Does Campus Ministry work?
Why does it mean so much to share the Gospel with college students – international and American – on campus? Ken’s story helps to explain why we do what we do.
I knew something was wrong when the letter from Japan came from Ken’s parents and not from him. Why would they write, when he’d always been the one to send his own hand-written letters and postcards? His grief-stricken parents wrote to tell us that their son had died of a heart attack shortly before he was 40 years old. Although they are not Christians, they knew what Ken’s faith meant to him. Ken found his faith right here at All Saints Lutheran Church and Student Center, and at First Trinity-Oakland, with Rev. Eric Andrae, campus pastor, and with senior pastor Rev. Douglas Spittel.
Stereotyping might lead us to think that a student from Japan would not be open to Christianity, but Ken was interested from the first day we met him. Right after the first Welcome Meal he attended at All Saints, he told us he would like to come to All Saints to study the Bible. Ken let us know he was searching for a purpose for his life. He was planning to major in philosophy, but found he did not agree with the teaching in the Philosophy Department. He mentioned that he had talked with Christians in Japan about faith, but he wanted to know more.
He came regularly to study Luke and Genesis. His faith did not come overnight. Rather, he struggled with God’s Word. He struggled because he could not see how he could obey God like Abraham did when he was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac. He agonized as he read about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, not seeing how he, a sinner, could be forgiven. He felt so unworthy that he couldn’t see how God could really want him as His child.
Campus ministry was here for Ken. We warmly welcomed him to come to talk, study, and to see the Jesus video in Japanese. He also had two friendship families who were very special to him. They had him stay in their homes so he felt like family. When Ken left Slippery Rock University, he kept in touch with his families.
Ken’s passion was art. He dreamed of painting Christian paintings. Another passion was writing about his family so that his children, if he married, would know their history. Finally, his dream was to be able to live in the USA after graduation; but this did not happen.
What did happen is that the Holy Spirit worked faith into Ken’s heart. Ken came to Rev. Michael D. Scheer and asked to be baptized. His friends, Christian and non-Christian, came to All Saints to see Ken’s baptism on August 10, 2008. And his faith only grew after his baptism. Even when he left for graduate studies in Pittsburgh. Even when, with tears in his eyes and in ours, he later flew home to Japan to make his life there.
Before leaving the states, Ken found a safe haven at First Trinity Lutheran in Oakland. There, Rev. Andrae took him into his life. He shepherded this tender, sensitive, shy student with friendship, Bible study, and warm student gatherings. Ken’s faith grew.
The years have passed. We thought we’d always be getting postcards and letters describing Ken’s search for the right job. He even tried living in Singapore, but decided to return home to Japan, where he hoped to find a wife and have a family. While home, he continued to read his Bible every day, early in the morning, as he’d seen us doing during visits to our home. He let us know he was sometimes lonely and disappointed - that he had not found his niche - but he never spoke of disappointment with God. He always spoke of his trust in God.
There are so many people like Ken on our college campuses. Not all are open to Christianity, but even if there is just one who will hear God’s Word, it is crucial for the church to be on campus to share the Gospel with that person.
Ken’s death has left a huge hole in our lives. His artwork reminds us of him and the gentle, young man who leaned on the Lord. We will celebrate his life in Christ with a memorial service at his church, First Trinity Lutheran, in December. We hope to send a copy of the service to Ken’s parents, who are glad we’re holding a Christ-centered service for him. They are not believers at this time, but they find comfort in reading from the book of Luke, as they had heard Ken loudly read aloud every evening when he was home. They don’t understand yet, but it is our prayer that they will.
The price campus ministers pay when working with students is a lot of joy and a lot of sorrow. We miss the students who have become part of our lives. We love them. This is especially true of a student like Ken, who dies so early in life. The blessing is that even though we all cried at hearing of his death, we all know he is with Jesus. Nothing is better than that. Ken referred to his artwork as “a gift from our God. It comes out of Him through me who prays while painting.” His life on earth was short, but his witness to his faith will continue much longer. What greater blessing can there be?
Thank you for all of your prayers for campus ministry. Your prayers have made a difference.
Augusta R. Mennell is the Campus Ministry Director at All Saints Lutheran Church and Student Center in Slippery Rock, PA. If you would like to highlight your work in the ministry, send a submission for consideration to Lynne, Communications Coordinator for the English District LCMS, firstname.lastname@example.org.