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The Rock on Campus
Christian Ministry for people between a Rock and a Hard Place (groan)

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By Haydn Jensen

Haydn Jensen talks with Fanshawe chaplain, Francois Kruger

Ok, that was bad. But, if you know Fanshawe chaplain, Francois Kruger, you'd agree that he could do better—or worse than that. Fun aside, a typical post secondary campus is a hard place for people to thrive spiritually. Stability is needed in a world of in-the-moment shifting values that tend to reject religion as narrow-minded and way out of place in the modern day, postmodern day, or whatever day this is now. So, The Rock on Campus—or simply The ROC—offers itself as "Campus Chaplain Ministry for the 21st Century", actively intersecting with students every day to walk alongside those searching for meaning in life, mentoring and friendship, and also counsel in times of crisis. Francois Kruger serves as the Executive Director for The Rock on Campus.

ROC has been called Fanshawe's (and perhaps London's) best kept secret. Although they run weekly campus meetings and Francois makes himself as findable as he can on campus, the ministry strikes me as decidedly understated, and to good effect. Not many people are drawn to flashy, overt religious programming. A great many prefer a quiet approach, developing trust slowly as they sort through their personal spiritual beliefs, questions and struggles. Francois and The ROC are largely about ministering to students—one relationship at a time—to walk with them as they work out their faith and life issues in supportive community right on campus. This approach aligns well with David Kinnaman in his book, You Lost Me. Although the urgency and need for ministry continues to grow, Kinnaman says, "Disciples cannot be mass-produced. Disciples are handmade, one relationship at a time."

Kim Cechetto is Fanshawe's English Language Institute Coordinator and board member for The ROC. At The ROC's dessert night last April 12, she reflected with us about students living in a post-Christian world and an increasingly anti-Christian academic world. As with many post-secondary campuses, enrolment at Fanshawe continues to grow in record numbers, with Fanshawe's current student count well over 17,000. Record-high student numbers would naturally mean more spiritual need than ever.

That need gets compounded also, when you consider other circumstances. Students today live with great insecurity about economy and employment prospects. Distractions abound as well—no student is without a portable electronic device. Fragmented attention and can easily rob students of opportunities for solitude and reflection to help them sort out beliefs and their relationship with God. To make things even more challenging, increasing number of online students makes it necessary for connection through places like Facebook. The ROC is there too! (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2319754118/)

Kim shared that she sees more staff and students than ever are in need of comfort, counsel and the message of Christ. From a staff perspective also, Kim noticed that as Fanshawe staff age, Francois is called on more often to walk with folks through the tough times of life such as illness, and bereavement. Even those without faith often turn to Francois for spiritual guidance and comfort in their darkest days. As well, Fanshawe sees an increasing variety of students in addition to the majority student body group—high school grads. High school grads who follow Christ do need encouragement to stay the course, and there will always be many who need to hear the good news in an increasingly anti-Christian academic environment. But, internationals and second-career students add to the campus population more and more these days, challenging the ROC to find ways to effectively connect with these time-challenged mature students (often juggling school with family life, part time jobs, etc.) Kim shared about how one international student confided in her that although she isn't a believer in God yet, she loves to spend time with Christians because they are so friendly. Simple, but effective! Often, simply getting the conversation started is key to productive ministry. Francois recognizes this, and tries to make himself available for a quick coffee and chat with these busy students as much as possible.

For those who do find their way to the ROC, the difference is clearly seen. At the dessert night last April, we heard some valuable stories. A student named Heidi shared about how Francois and the ROC encouraged and ministered to her, helping her move from brokenness to restoration in her relationship with her father—a ministry impact made even more poignant in light of her father passing away shortly after the reconciliation.

We also heard from another student, Nick. With startling candour, Nick shared about his journey through loneliness as a young person and alienation from other Christians and, ultimately, opposition to God. After several unhealthy efforts to fill the emptiness he felt, Nick became angry with God, eventually attempting suicide in high school. At the time he reasoned, "I would rather die and go to Hell, than support a God that would allow so much pain." Although he survived the attempt and received some mental health care, Nick told us that his relationship with God was still in a shambles. Once at Fanshawe, Francois found Nick and invited him out for coffee. Regular dialogue and fraink debate followed, and Francois showed empathy and patience over many weeks as Nick expressed his anger and pain. Showing Nick the way of Jesus through Scripture, Francois helped Nick walk into a full relationship with God. Nick says, "God saved me through Francois and the ROC...I learned that I can trust God and that He loves me...I have seen first-hand how God has works through the College ministry of Chaplain Francois and the ROC." Nick's mom shared also, acknowledging that our society tends to label depression, anxiety and suicide as "Do Not Talk About" subjects. She admits thinking, "This isn't supposed to happen to Christians." But, it does.

Statistics abound to show us that churches in many countries are "bleeding" members, most notably people between 20 and 29 years old. Drew Dyck in Generation Ex-Christian, claims, "Young people aren't walking away from the church—they're sprinting." After hearing stories from students like Nick and Heidi, however, it's clear that keys to spiritual health in young people is Relationship and Relevance. Ministries like The ROC and people like Francois investing their time in relationships with young people make all the difference. It's all about listening and talking through what students care most about—their deepest struggles. This process makes God relevant once again, cutting through the noise, lies and distractions so that God makes a difference in the most relevant ways. I like how Nick framed things: After spending so much time in ministry with Francois and the ROC, Nick says he's experienced more joy in the last 4 months than ever before.

Ministry like the ROC is painstaking work, often requiring an intensive time investment. Prayer also, accomplishes much. Francois and the ROC ministry would appreciate your prayers.

To support The Rock on Campus: www.therockoncampus.org

Francois Kruger: fkruger@therockoncampus.org