When I made my big college decision over a year ago, it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I was going to a huge, secular public university. Who, me? Eliana? A shy homeschool graduate moving across the country to a big scary public school? Opting out of the tiny Christian college I had envisioned? No way! What was going on?
But my college decision wasn’t just because of financial aid, or major options, or even the Honors College offer, although those factors all played a role. It was a decision of conviction. I knew that God was calling me to be a gospel witness, and a secular college seemed like the best place to do that.
Do you have a heart to share the gospel? The beautiful truth of the salvation Jesus offers us is meant to be shared. Despite how we fall short of God’s standards, God loves us. He loves the whole world, and He offered His Son to die the death we deserved to die. Jesus died to pay our debts, and then rose from the grave, defeating death to offer us the free gift of eternal life.
As Christians, the gospel changes our lives. It’s not something we can keep to ourselves.
Living the Gospel
What is a gospel witness? It isn’t someone who brings others to saving faith. That’s God’s job. And it isn’t a type of “elite” Christian either. A gospel witness is any Christian who is striving to be a light in a dark world.
Hot take: Witnessing is not about the converts. It’s about setting an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12), and living a life that points others to the gospel.
We all have opportunities to be witnesses for the gospel. Even as a homeschooler, I had opportunities to witness to my younger siblings, lead a Bible study, and teach in Sunday school. Now, I have even more opportunities to witness to nonbelievers who may have never heard the gospel. However, having opportunities is one thing, and acting upon them is another.
Thankfully, Christ left us with a promise after He gave us the Great Commission: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). I am also so grateful that the Father has provided us with a Helper, the Holy Spirit, who has slowly but surely worked in me to make me a better gospel witness. He has helped me to grow in boldness, steadfastness, and readiness, all in the context of the thriving Christian fellowship with which He has blessed me (both in California and Indiana).
Although I might not have a lot to show outwardly as far as conversions or gospel conversations, the past year has been filled with inward spiritual growth for me as a gospel witness. These are my stories of how God has worked in me.
Learning to Witness as a Member of a Body
One of my greatest fears about college was that I wouldn’t find a church that felt like home.
In fact, I made up my mind that the task was impossible. I had spent my entire life going to my beloved home church in California, and there couldn’t possibly be a church out there with the same kind of leadership, teaching, worship, and body of believers.
So rather than looking for an exact duplicate of my home church, I did my best to research the church options in the area ahead of time, bracing myself to try multiple churches and to decide on one even if it didn’t feel like home.
However, God was good. The very first church I visited turned out to be the right one for me. Yes, it was different, and it was bigger, but so many things reminded me of my original church, and it did feel like home. Within my new church, there was a strong fellowship of college students who were fully committed to living for Christ even in the context of a secular college.
My fellowship keeps me accountable. As I went to fellowship meetings and a Bible study for the freshman ladies, I found that others were regularly checking in on me and our leadership asking us tough questions about how we could be giving God our all. In addition, my fellowship inspires me. As other students strive to be gospel witnesses on campus, they give me wonderful examples to follow.
As I learned to be a gospel witness, God worked in and through my church body time and time again. No Christian is supposed to be a Lone Ranger. We are called to build each other up and represent the gospel together, as a Church.
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”
~ 1 Corinthians 12:12 (ESV)
Learning to Be Not Ashamed
How can you be an ambassador if others don’t even know whom you represent? Being bold in our identities as followers of Christ is fundamental to our calling as gospel witnesses.
Over the course of the year, the Holy Spirit has surprised me with the opportunities and the courage just to say, “I’m a Christian.”
Even in my first conversations with people I just met, people would often ask, “Why did you choose Purdue?” Often, they were curious why I left California and came all the way out to Purdue University in Indiana. Since my faith was a fundamental part of my college decision story, this was always a great chance to bring it up casually in conversation. The Holy Spirit’s work in me made me see no reason to hide that part of my story.
In the spring semester, I was training to be a writing consultant with a small class of mostly left-leaning colleagues. One day, we had an intense class discussion, and I was able to bring my perspective to the table. I stood up for my faith, describing how important my Christian identity was to me and what it meant to my work as a writing tutor. With God’s help, I wasn’t afraid to be different, and the class was receptive.
