What being a campus minister taught me about gardening…

Last year, my humble garden went crazy.  I had bounty aplenty from my three tomato plants, handful of peppers, and basil.  True to his word, since the garden went well my hubby made no objection to me expanding our gardening efforts.  One 5×8 bed became three.  Three tomato plants became five, accompanied by peppers, green beans, strawberries, cucumbers, carrots, peas, parsley, basil, oregano, romaine and spinach.  I wish I could say the season has gone just as well.

Early on I had some trouble with the cucumbers taking off – I may have planted them too early, but two of the three survived.  Then one morning I woke up to all my peas having been eaten to the ground along with one of my romaine lettuce plants.  Rabbits.  Up went rabbit fencing around two of the beds sans the tomato & green bean garden bed.  Then the basil suddenly died after having more than I knew what to do with last year.  I thought that stuff was “easy to grow.”  And then my second planting of peas died.  What was going on around here?

However the rest of my hard work seemed to be doing okay.  The tomatoes were growing…a little more slowly this year, the cucumbers were making progress (along with the additional 3 plants I added) The parsley and oregano took off like crazy and the romaine was doing well – but my green beans…they were the pride and joy of my garden.  They looked GOOD!

There is nothing quite as satisfying as fresh green beans from the garden.  I watched as the little buds turned into little beans and finally the day arrived where I could pick my first harvest.  I can’t explain the joy that welled up as I served up these green beans for dinner.  After all the frustrations with other veggies…these made up for them.  Two days later, I picked again…and two days after that.  And then it happened.

Overnight they were gone.

Savagely taken down to the stems.

The crown jewel of all of my hard work, gone.

To say that I was furious would be an understatement.  I was ready to break every village/township/subdivision law and ordinance that there was and go on a legit rabbit hunt.  I had noticed a couple clipped leaves a several days prior, but thought it was the deer since they clipped a couple high tomato branches too.  However, it wasn’t the deer.

It was the rabbits…Dan saw them.

I was quite angry, frustrated and depressed.  I spent all this time and energy, not to mention money on building the beds and such for nothing.  But I still held out hope…because I saw this beautiful brandywine tomato growing…about a week out from eating and I couldn’t wait.  Every morning I would look out my bedroom window to check it’s progress and anticipate biting into that juicy tomato.  The ones from the store don’t even come close to being as good.

And then it happened.

One morning, it too was gone.

Not only was the big green-but-ripening tomato gone, HALF of all my roma tomatoes were gone too.  This time by those destructively awful deer.  How to I know…because it looked like they had a party in my garden overnight by all their tracks.  The tomatoes were too high up to have been anything else.  All my hard work, being stolen away by a thief in the night.

At this point I was depressed.  No green beans, very few tomatoes and the ones left were disappearing nightly (we even spotted a deer one night as Dan shined his flashlight out the window about 11pm).  My bell peppers seemed to have stunted growth – they weren’t fully developing, my basil had died, my second planting of peas mysteriously shriveled up and died after starting to bud, I wasn’t sure anything was happening with the cucumbers.

I gave up.

My oldest garden bed started to become overrun by weeds.  I didn’t care.  My romaine lettuce started to bolt without me using it’s beautiful leaves.  I was too blinded by my perceived failure at gardening to care.  Have I mentioned that the rabbits and deer didn’t even touch my neighbor’s garden that they put in after seeing mine last year?  They are harvesting a bunch of delicious looking tomatoes…the deer ignored them, but showed no mercy on me.

BUT today was a turning point.  You see I just spend four days with a hundred-ish InterVarsity staff at our regional staff conference.  We talked about the ways the Holy Spirit worked among us this past year – even in times of grief and disappointment.  I reflected on some hard places in this past year – and how it seemed that all my work planting the InterVarsity chapter was being attacked and destroyed at the very beginning of the year.  I thought about how I let those set back distract me and blind me from what God was doing in other areas.  And then I remembered what God did do.  Theoretically I could have thrown in the towel after those first few frustrating weeks last year, but if I did I wouldn’t have experienced and seen all that God DID do throughout the year.  I would have thrown away the rest of the harvest along with was seemed to be stolen and destroyed the first couple weeks.  I had to keep my eyes open and still tend the chapter despite the challenges to reap the rest of the harvest.

I thought about that as I looked at my overrun garden bed today – in its deplorable state of neglect…and I got up.  I weeded, I pruned back and I tended.  The deer may still nab a few more of the tomatoes that have begun to grow and the romaine lettuce may taste a bit more bitter than I anticipated, but I still have food to harvest.  My carrots are looking great…not quite ready, but getting there.  I’m picking a handful of small strawberries every couple of days.  My little pickling cucumbers have taken off and have started to grow.  I have enough parsley to make a couple batches of tabbouleh.  I might try my hand at drying some oregano and there still may be some romaine lettuce to be eaten.  Not all is lost.  But instead of throwing away what good is left I have to choose to keep tending and working to reap the rest of the harvest…and it sure is a lot less depressing to look at a garden bed that no longer looks like an abandoned city lot.

