Dr. Joseph McRae Mellichamp is Emeritus Professor of Management Science in the Manderson Graduate School of Business at the University of Alabama and National Faculty Representative for Christian Leadership Ministries. For 25 years, Dr. Mellichamp combined successful academic pursuits with effective Christian ministry activities.
Over the years, we have seen Christian faculty and staff groups come up with some wonderful ways of reaching out to students on campus. Here are two of the most frequently mentioned approaches. The first is an orientation for incoming students and the second is related to international students.
Several years ago in our fellowship, James Cover, a professor in the Economics Department who did his doctoral study at the University of Virginia, mentioned that there was a Christian professor at Virginia who held an orientation for all new students at the university each year. Apparently, this professor was highly respected on campus and had a track record for dispensing valuable information, including a word of Christian testimony, so he was able to attract a large crowd every year. James was so impressed with comments he heard about this professor at Virginia that he prevailed on our group to consider trying an orientation for freshmen.
As we kicked this idea around, we decided it would be good to have as many members from our fellowship attend as possible. We would promote the program as a time when students could meet some of their professors "up close and personal." (You might recall that this was the sound bite the TV network used covering the 1992 Winter Olympics whenever they would feature an Olympic athlete.) In the program, we would have a few professors from our group briefly share on some appropriate theme: encouragement to do well in studies, how important the spiritual dimension is during the college experience, whatever. Then we would have each of the Christian student ministry directors introduce his ministry and explain how the students could get involved. After that, we would all mingle with the students and have an informal time of conversation and refreshments. Figure 14-1 is a copy of the flier we printed up to advertise the event.
Figure 14-1. Freshmen Orientation Flier.
As I imagined the meeting unfolding, I could see 200 or so freshmen milling around in the Capstone Dining Room of our student center. If we mobilized every member on our list, there would only be 35 Christian professors and staff members. I thought the students might have a difficult time finding the professors and staff to meet them up close and personal. So I thought it would be a great idea to have a bunch of white baseball caps with "UA Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship" embroidered in crimson on the front and have each member of our group to wear one of the hats. When I shared this idea with the group, they all thought it was about the stupidest thing they had ever heard. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I had already ordered 25 hats -- we were on a pretty tight schedule, and I had to order first and get permission later. Well, they vowed they weren’t going to wear the hats, PERIOD.
Our plan for promoting the event was simple. We would put a small ad in the student newspaper, but we would do the bulk of our promotion by passing out fliers the afternoon of the meeting at a function the university has every fall where incoming students come to the University Quad to find out about and sign up for student organizations. Bad mistake! The day of the orientation, it started raining in the early morning and rained all day -- I’m talking typhoon rain, not just the light stuff. The university function was canceled until a later date, and with it, our opportunity to pass out our fliers. But we had already reserved the room, along with 250 Cokes and about 40 dozen Oreo cookies.
Earlier in the week, I had sent out an intracampus mail memo telling our members that we were all out on a limb and that if we didn’t have a big showing of professors and staff, we would all be embarrassed. Wow! Did the memo ever work. We had 30 of our people show up 30 minutes before the orientation to be briefed -- we had never had that many people show for any event. And I had the 25 baseball caps. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. They fought like animals over the hats! Those who were successful in getting one said later that the hats were definitely one of my best ideas of all time. In fact, they thought that we should get embroidered golf shirts and windbreakers -- what a simple way to communicate to others that you are a Christian.
We spent $400 for white baseball caps, Cokes, and Oreo cookies. And we had four students show up for the orientation! Here is a good question for you. Is a college freshman worth a hundred bucks? Of course! What did we do? We went ahead with the program just as if there had been 200 students there. And we had a great time. Joe Smith, a professor in the College of Education, was the first to share and he made a comment about how his father had raised him better than to wear a hat indoors and he was only doing it because I said he had to. The faculty and staff testimonies were all right on target. The student ministry directors gave their pitch. And then we hit the Cokes and Oreo cookies. The four students had a great time! They didn’t have any trouble finding the professors and staff. Each of the students had a little crowd of folks in white baseball caps standing around listening to him. One of the students was a French major and she got to meet Michael Picone, a professor in the French Department, who is a Christian. One student wanted to go for a Ph.D. in mathematics and become a Christian math professor, and he got to meet one of our members who was a professor in the Math Department, as well as a Christian.
