by Tamara Cissna
Brittany Quinn remembers feeling broadsided by a professor's message that Christians need to work for justice on earth now — not to wait for heaven someday.
She had already co-led a social action discussion group, delivered meals to homeless people in downtown Portland, and helped organize a day of fasting on campus. But this talk presented a whole new perspective.
"Evangelical Christians tend to see their world from a post-fall perspective — viewing the world as all sin and evil," Paul Otto, associate professor of history, told students at a discussion group. "So they often see their mission as saving souls, escaping the earth, and living for eternity in heaven."
However, the fall did not end the task God gave to people to oversee, care for, and develop the creation, he explained. This includes struggling against the evil that corrupts God's creation — often resulting in human suffering.
"I've always cared about helping people in poverty, but I'd never made the link to the biblical mandate," says Quinn, a senior. "The Bible has become like a new book to us. Everything is just screaming that this is what we're supposed to do."
This year Quinn and other students are pushing themselves more than ever out of their comfort zone and into the world.
"We are not satisfied with an in-the-box personal relationship with God," says Scott Mackey, a junior social work major.
"Living a Christian life is not just about our own morality. A lot of people are sharing different ideas about how we should care about the world. A Christian campus should be radical."
The following are a few ways George Fox students are living out their faith this year:
Living Outside the Box
In October, students chose to live in "solidarity with the poor" by fasting for a day and sleeping overnight on the Newberg quad. The organizers of Living Outside the Box, Mackey and sophomore Chelsea Louie, hoped to increase awareness among fellow students about poverty, and to encourage responsiveness.
"A lot of us feel as Christians it's vital to be knowledgeable about these issues and to care about them," says Louie, a social work major. "It's our duty to be aware."
To advertise the event, they set out trash bags with discarded food next to posters sharing facts about hunger — an object lesson Louie admits not all passersby appreciated.
In early evening, about 100 students visited booths organized around poverty issues, listened to speakers, and watched videos. Later they gathered outside to worship, read Scriptures on helping the poor, and divide into prayer groups.
In all, about 40 students slept outside through the night, breaking their fast early morning with oatmeal. "This was only one night," Louie says. "I thought it would be easier than it was. It definitely gave me a better understanding on a small level of what some people go through every day."
Following Living Outside the Box, students launched a discussion group to further explore what it means to be an extension of justice.
"The bubble exists as much as you choose to stay in it," says Louie. "There is a movement of change. Christians are becoming more aware, advocating for justice."
"Quaere Verum" is a Latin phrase meaning "seek the truth." With this student-led discussion group, no topic is off limits — the idea is to confront thorny problems with the mercy of Christ.
"Being ignorant is not an excuse to not do anything," says Quinn, who hosted the group before it outgrew her living room.
Discussions and speakers have covered domestic abuse, racial inequality, children soldiers, sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, and the AIDs pandemic, among other social problems.
"We have the greatest thing to offer the world, but we have to understand the world we live in," says recent graduate Seth Martin, who helped organize the group last term.
"Sometimes we memorize the Bible and gloss over passages about wealth and social responsibility," Martin says. "Every time Jesus talked about salvation, there were always physical results, a tangible response. When he was asked, ‘How do we know it's really you?' he answered, ‘The blind see. The lame walk.'" "It's not fair to withhold that aspect of Christ," Quinn says.
James Project volunteers put sweat behind their desires to follow God as they understand his concerns.
"How did Christ do it? That's what we're called to do," says Chris Roenicke, who leads the James Project. "Day by day, we are trying to do what we're called to do — help orphans, widows, and marginalized people."
On Saturday mornings, volunteers clean debris from homes with code enforcement warnings, help build homes for low-income families, split and deliver firewood, transport elderly and disabled adults, or work in food banks through various agencies.
"When we do these things, we are loving Jesus," says Roenicke. "A true faith demands action, which often is serving and giving of ourselves."
Owing its name to the second chapter in James — "Faith without works is dead" — the group formed more than a year ago. At first only a trickle of students showed up on Saturdays. That's changed. "This year, people are coming out of the woodwork, stepping into these roles," says Roenicke, a senior psychology major. "The Spirit's being poured out on people."