Thought on Engaging the Campus…

I love campus ministry – the college campus is exciting…it’s full of ideas, thought and learning.  However it is also, unfortunately, a place where students can hide behind the guise of learning in order to try to escape and delay entry into the “real world.”  There is a fantastic book I love…it has to be up there in my top 10 non-fiction books – called God on Campus by Trent Sheppard published by IVP.  The back of the book sums it up pretty well when it says that it “traces a remarkable legacy of spiritual awakening [on college campuses] that streches from the founding of the earliest colleges in the United States to a global movement of nonstop student prayer.”  Reading the rich history of God moving through college students on campus since the founding of colleges in the America (it began with Harvard in 1636…part of their original purpose statement in the college laws written in 1642 states “let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life.”) gets me excited about what God can and is doing in and through college students.  I read this book a while back…in fact I read it almost immediately after InterVarsity sent it to me, but I felt compelled to pick it up again today and have skimmed and read through the large majority of it again.  You see, I’m preparing to speak next week at large group for OU’s InterVarsity next week on the topic of engaging the campus and this book is chock full of stories of how students engaged the campus and changed the world (hmmm…that sounds a little familiar….IV’s vision statement anyone? 😉  It is an inspiring read!

On page 42 Sheppard writes, “One of the greatest myths and most disempowering concepts of our collegiate years is the faulty idea that real life starts later.  As if the daily decisions that deeply influence our friends, significantly shape our campuses and regularly recenter our lives have no actual bearing in the real world. Had the Holy Club [a gathering that started with 4 student at Oxford in 1729 that lead to not only the first rise of Methodism, but also influenced George Whitefield who in turn helped to bring about the Great Awakening] bought into that bogus belief, the world they would eventually transform might still be waiting for some humble and courageous souls to take the risk of actually doing something in the present, rather than forever waiting for the idyllic environment of the future.”

If that doesn’t smack of the potential of college students I don’t know what does!  The challenge is sometimes getting students to see that potential and see that they don’t have to wait until “their careers” to exert influence and exude passion.  Yale, 1909 – William Borden, heir to millions of dollars from his family’s business, had a passion for Christ and reaching his classmates.  He, along with a couple other students, began running prayer meetings and Bible studies with the goal of inviting every person on campus to join them.  By the time he graduated in 1909 one thousand of Yale’s thirteen hundred students were gathering weekly for prayer.  After graduation he set sail to be a missionary and died at the age of 25 in Egypt while studying Arabic – inside his Bible were the words: No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.  He had a passion to make Christ known and he engaged the campus with the gospel and prayer.

Oakland Community College, September 2011.  Thirteen students that are just getting to know me (some may have known me for minutes and some for a few weeks) took steps of faith to work an evangelistic table on campus where we interacted with hundreds of students over the question of whether or not the Bible was worth studying and invited them in to study the Bible with us.  Those kinds of things excite me as I walk on campus.  To see students willing to engage the campus with the good news of Jesus and students excited and passionate about it!!  William Borden started praying with one friend at Yale…the Holy Club at Oxford started with four students…five students at the Haystack Prayer Meeting (which launched the American foreign missions movement) at Williams College…  There is so much potential on college campuses and I am excited to be involved in campus ministry.  I’m believing God for students who are willing to commit to reaching the campus with the gospel and to take risks to do so not only where I serve at OCC, but at OU and at colleges across the nation and globe.  Indeed it is already happening, but I’m believing for more!


Steady obedience….

An edited excerpt from the planting journal I keep…edited for length:

Today (Monday 9/12) I sat outside the F building at OCC for a while with our “Do you believe in God” board.   I went to campus a bit early to make sure I could get a parking spot somewhere near the building.  As I did some work on campus I had to give myself a bit of a pep talk.  I love planting but the fact is that standing at an information/proxe table for seven or so hours, multiple days in a row can be a little tiring…not just physically, but I begin to run a bit low on relational energy and my ability to engage well in conversation with students begins to wane…especially when it is done largely by yourself.  I have been grateful for Steven’s partnership and his willingness to take time to serve.  But as I sat in building F today getting some miscellaneous work done before setting up the table, knowing I was going to have to set it up by myself, I was a little tired and part of me was a little uncomfortable…I was going to be setting up the board without all the other IV banners and such…just the 4’x6′ board with “Do you believe in God?” spray painted across the top and a place for students to “vote” yes, no or unsure.  Having all the banners and tablecloth and all the other stuff for some reason makes it easier…maybe I think the board doesn’t speak as loud.  Whatever the reason I was feeling some discomfort today.   I thought to myself…well, what if I just don’t set it up…or what if I wait an hour until Steven can come too…then I wouldn’t be alone and I wouldn’t feel as odd, etc.  That’s when I told myself to shut up…ant do just do it…even when I feel some discomfort…so I prayed a bit and went to get the board.  It’s a bit of a chore, but I got the massively awkward (in size) board and bag of stickers from the parking lot, up some stairs and set it up against a pole outside of building F.

