Does student ministry really make a difference?

Impact beyond the university

Students may not remain students for very long. Sometimes the opportunity to shape a student’s life can feel too brief. A week at camp or on mission, an hour each week in Bible study together – does that actually add up to much? Students come and go, and it’s easy to feel like the impact of ministry is lost.

But God uses the smallest of circumstances. We never know how one conference, one conversation, or one book recommendation might change a life. However that change comes, graduates can go on to make a difference in many ways. Sometimes their impact is very quiet, very ordinary, and not noticed by many people—and sometimes it can’t be ignored.

Our vision is to see students impacting the university, the church, and society for the glory of Christ, during and after their years in school. In this blog we meet three people—from the Netherlands, Malaysia, and the USA—who reflect on how their experience in a student group shaped them to make an impact after graduation.

Bart Bierling: fighting injustice in healthcare

How could God work through your studies?

Bart Bierling was brought up Christian, but his faith never felt like his own. During his time in IFES Nederland, the student movement in the Netherlands, however, that changed. As Bart understood what Jesus meant for him personally, he “got the urge to really make a difference in this world”.

During his studies, Bart researched ways to reduce the negative impact of monitoring sensors on premature babies. These findings led him to develop a type of sensor that provided non-obtrusive monitoring of vital functions. It wasn’t long before the importance of this new method was recognised by Bart’s colleagues and the broader medical community. In developing countries, limited access to equipment challenges the ability of health workers to provide new sensors for each new patient. It is equally difficult for understaffed healthcare teams to monitor the data from these sensors regularly and easily.

Bart’s innovation addresses both concerns. Through various collaborative efforts, Bart and his team are helping bring relief to strained medical systems and more effective care to the most vulnerable patients. Currently, Bart is in Malawi, studying clinical data and interviewing healthcare professionals.

“God really brought the right people into my path”, he says. “We’re not yet where we hope to go, but the rest is in God’s hands. There’s so much injustice in the world when it comes to healthcare. I want to improve that.”

You can find out more about Bart’s project on his website

Chuah Ee Chia: an agent of change in her country

At the 2005 national conference of FES, the student movement in Malaysia, fresh graduate Ee Chia made a commitment to God.

“Make me an agent of change in my country”.  

Years later, during a diving vacation, Ee Chia encountered the stateless Bajau Laut community, who live on boats and stilt houses off the shores of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. She never forgot them and in 2015, during her master’s degree, Ee Chia returned to Omadal Island to co-founded Iskul Sama DiLaut Omadal.

Initially, the school provided Bajau Laut children an opportunity to learn how to read, as taught to them on weekends by local Malaysian children. Today, Iksul includes a community water project and healthcare clinic, as well as a food aid delivery initiative started in response to the pandemic. The school continues teaching children to read and write; however, Bajau Laut youths are now assisting their younger relatives and friends in literacy. With this simple objective, Ee Chia’s project has contributed to the process of healing divisions between communities in Malaysia.

“Of all of the activism God has guided me through, the seed was planted in my undergraduate studies with FES”, Ee Chia says. “Our faith is demonstrated in action.”

You can find out more about Iskul from their new YouTube channel, with videos created directly by Bajau Laut youths:

Almita Miranda: at the forefront of struggle

“Immigration was always part of my life”, says Almita, whose parents came to the US from Mexico in the 1970s. But it was only at university that Almita discovered how to weave together her life story, her faith in Jesus, and her research skills: God was calling her to be an advocate for undocumented immigrants and their families.

During her studies, Almita found community in the Latino Fellowship group, part of InterVarsity, the student movement in the USA. There, she explored how her identity and faith intersected. “Reading Esther at the 2004 LaFe national conference helped me realize that being a Christian means I embrace my ethnic identity,” she says. “It informs my unique experience, which God can use for his purposes.”

This helped Almita uncover her academic passions and transform her career path. Today, Dr Almita Miranda is an Assistant Professor of Geography and Chican@ and Latin@ Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on the ways Mexican mixed-status families navigate legal and social constraints.

“The families I work with teach me more about faith and la lucha (the fight) for social justice than I could ever give back,” she says. “But I try to use my position as an academic to contextualize their struggles, within a history of Mexico-U.S. migration and unjust immigration laws that maintain families in legal limbo, threatening many with deportation and family separation.

“God loves all people. He is a God of justice, who promises to defend and protect the most vulnerable. As people of faith, we should be at the forefront of these struggles for social justice.”

Do you have a story about how your student group impacted you or someone you know? We would love to hear it. Tell us your story at Let’s be encouraged that God is working in the world’s universities, giving students solid foundations to impact the church, the university, and the world for the glory of Christ.

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