Last term, 210 student volunteers worked on 17 projects in or near Newberg. They work in community, within groups organized around dorm floors.
"Service affects you and changes your faith," Roenicke says. "Sometimes our hearts guide our hands. Other times our hands act first and the heart later begins to understand why."
Brian Rurik wants to help broadcast the love of Jesus to Portland through "a massive outpouring of loving service on the inner-city community."
Operation: Activate, scheduled for summer 2007, aims to send a workforce of 500 youth into Portland in partnership with local ministries. Each team, comprising high-school and college students, will be sent daily into Portland to work in neighborhoods, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and elsewhere.
Rurik, a sophomore engineering major, hopes the event will unify area churches and inspire youth to "live radically for Jesus."
He also hopes media will take notice of the tangible demonstration of Jesus' love. "I'd like to help destroy stereotypes and bring people's perceptions closer to what we interpret Christ's example and message to be," he says.
His vision began last year during a concert featuring UK-based worship leader Tim Hughes, an internationally known songwriter. During the concert on the Newberg campus, a video portrayed a mission involving hundreds of churches working with 10,000 youth on projects throughout London.
Seeing how the churches worked together to share Jesus' love in their city inspired him. "I thought, ‘Why can't we do something like that here?'" he says.
His dream has since become a work in progress, and eventually an event that may expand and be replicated elsewhere. Perhaps it might spark revival, he muses.
"One of my goals is to get all these ministries and churches working together, to become a more active force in communities," Rurik says.
Acting on AIDs
Do You See Orange? In this campaign, first held last spring, one in five people wore bright orange T-shirts on the Newberg campus to provide a "visual encounter" with the global AIDS pandemic. The shirts, which sold for $5, displayed the word "Orphan" on the front.
The 1:5 ratio of students, staff, and faculty wearing orange represented the proportion of African children expected to be orphaned by AIDS by the year 2010.
Students Katelin O'Malley and Lacey Wade organized the campaign with the students' Acting on AIDs group. The event provided a starting point — to help people grasp the enormity of the disease's impact and to take action. A second campaign is planned for spring semester.
Their awakening came when a class survey revealed the stigma their fellow students had toward those with AIDS. Painfully aware of their own ignorance, they opted to learn more and find ways to help.
"It's huge — the worst pandemic ever, and we don't talk about it," says Wade, a senior social work major.
Last December, students participated in another campaign, "Lives Are at Stake." Rows of stakes bearing 1,000 images of children whose communities are affected by AIDS lined the quad pathways.
Participants chose photos of children to pray for throughout the day. The students also sold bracelets crafted by orphans and widows.
Through this and other fund-raisers, more than $1,600 has been raised so far this year. The students work in partnership with World Vision's Acting on AIDS, which has chapters at more than 40 college campuses in the United States.
God put it on my heart to love people," says junior Kelly Riechers. "I like to be the hands and feet of Jesus, rather than the mouth."
On Friday nights, Riechers is one of 30 or more students who regularly volunteer under bridges in downtown Portland and Salem. They serve meals to homeless people and, perhaps more importantly, develop ongoing friendships.
"Love is the reason people become Christians," says Riechers, a philosophy and writing/literature double major.
"More than anything, it's important that we love people through our actions and show that we actually care."
Urban Services' street ministry has been a part of George Fox for many years, though this year there's been an increase in the turnout, with as many as 100 students arriving once.
"We want to be more like the early church," Riechers says. "In some of the accounts of the martyrs, people would say, ‘Christians are so weird. All they do is help people.' That's a beautiful representation of what Christians should be."
Last year, several George Fox friends began praying together about their desire to see students' energies be redirected more to loving people in the world, and less focused inwardly. By the end of the school year, they felt God's response to them was clear: love people.
This serves as their guide as they advocate for change this year: love people on and off campus, while continuing to pray for increased caring among fellow Christians for social justice.
"We feel something big is going to happen," says Roenicke. "We sense a revival coming, and we would like to be on the crest of the wave when it happens."