Building F is a building with a lot of classes in it, right across from a large parking lot.  From that parking lot students will either go directly across to F or over and down to D so right before and right after classes the entrance to F got pretty busy – or when classes had breaks and the smokers came out to smoke.  As I was carrying this board from the parking lot though, part of me was pretty self-conscious…especially as I set the board up.  There is a road that runs between the parking lot and the building so as people would drive by they would stare at me and at the board – even the OCC police officers would stare.  Admittedly I was self-conscious and a bit uncomfortable.  I had these thoughts and images of the outdoor preachers that would come to WSU (many of them preaching a message that was not Biblically accurate) and how people would ridicule them or how even I would be judgmental toward their judgmental and unloving message as I walked by.  As I stood there today at the beginning I thought of how much easier it would be to pack up that board and drive home – I would save myself from hearing dozens of “no,” “no thanks,” “not interested,” etc.  I wondered how many people driving or walking by instantly labeled me or thought I was a complete nut, or weird, or whatever thing you can think of.  I knew that there were people immediately judging me without coming up to engage with the question or me…and as I stood there the first thirty minutes without any super significant conversations I wondered if I was doing any good.  I had passed out a few flyers…a number of people interacted with our station, but nothing of super significance, to me anyway.  I wasn’t able to get the names of anyone who might be interested in joining InterVarsity or investigating Christianity…so I wondered if it was worth my time and worth my discomfort.

However as I stood there I constantly reminded myself every time the sun was out in full force (which it often was) – that even if I didn’t have any radical conversations…that my faithful obedience was what God asked of me.  That everything I do is for the glory of God…it is to exalt his great name.  We are in the business of helping in the mission of Jesus to rescue people from darkness into light…pulling people from death to life.  This isn’t about my discomfort…it is about my faithfulness in proclaiming the name of Jesus and to see students and faculty transformed by the good news of Jesus, to see the campus renewed, and to see students leaving the campus to go out into the world to do great things for the glory of the King.  Sure people might think I’m a little crazy or nutty for being out there…but that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  I ended up having some decent conversations…nothing earth shaking by what I could see, but some simple and significant conversations.  It wasn’t our largest “haul” of names, but it was formative for me as I took simple steps of obedience to what God has called me to even if I was a bit self-conscious and uncomfortable.

I can’t expect any of the students to do what I’m not willing to do myself…and if that is standing outside the road and parking lot with a big sign asking students if they believe in God then I have to do it as well – even if students don’t join me.  But I’m showing students that we are about engaging the campus with the news of Jesus.  As I hauled the table back to MIVO (my Explorer…short for MobileInterVarsityOffice) I had a student offer to carry the board for me (which I was appreciative of) – as I talked with him he mentioned that he is an atheist, but was really respectful and engaged in a brief, but good conversation with me.

Today might not have been campus shaking but it was a bit Teresa shaking as God challenged me in the places of my insecurity and doubt.  I have the greatest news that can be offered on that campus – the greatest “textbook” to be studied…the hope that no academic subject matter can offer and good news that has the power to change lives.  I read in Acts 4:20 after standing at the table for two and a half hours “for we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard!” – this coming from Peter after he and John were brought before the Sanhedrin for preaching about the salvation that is only found in Jesus.  It provoked me to write down the reflection question “what is it in my life that I have seen and heard about Jesus that motivates me to say ‘I can’t help but talk about it?’ If I can’t think of anything then I haven’t really internalized and grasped the implications of the gospel.”  We have an amazing gift to give the campus and I have the awesome privilege to be used by Jesus to bring the gospel to OCC.  It’s humbling and so exciting…even if I feel a bit self conscious standing by the road.

*My follow up to that journal entry:*

A girl came to small group Tuesday night…I had met her briefly at the table on Monday.  We talked for maybe a minute, but she came to small group and added us on facebook.  As I looked at her facebook wall I saw this post: “Thank God for InterVarsity 🙂 I finally feel connected at occ. Bible study was great, but now I just want more.” THEN another student we’ve connected with replied with “Aren’t the InterVarsity people awesome!!!” – I was super encouraged reading that and felt so blessed…I love my job!!!

On campus the first day of classes (9/1) - the question board behind the table was the one out by itself on Monday!