It can be truly said that people are freaking out.
Because of the rapid spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), yesterday West Chester University was the next college to announce that it would be shutting down for the remainder of the semester. Classes will be held online, and the dorms will be closed. I’m sure more universities across the nation will follow suit in the coming days.
This is the next domino to topple over in a long line of dominos to come that could be extremely problematic. What’s going to happen to all the international students who can’t go home? What happens to the students who live off campus but work on campus as a way of earning income to pay for their tuition? Will the universities that close pay back the students who don’t have a place to live or a reliable internet connection for “attending classes” through the end of spring?
These are the kinds of questions we are facing as a country, and the kinds of questions I care about as a person working with college students in full-time ministry.
But I also can’t help but think about the enormous opportunity that sits in front of Christians here as well. One of the things we talk about a lot in my ministry is evangelism. When I was involved with my campus ministry as a student many years ago, I was challenged repeatedly to share my faith. I was trained how to communicate my personal story of faith in Jesus Christ, how to walk up to a stranger and talk with them about God, and how to clearly communicate the biblical message of the gospel. It was incredible.
The skills I learned back in my early twenties have stayed with me for decades, and I’m deeply grateful for the way I was poured into.
Unlike when I was a student, however, we now live in an age of digital existence. People, and especially college students, live a great deal of their lives through their phones via texting and social media. It’s not really a question of how many hours a day a young person spends on their phone, but how many hours a day they don’t.
Take that current cultural fact and combine it with the isolation that will inevitably come because of the Coronavirus and classes online, and the church has a real opportunity to share some good news.
If you’re a Christian and want to use this time well, here are a few suggestions on how to engage with people who will inevitably be on their devices a lot more during this season.
1. Show people the hope we have in Jesus Christ.
I’m deeply persuaded that God uses the trials of life to help deepen our relationship with him and at the same time, communicate his love to the watching world. Erin’s story HERE is a great example of that.
It’s precisely in times like now (when people are scared) that followers of Jesus should be radiating hope. Hope that we have in our Savior. Hope that God is in complete control over all things. Hope that brings a supernatural peace when the world is telling us that everything is hopeless.
If we are truly confident that God is not at all surprised by what’s happening right now, coupled with the fact that he is good, we should be beacons of hope that shine in bright contrast to the darkness.
2. Now, more than ever, is a great time to communicate your faith.
No doubt, your fellow students are bored on their devices because of widening school closures, so why not invest this time well instead of just spending it?
You can record yourself talking about what God has done in your life, how Christ has changed you, or what you’ve been learning lately. Encourage people to DM you, respond with a comment, or post a question in relation to what you’ve shared. This time can open up relational doors unlike any time before because there’s more of a captive audience.
People are scrolling, so what would it look like for God to use you and bring the light of the good news into your friend’s lives? Now, perhaps more than ever, is a great time to talk with someone about God’s love for them in Jesus Christ.
3. Ask how you can be praying for your friends.
If more people are online because of their classes, it’s a great time for you to personally ask the ones you know how you can be praying for them. Caring for others by lifting them up in prayer is a great way to create compassion and love for them.
You’d be surprised by how many people feel encouraged just by asking how you can pray for them…even if they don’t believe in God. I’ve had great conversations with people as a result of asking for prayer requests, and learned a lot about their lives in the process.
My neighbor across the street shared with me about her family, her fiancé and his kids, and what was going on at her job all because I asked one day about how I could be praying for her. I was able to thank her for her vulnerability and show her that I cared all by asking one simple question: how can I be praying for you?
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I don’t know how long the Coronavirus is going to be around, or what kind of damage it will do. But I do know that God wants to involve you and me in the work he’s doing in the hearts of men and women he’s put into your life…even the ones you only know digitally.
Let’s not waste this unique opportunity. Let’s invest this time instead of just spend it.