Reason For Hope
This article is part of the The Study Center spring 2015 newsletter. Read more articles from this newsletter.
“To live in light of the Resurrection – that is what Easter means.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If you’ve watched the news this year, you are aware that U.Va. has spent a lot of time in the spotlight. In light of the Lenten season and Easter, we asked Undergraduate Ministry Directors, Jay McCabe and Lane Cowin, to reflect on the experience of ministering to students through the deaths of several of their classmates, the repercussions of Rolling Stone’s now retracted article on sexual assault at U.Va. and the ongoing conversations about racial tensions on Grounds. We also asked them to speak to the hope we’ve found as a community in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This year has felt like a race with too few pit stops—hard running without many chances to catch our breath—and we have had a national audience watching U.Va. struggle to stay on course. Of course, much of this year has been business as usual and we’ve watched students wrestle through the typical milestones of college life, taking great joy in what U.Va. offers them. At the same time, every student here has been forced to confront really difficult questions, such as: Am I truly safe? How can I keep someone I love safe? Can my university keep the community safe? Among our Christian students, there has also been one of the hardest questions of all: if I pray to God to keep me or someone I love safe, what can I expect from Him?
Some students continue to dig into these questions fiercely and committedly. Others confront these questions only when forced. Across the board, students are deeply tired. It is exhausting for them to contend with their vulnerabilities as a community on a public stage. As staff at the Study Center, we are grateful for the chance to sit with students as they (and we) wrestle with these questions and encourage them to keep going. So many of these questions are ones they will mull all their earthly lives, and we remind them that the Lord hasn’t abandoned them to answering those questions alone. We serve as a sounding board for students to process what they are thinking and feeling, while making sure we don’t lose sight of the larger story of the gospel as we are confronted by sin around us, but also within us as we face the hate, lust and racism in our own hearts.
We also put together opportunities for corporate prayer and processing. We organized our first gathering in late October during the search for Hannah Graham, and another in early December after the Rolling Stone article was published. In both cases we offered space to lament what is wrong in the world and to seek God’s intervening help. After Martese Johnson’s arrest, we encouraged our students to attend a prayer gathering organized by OneWay Christian Fellowship. We took our Elzinga Residential Scholars to the gathering and together we processed what it means to contend with racial tensions within the body of Christ. They voiced concerns, asked questions and shared hopes for God’s justice. We challenged them to consider their roles as agents of reconciliation and justice even now, through the power of the Holy Spirit in them.
As we encourage our students to seek justice amidst the terrible, tragic events of this year, many are truly hopeful that U.Va. and the larger Charlottesville community has been forced to look together at the injustices that do in fact exist in the world. We are now faced with the opportunity to work towards shalom, towards the thriving and wholeness of God’s children and God’s world.
This starts with repenting our failures to love God and our neighbors, and continues with trust and hope in the gospel’s power to change our lives and the world around us. We’ve joined students in attending group discussions on Grounds. We’ve seen students use their regularly scheduled times of worship and prayer to focus on justice and reconciliation. We’ve watched students wrestle with God’s call to bear witness to the pain and injustice suffered by their neighbors and to speak against evil, because they have confident hope in Jesus’s resurrection and God’s love for them.
The emotional climate at this point is both similar and different to the other Aprils we’ve experienced at U.Va. Students are enjoying the spring weather and looking forward to the end of the semester. Those graduating are feeling pressed to find jobs and do things “for the last time” at U.Va., while underclassmen are figuring out summer plans and next fall’s classes. There’s a sense that things are fine, but we’ve also observed something different this year. Many of the students we talk to are really struggling, often just below the surface. This year has taken its toll on us all, and even after all the prayers, tears and progress, we have not and should not expect to have “gotten over” the events of this year. The questions of safety, sexual assault and racial disparity at U.Va. are still looming large, and the emotional turmoil still weighs on our students.
Even as we wrestle with these questions of safety and community, we do see reasons for hope. Most obviously, we know God redeems. For those who trust Christ, even the worst events and darkest days are under his promise to “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Acknowledging the promise that “for those who love God all things will work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28) will be fulfilled in the glorious return of Christ, we cling to the knowledge that the way of suffering ends in glory, as we see in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Secondly, students are growing in their faith in the midst of brokenness. They are being driven to Christ and putting their hope in Him, so we are hopeful about the future at U.Va. and the part we can play at the Center for Christian Study.