that in the midst of this transition their experience is that God does not change in his character, person or promises.
Ed (not his real name), a student at Sussex University, had an experience in his first term that left him feeling trapped and unhappy. When he arrived at university, he quickly established the loose friendships that strangers thrown together find themselves in. One afternoon, Ed got chatting with a group of guys from his hall and they offered him a ‘joint’.
One smoke turned into another, and then into a regular habit. Ed found himself locked into a lifestyle that he hadn’t planned. ‘It was like a domino effect’, he says. ‘The problem was that we lived in the same halls and I was roped into this new world of drugs, because these guys were my only friends. Things got really bad, but I just couldn’t get away from it’.
He finished his term lonely and depressed, and feeling like he’d undergone an enormous change. ‘I’d grown up in a Christian family’, he says, ‘I’d not experienced this kind of life before’.
He returned to university for his second term feeling desperately unhappy. So one night, he cried out to the Lord and began to talk to him. Then he decided that he needed to find other Christians on campus, so looked up UCCF on the internet and emailed his staff worker.
After meeting up with the worker and going to CU events, Ed got to know some other Christians. ‘I was amazed to find out that some of them were on my course and even in my halls’, he says, ‘I now realise I’m not alone on campus’.
Starting a new phase of life means there are choices to be made – from the superficial questions of what clothes to wear, to that first lecture or what film to see at the weekend, to choosing to follow Jesus and live for him in all aspects of campus life.
Some struggle with all the changes and pressures that going to university or college present, but it’s also an opportunity for students to grow as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, to share the gospel in a relevant and engaging way, and to worship God with the whole of their life.
Connecting with the CU and a local church will provide friends, support and a community that understands what it’s like to choose to live differently. UCCF exists to support and encourage Christian students to make the right choices and live for Jesus whilst at university or college (more information: www.uccf.org.uk/freshers).
UCCF south east team leader
Edited from NB, a termly magazine produced by UCCF: The Christian Unions. To receive your free copy, visit www.uccf.org.uk/support-us and sign up today. Visit www.uccf.org.uk/freshers to connect your university bound school leaver to a Christian Union.