InterVarsity area ministry director Laura Vellenga met with the graduate fellowship at Princeton shortly after last week’s shootings in Atlanta. She shares how a simple question opened up a time of sharing leading to a sacred moment.
I am not new to InterVarsity but I am new to Graduate and Faculty Ministry. My primary assignment is leading a team of staff ministers in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Living near Princeton, New Jersey, I also staff a tenacious graduate student IV chapter at Princeton University. Since Fall 2019 we’ve hosted monthly student gatherings (first in person, and eventually over Zoom). We regularly invited Princeton University and Princeton Seminary professors to share about their faith and their field – a short, informal presentation followed by a Q&A session. We invited a wide variety of faculty come in to share. Then the university halted all campus functions on March 16, 2020. We hoped our momentum would continue through what we expected to be a short hiatus.
You probably know the rest. The two-week shut-down persisted long into the 20-21 academic year. We have struggled to stay afloat. This year, in a colleague’s words, feels like a “gap” year for ministry as we wait for things to normalize. A small-but-dedicated group of students provide leadership, but overall attendance has dwindled. We switched to a book study this winter, hoping we’d see old faces return and some new faces join us. We are currently reading a collection of essays by Christian academics about how they’ve integrated their faith with their academic discipline. The first chapter was brilliant and we enjoyed the discussion; we were looking forward to discussing the next two chapters when we gathered on March 18, 2021, nearly a year to the day of the 2020 shut-down.
This meeting fell a few days after the tragic shootings in Atlanta, GA. I was curious how students were doing as a small group of us gathered that night. Two of us were Asian, one was Black, and two were White. Bob, a faculty friend, was a third-generation Japanese American whose family had spent time in the internment camps during World War II.
No one had finished the reading. There was little energy in the room and we all sat staring at each other. So I asked how people were doing in the wake of the events of the week, and slowly words welled up. We were stunned, sad, and seemingly powerless in the wake of so much media coverage.
Then Bob began to speak of his own family’s experiences as minorities—double minorities, he said, since they were also Christians—in this country since the 1890s. Hearing him share things he’d never shared publicly was to experience, in the words of one student, a sacred moment. Bob was open, gentle, pastoral, and prophetic in the best sense of the term. I sat in silence and watched the Holy Spirit hover over us.
God is doing something among us at Princeton University. He’s rewarding Bob’s patient presence and obedience there over the past forty years. I am grateful to steward God’s work among us, and I look forward to seeing how God’s visitation of us bears fruit in the days and weeks ahead. God has not forgotten us and he is still at work on campus.
Laura Vellenga is an Area Ministry Director with Graduate and Faculty Ministry in the Northeast. She is married with one kid at Georgia Tech and the other in high school. In her spare time, she throw pots! (She’s a ceramicist.)