These opportunities and a newfound boldness were a huge answer to prayer. God blew me away.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
~ Romans 1:16
Learning to Press On Toward the Goal
I have a confession to make.
It took me several weeks—perhaps even a couple months—just to learn that my roommate was an agnostic.
When I did learn, it wasn’t by chance. I had already played out the conversation in my head, deciding exactly how I would ask. While we were standing in line at Panera, I started by asking questions about her family, and then I popped the question: “Do you have any kind of religious background?” just as casually as I could.
You see, pushing through the prevalent small talk in our relationships is hard. Deep, thoughtful, spiritual conversations very rarely come naturally. For me, it took intentional, strategic effort, even when it looked like I was getting nowhere.
When Easter rolled around, I was excited for the seasonal window when going to church might just be considered “normal.” I thought I could bring up the subject with my non-believing friends and my Christian friends without churches, and they might accept my invitations to our Easter service and brunch. I was so excited, in fact, that I made little gift bags with chocolate bunnies and invitations and started a list of friends to invite.
It turned out that a lot of them had other plans, but I kept hoping that I might be able to bring at least one friend to church. I was especially hopeful the night before Easter, as my roommate mentioned that she might come.
However, in the end, none of my invitees came. I was discouraged, disappointed, and a little concerned about whether my friends resented me for placing pressure on them to come.
But even so, God was working in me. Steadfastness is when one keeps moving forward, whether or not there are results, because the results aren’t what make one a gospel witness. A gospel witness presses on toward the goal.
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
~ Philippians 3:13-14
Learning to Always Be Ready
One chaotic, uncertain part of my life in college was figuring out my housing situation for the next year.
I couldn’t believe it when Purdue expected us to renew our housing contracts in October. This was followed by my first frantic period of looking for a roommate for the next year, which was then followed by a second period of frantic searching in the spring.
During the process, I met up with a potential roommate at Chick-fil-A. We’ll call her Violet. During my conversation with Violet, I was laser set on figuring out whether we would work as roommates or not.
While we were talking, I happened to see a friend of mine from Bible study, Ella. I waved at Ella, and I told her that Violet was a potential roommate I was meeting for the first time, and I told Violet that Ella was a friend from Bible study.
“Oh, so you’re Christian?” Violet asked me later on. I could tell that she was genuinely interested, which was uncommon.
There it was. The golden opportunity to start a gospel conversation. Violet mentioned that she “used to be a Christian,” which should have been the perfect time to probe deeper, and learn more about her story, as she was willingly opening up to me.
However, I blew it. My priority for that conversation was finding a roommate, not talking about the gospel. So the conversation quickly drifted back to “practical” matters.
Reflecting on that experience, it was humbling to realize that my priorities were completely misaligned. God taught me a lesson through this, and He is increasing my readiness to be a gospel witness no matter when the opportunity comes up.
I’m still holding on to Violet’s phone number, hoping that we might have a chance to meet again!
“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
~ 1 Peter 3:15
My Hopes for Next Year
As I reflect on the past year, I’m so grateful to God for my Christian fellowship and the experiences and opportunities to develop a heart of boldness, steadfastness, and readiness as a gospel witness.
I’m so excited for what the next year holds as I continue to grow in my walk with the Lord. I can’t wait to be a sophomore and see how I can serve the incoming freshman class.
In less than two weeks, I will be heading back to the Midwest for a leadership retreat with my Christian fellowship before school starts. I’m looking forward to serving on the team and co-leading a Bible study for the next batch of freshman ladies with my friend, Victoria.
When school starts, I will also be starting a job as a writing tutor at the Purdue OWL. I’m thrilled to have this chance to help students grow as writers, and I’m also hoping that meaningful conversations with my coworkers and clients will come along the way.
Would you pray for me as I go into my next year? Please pray that I will continue to grow in boldness, steadfastness, and readiness to witness. Also pray that I would find meaningful friendships with nonbelievers around me, and that I would trust God for the right opportunities to speak truth into their lives.
What Do You Think?
What opportunities have you had to grow as a gospel witness this past year? How can I be praying for you?