As we left after everyone had run out of gas, we each had a couple of six-packs of Cokes under our arms and a couple of dozen Oreos in a sack. The following week at our regular meeting, we all agreed the orientation had been one of the best things we had ever done. My colleagues loved the hats -- some of us still wear them. They loved the format. Everything was perfect except for one large detail: we blew it in our promotion! But everyone wanted to do it again the following year, including the four students and all of the student ministry directors. Unfortunately, some of the folks in our group who organized the event were not able to pick it up again the following year and it didn’t happen. Members of our fellowship still refer to it as "Mellichamp’s deal with the baseball caps," but they always smile when they say it.
This is a winner. Several schools have contacted me since then and were interested in doing something similar. I’d like to know if anyone has pulled it off. It took a lot of planning to do the first time; I think if done on an annual basis, it would be a piece of cake.
Another natural student outreach option for the Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship focuses on international students. Several variations on this theme have been tried with good results. The most common format involves showing the JESUS film to a target group of international students, usually in conjunction with an American holiday. The JESUS film is a full-length motion picture of the life of Christ based on the Gospel of Luke produced by Warner Brothers. The film is available from Campus Crusade for Christ in more than 200 languages in either 16 mm or video format. Most versions have an invitation for the viewer to pray to accept Christ at the conclusion of the film, although the film could be stopped before showing this section. The film can be shown in conjunction with a traditional holiday meal or a reception. When a meal is done, it is usually served first, followed by the film screening; when a reception is done, it can be done either before or after the film.
Since most major universities and colleges have a sizable international student population and many professors have contact with international students either as graduate students or in classroom situations, this outreach format is a good one. Many international students are curious to learn about the American culture and traditions, but many of them don’t have much opportunity to do so. This approach affords them an opportunity to interact with Americans and to learn about Christianity in a non-threatening atmosphere. The ideal approach to doing this type of outreach is to have involvement of many Christians who personally invite internationals and either meet them at the location or arrange to pick them up and attend the event with them.
This type of activity is fairly easy to do, and requires very little in terms of organizational effort. If your group decides to try this, you will need to arrange for a suitable location, a copy of the film and associated projection equipment, the meal or refreshments (if desired), and work out some scheme for inviting students -- printed invitations, letters, etc. That’s about it. Of course, the critical event, as is true for most of our evangelistic efforts, is in the inviting. If you do a good job of involving members of the fellowship and they do a good job of inviting students, you will have a good turnout. If not, you may be eating a lot of turkey!
One of the most ambitious implementations of this strategy, was sponsored by the Faculty Christian Fellowship and other Christian organizations at the Ohio State University a year or so ago. Following is a copy of the announcement which was sent to faculty and staff.
"Would you please share this information with your groups and faculty members? Please use this as an opportunity for you to reach out to international students."
"There will be a special showing of the JESUS film in different languages including Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Thai, Spanish, Russian, Indonesian, Korean, and English on Saturday, March 30th, at 7 p.m. This is shown in connection with the Easter holiday which takes place one week later. Locations are as follows:
|Chinese||Royers Activity Center Multipurpose Room|
|English||Royers Activity Center North Room|
|Japanese||Ohio Union Buckeye A (3rd Floor)|
|Spanish||Ohio Union Buckeye C (3rd Floor)|
|Russian||Ohio Union Buckeye E (3rd Floor)|
|Indonesian||Ohio Union Buckeye G (3rd Floor)|
|Thai||Ohio Union State Room (3rd Floor)|
|Korean||Ohio Union Board Room (3rd Floor)|
|Hindi||Ohio Union Gray Suite E (Basement)|
The film will be shown at the same time at all locations. Some of the showings will be on video monitors."
"This film is the most popular movie ever made. It has been seen by more than 500 million people. It has been translated into more than 200 languages. It is a full-length feature film that is 120 minutes long."
"There will be a reception following the films to enjoy meeting others who attend. There is NO COST for the film or the reception."
"This special film festival is being sponsored by International Friendships and Bridges International, groups seeking to promote friendship and hospitality for international students and scholars. We work closely with volunteers from local churches. Our activities are open to students from all cultures and religious backgrounds."
Approximately 300 international students attended the event at Ohio State with 15 indicating they made a commitment to Christ at the conclusion of the screening. Of course, the participating organizations benefited from having contact with the international students who came to the event.
This is such an attractive way to reach out to a special group of students, and it is so simple to organize, it should be a regular part of your Faculty/Staff Fellowship’s outreach activities. If you have never considered doing a showing of the JESUS film for international students, you should.
© Copyright 1997, Joseph McRae Mellichamp
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