Staying Christian on a College Campus

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Staying Christian on a College Campus

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It was well past sunset when I arrived at my old college dorm that Friday for an overnight visit with friends. Like clockwork, the TV was turned off when I walked in the door. I was stunned. I had moved out a year and a half ago, but my college roommates still remembered. They passed up the rowdier uptown bars in favor of the quieter Bob Evans for dinner, and the giggling stopped early enough that I could get up for church services the next morning.

Granted, they don't really understand why I do what I do. There was the Friday night they invited 10 or so friends over to watch movies because they felt bad about leaving me home alone. And I recall the time my music sorority dubbed its Christmas gift exchange a "holiday" event with the hope that I could participate.

A cheesy saying tells us that college is supposed to be the best time of our lives. I admit, my only regret about college was that I couldn't stretch it out a little longer. There are ways to stay Christian on a college campus without feeling like an outcast.

I don't claim to know all of them, but I did challenge my friends, professors and even the university president over the years, and with God's blessings I came out on top.

God established His laws for His entire creation, and that creation doesn't end at campus's edge. If we waver from the Sabbath or the Holy Days once, there's less ground to stand on the next time our professor tells us we can't make up a test that falls during the Feast. If you take a firm stance from day one, they won't be able to say, "Well, you made an exception before; why not now?"

If you have the option of scheduling classes, try to schedule them around the Holy Days. You won't be able to avoid every conflict, but picking a Tuesday/ Thursday class over one that meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday will almost always have you missing fewer classes during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Even professors who have set absence policies will usually accommodate you if you explain why you'll be missing the classes or exam and offer to make it up as soon as possible. Once they know you have a legitimate reason and you aren't just playing hooky, they usually are more than happy to work with you.

But if they aren't, you may need to regroup, get some advice and try to explain it again. Your pastor can provide you with a letter about the Feast as well. But if this still doesn't work, respectfully present your case to the professor designated to hear appeals.

You may end up talking to the department head and, if that doesn't work, the dean. More than likely, one of them will straighten the situation out.

You still have a trump card even if the dean won't listen. Almost every college or university has a diversity statement in its student handbook that says something to the effect that the school welcomes students of different races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, etc. That same statement generally says the university will not discriminate and will make every effort to accommodate differences created by those diverse backgrounds.

Respectfully quote their own policy to them. The policy still applies to you, even though you were born in the United States and you aren't a Buddhist. No college wants to risk being labeled intolerant or discriminatory. And, of course, pray about the issue before you ever say a word to your professor.

Okay, so you have classes figured out. But social life doesn't have a diversity policy. And you're never going to change the overall college culture.

In college dorms, people of all backgrounds are thrown together in a group living environment. It's a time when young adults start learning about getting along in the "real world" outside Mom and Dad's house. And they learn that they must be willing to accommodate one another's needs and habits if they want theirs respected in return.

This can range from the vegetarian friend who won't sit in the same room as a pepperoni pizza to the friend who must have every hair in place before leaving the dorm. Then there's you, the friend who really would like to go out with the gang but really hopes they'll wait until Saturday night when you can come along.

When push comes to shove, do you really want friends who care so little about you that they're not willing to wait a night to go to the movies every once in a while? And sometimes your friends will even find that doing things your way (which is really God's way, but they probably won't make that connection) works better.

For years, my music sorority had its annual formal dance on a Friday night. When they found out I couldn't go, the next year they changed the event to a Saturday night.

Afterwards, they all said how much they liked having all day Saturday to get to the shindig instead of rushing off after classes Friday. I was long gone by last spring's dance, but they still held it Saturday night.

Making sure people know that you're not avoiding them often makes the difference between making friends and making enemies.

If your dorm mates and classmates think you're making excuses every time they invite you to join some friends on a Friday night, they'll probably think you're snubbing them and return the gesture. Thank them for the invite and let them know you'd like to join them on a different night. They'll usually be glad to include you in their Saturday night plans. After all, since when do college kids have fun only one night a week?

But that doesn't mean you have to totally isolate yourself from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. Why not spend some time with them, engaging in appropriate Sabbath activities?

Escape from the dining hall's tofu surprise and go out to dinner. Sit around and talk. Go for a walk around some of the scenic parts of the campus. Doing things like these with your friends on the Sabbath can spark conversations that give them a better understanding of why you do what you do, and sometimes can arouse their interest in God.

But there will be times when your friends just want to go to the Friday night party or the Saturday afternoon football game. So what can you do on the Sabbath when your college buddies are all out and about?

First of all, the Sabbath is a great time for prayer and Bible study. It's the one time that your dorm is likely to be quiet. And if it's not, most dorms have study lounges or lobby areas where students can retreat from the usual noise. The library can be your last resort.

The Sabbath can also be the perfect time to catch up with your family and your Church friends. Everyone in college takes time out to call Dad and Mom, so why not call when there's less competition for the phone?

What about Sabbath services? Most colleges are somewhat near a local church area. If you don't have a car, don't be timid about asking Church members for a ride. If you don't know anyone in the area, ask the pastor if he can help you find a ride.

Try to go to services even if noise from the party next door kept you up until 3 a.m. Saturday morning. If you skip once, it's easier to skip the next time for a less legitimate reason. I always let my pastor know when my neighbors had been particularly loud so he wouldn't get quite as upset if he caught me dozing. If you can spend even more time on the Sabbath with Church friends and families, so much the better.

If you're so far away that you can't get to services, you can always use the day for Bible study, listen to sermon tapes or even listen to sermons on UCG's Web site. If you're shy about listening to a tape in the dorm room, take a Walkman and go out for a walk, or go to the study lounge or the library.

No one is going to make the right decision every time, and a group living environment doesn't make a Christian's life any easier. I know I made mistakes, but I did my best to continue living by God's law from the time I arrived at Ohio University to the Friday afternoon I got my diploma in a private ceremony in the university president's office—a day earlier than the rest of my classmates. Their ceremony was all day Saturday and, to attend, I would have had to miss church services.

College is a time to discover yourself, to become your own person, to truly become an adult. Start off on the right foot by doing what you know is right. God will help you find the way. VT

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