Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Commission: Realising Your Purpose at University

By Eleanor Hill

Maybe you’re a sixth former who’s relieved to have finally made it through A levels, anxiously awaiting results but excited at the prospect that in September you’ll have moved away from home with a new sense of freedom, friends, and studying something you actually care about. Or maybe you’re a uni student who rejoices in your £2.17 because you know it will get you through pre-drinks courtesy of Lidl, you know the 3am fire alarm is a given, the sense of freedom you anticipated at uni is in reality you having to do your own washing, cooking and cleaning (who knew that a freezer needed to be defrosted in the first place), and you spend most of your time writing passive aggressive notes on the milk carton because your flatmates keep stealing your milk. Wherever you’re at, certain things don’t change our constant search for purpose, the need for friendships and support, the craving for somewhere you can call home, and the desire to love and to be loved.

I had a conversation with my friend the other day, and I asked him how uni was going and he responded ‘El, I gotta be honest, university is the most average thing to happen to me’. It’s true, university can be so average. You spend the whole of first year trying to fit in, not really understanding what you’re doing. You have no sense of purpose (because let’s face it all you need is 40%), you’re more confused than ever about what you want to do with life, and feelings of anxiety, loneliness and stress start to creep in. University is a time where we need our faith more than ever, where we need authentic friendships to help us through, where need to pursue Jesus and his Truth rather than the relativism thrown in front of us. University is also the perfect opportunity to start again, to be the person who you want to be, to join the societies you want, you have the time to invest in what you want to invest in and the freedom to pursue the things that sets your heart alive. 

Last week, over 80 university students from across the UK, FOCUS American missionaries, and priests and chaplains gathered in Twickenham for our second student leadership summit, to be equipped, inspired and challenged to pursue Jesus’ call to all university students. We were each challenged to be disciples on our university campus, to take university evangelism to the next level, and to live this ‘great commission’ that Jesus gave to us. FOCUS helped us to realise that university doesn’t have to be average, that Jesus wants us to share our faith with every single flat mate and that it can be done simply and joyfully. I asked just a few of the students to share their experience of The Commission with us, and this is what they said:

Chris Bird, 1st Year Student, University of Nottingham

I had two highlights - the people and the prayer. That may sound strange because the purpose of The Commission was to equip us students to evangelise at university and it was delivered by some of the Catholic world’s best speakers. And yes the commission gave me some amazingly useful tools, yet the times we spent forming deeper friendships stick out to me as part of that equipping. After all Jesus never sent the disciples out alone, always in two's or more. Whether it was during small group times, or learning traditional French dances, or playing ultimate frisbee, The Commission gave me a sense of Catholic community among university students in Britain that I hope will continue on into university life with different Catholic societies working together.

Mary Palmer, 2nd Year Student, University of Birmingham

Well, writing only one paragraph about these incredible four days will indeed be a challenge – I can hardly believe it was only four days as so much happened in such a relatively short time! We were fired up, fuelled and ready to go as Christ’s disciples on our university campuses through the keynote speakers, the discussions we had as new friends, Holy Mass, Adoration, and prayer. 

Whilst university culture may dictate constant competition and career progression, we were challenged to entirely and completely trust God as the master builder, the architect and designer of our lives - anything we can try to build alone will not compare to the plans that God has for us, and who are we to doubt that. We were reminded that God desired to draw ALL people to himself and to let this change how we see our sisters and brothers. This was reiterated in the “Women’s breakout session”: a woman (or man!) at peace and rest in their identity as a child of God will allow others the “grace to be and the room to become” by recognising both the beauty within others and how much more they could be if they knew God’s love for them. Curtis Martin, founder of FOCUS, spoke with such authenticity and a heart-felt desire that each individual truly heard every word God was giving him to say – it was a powerful commissioning which left me feeling electric, in awe of our loving God, His hand in my life and the lives of friends around me, and SO excited for what He’ll do through each of us as we return to university and beyond!

Daisy Vanderputt, NET Missionary

To be around like minded people striving to love the Lord and serve his people was so refreshing. A real highlight for me was the Women's session led by Shannon Zurcher and Emily Runyan. Over the past year I've been reflecting on and reading the book 'Captivating' by Stasi Eldridge, and this was the basis for women's session (win.) Shannon and Emily unpacked the meaning of what it means to be a 'woman at rest' showing us first by example and secondly giving us practicals on how to live this out. The simple message that a 'woman at rest' is a woman who rests in her identity as a daughter of God and allows the people around her to be themselves whilst becoming more of who they are meant to be was so powerful and edifying to hear in a society which is so confused about what it means to be men and women.

If you couldn’t come to the commission, we prayed for you, we prayed for your university, for your families and friends and for your chaplains and cath socs. We prayed that universities won’t be a place of loneliness, anxiety and purposeless wondering but a place of truth, passion, courageousness and firm identity. Will you accept the call? 

"When light shines, darkness has no ability to maintain itself. Go out and be that light!"

- Jeff Runyan, The Commission 2017


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