For those of you who don’t already know, I work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at DePaul University in Chicago. It’s a student-led movement described by the students who lead it as “a welcoming community embodying God’s love at DePaul.”
When they settled on that description in May, the students who came up with it were pretty passionate about the “welcoming” part. I remember one saying, “Look, we know that ‘welcoming’ is super cliché, but we mean it! We really want to be defined as a community that welcomes.” And since I’m convinced that the story of Jesus has a whole lot to do with welcoming, I also got really excited.
So we made “Welcome” our theme for the first semester this year. We focused our stories and songs on the theme, hosted a weekend retreat centered on God’s welcome, and even printed it on our cups.
For the past month, I’ve been amazed and impressed over and over by the creative, sacrificial ways I’ve seen InterVarsity students go out of their way to extend God’s welcome to strangers. They threw a pizza party for new students. They took freshmen out for coffee just to get to know them better. They ate lunch on the streets with homeless women and men. They sent cards to their sick family and friends, and prayed for them to get well. And with tables in the quad, small groups in their apartments, and Sunday morning visits to local churches, they invited each other—just as they are—to meet Jesus, just as he is.
And I’ve learned so much from these young women and men. I’m so proud to be a part of their movement. Yes, there are plenty of times we’re still unwelcoming; we’re still figuring this stuff out. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’ve experienced the welcoming of God in a number of tangible ways through the words and actions of DePaul students over the past few weeks. And I know I’m not the only one.
My favorite story from this month has to be the story of Victoria (not her real name) and her stolen bike. It started with a Facebook post:
Now none of us really knew Victoria; she had been to one of our meetings at the beginning of the year and had “liked” us on Facebook, but she was still essentially a stranger. But it was another stranger who had taken her bike, and this just seemed like the kind of unwelcoming circumstance my friends at DePaul would be excited about undoing. So I posted this for some of them to read:
As you can see, they liked the idea, and pretty quickly started spreading the idea in their small groups. They took up a collection, grabbed some cookies, and then we set up a table in the student center and invited the rest of the campus to be a part of what were up to. And as we gave out cookies and collected money, we let people know how their donation fit in with God’s welcome on campus.
In less than a week, these students had collected enough money to buy a brand new bike, as well as the nicest, biggest bike lock on the market. So a couple of us brought it over to campus, called Victoria up, and asked her to meet us outside the student center. It was awkward—remember, we’re still pretty much strangers—but she agreed and came over.
Victoria’s reaction to her new bike was far better than any of us had really hoped. “This is one of the best days of my life,” she said quietly, smiling as she turned back toward us. “You have no idea how important this is to me. My other bike was my graduation gift from my parents. It was the hardest thing when I had to call my mom and tell her that someone had stolen my bike. Thank you all so much!”
We all had places to be, so we left after a couple minutes, Victoria on her new bike. A few hours later, I got this text message from Victoria:
So I’m writing this story to pass along Victoria’s gratitude. Thanks to all the DePaul students and staff who chose to pay way too much for a store-bought cookie. Thanks to everyone in DePaul InterVarsity who has shown me what a welcoming community looks like. Thanks to all of the people whose prayers and donations sustain their movement at DePaul. And thanks most of all to the God who lets us be a part of replacing the hostility of the city with the hospitality of Jesus.
For a little more information–and many more pictures–about what’s been happening at DePaul, check out our Facebook page.
To support our movement on campus financially (every little bit helps!), click here.