The move from home to university life is one of the biggest and most challenging changes in the life of any young believer or unbeliever. Whilst there are difficulties which face young Christians that others will not be confronted with, there will be help and blessing experienced by the believer through fellowship with God and with His people of which others have no experience. In these next few paragraphs I would like to share some of the challenges which have confronted me in the past year in moving from home in the West Midlands to the University of Bath, and how with the Lord’s help 1 have been able to overcome many of them and become closer to Him. In doing this I trust that others will be helped in the coming months as they prepare to leave home, and be able suitably to prepare themselves for the path which lies ahead.
A major difficulty will be adapting to a completely new way of life. Most of us are called upon to savour the delights of living in halls of residence for at least one year. Suddenly moving away from the comforts of living at home to be thrown together with around ten or so other young people is a very daunting experience - even for the most confident and outgoing of people. This problem is made harder by the fact that we should feel the need to tell others of our faith from the very start and firmly nail our colours to the mast. I have learnt from previous experience at school and college that the longer you leave it the harder it gets!
Just prior to leaving Stourbridge I was encouraged by a sister in the assembly, who told me that on moving away to university her daughter had nervously put a text on her door where everyone could see it. Within a few hours another girl from the same corridor had knocked on her door and informed her that she too was a believer - immediately there was some support for them both. I decided to try something similar by placing two or three little stickers on the nameplate on my door. Sure enough the next day another Christian from my corridor was knocking at my door, and there was an immediate friendship made and several times we were given opportunity to witness together to the other eight that we lived with.
One verse of great encouragement to me throughout the past year is found in Romans 1. 16:
‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth’.
We have a great message which so often we try to hide. It is still able to save even in the darkness of the world today and we must never forget this. We had a mission at the university this year and saw over a dozen I come to know the Lord and many more caused to think seriously about the state of their lives.
Most if not all universities and colleges have a Christian Union. These vary in size and in their adherence to Biblical teaching. I found great help (and encouragement through attending several of the CU gatherings -particularly through just meeting other Christians, getting to know who they were and seeing them around the campus. Fellowship with them has been somewhat limited in many ways due to things I feel I cannot go along with, and yet a small number of us have benefited greatly from times of Bible study together in our rooms. Indeed the CU was how I met other Christians that were on the same course as I was. One in particular has become my closest friend at the university and just recently he has been baptized and come into fellowship in the assembly. It is easy to feel very alone at first and yet the Lord is good to us.
It is important even before leaving home to seek out an assembly in the locality of the university. Again, going to a new assembly may be quite daunting - particularly if you have been used to the same one for many years. However, you will find that the majority will welcome you with open arms and within a very short time you will feel very much at home. The believers at Manvers Hall in Bath have certainly used ‘hospitality one to another without grudging’, 1 Pet. 4. 9, as far as the students and young people in Bath are concerned. The difference it has made to my first year and to others recently moved to the area has been incredible. I take this opportunity to encourage believers living in student areas to be hospitable towards students as much as possible. It often gets very lonely in university residences when everyone is out socialising until all hours of the night. Just knowing that there is an open door and someone who cares makes all the difference. I have known great support and encouragement from many believers in Bath and the surrounding area, which have helped me to overcome some of the pressures placed upon me by other students to join in with their activities.
When seeking out an assembly try not to be geared towards the one that has got the most young people. I was very worried at first that I was going to an assembly with very few young people. However, I could not be happier. I have made many friends and found the experience of some of these older believers to be invaluable. People of all ages understand the pressure which student life brings and will try to support you through it. Since coming to Bath the number of young people has increased, and fellowship with those and many others in the area has been very much enjoyed - we must never think that we are on our own. Remember how Elijah felt in 1 Kings 19, and yet when he stopped and listened to the ‘still small voice’ he discovered there were yet seven thousand men of Israel that had not bowed the knee to Baal.
This brings me on to the topic of peer pressure. At home it is easier to decline the invitations of friends to join them on social outings, but at university the pressure becomes that much greater - particularly during the first few weeks. The verse which has constantly served as a reminder to me that we should be marked out as someone different is again found in Romans; this time chapter 12 verse 2,
‘be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God’.
We should be determined to be separate from the activities of the majority in order to stay as close to the Lord as possible. In any form of compromise one runs the risk of getting further and further into difficulties spiritually. Paul tells us that we should be ‘sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work’.
This is a very hard lesson to learn and one in which I often fail. Yet realistically it is the only way to overcome the pressures which are great. I have seen Christian friends, including a boy in my corridor this year, get gradually more and more entangled in the activities of their peers, which gradually took a tighter hold on their lives. Activities are wide ranging and include many highly unacceptable things. Alcohol plays a big part in the lives of most and drug taking is not uncommon.
More than anything this year I have learnt the importance of setting aside time each day to spend quietly reading the Bible, and in prayer. Two verses in Psalm 119 have been a great source of encouragement throughout:
i) v. 11, ‘Thy word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee’and
ii) v. 105, ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path’.
Spending time at the start of each day in the presence of the Lord has been a great encouragement, and is good preparation for the spiritual challenges which arise every day.
Do not think that people will not want to hear what you have to say about the gospel, because most will be very interested. Conversations about ‘the Meaning of Life’ are not uncommon and can go on in to the early hours of the morning. Reactions to any attempt to witness to our salvation vary greatly. Some will quite happily talk for hours whilst others will resent any mention. The most important way to show others how sincere you are is in your way of life in general. One of our Christian Union members was in conversation with an unbeliever who said ‘There is a Christian in our building - but he doesn’t act like one’. So people do notice our behaviour. Patience is often needed. Many a night I had desperately to try and control my annoyance at my neighbour who insisted playing some horrendous music on his extremely powerful stereo at midnight and beyond. I did not always succeed.
I hope that all in all this has not painted too bleak a picture of university life and put everyone off leaving home. The experience which further education offers is very valuable both educationally and spiritually. Very often it will mean going away from a conversation with someone and looking up passages of scripture, and individual verses for oneself, rather than going straight to parents or others in the assembly to see what they say and reproducing their answers. It is vital to search these things out for ourselves in order to make them stick, so that one day we will be able to show things clearly to others.
If, in the will of the Lord, you will be going away in the near future, then I hope some of this has been useful. Everybody’s experience is different but some of the pressures are the same wherever we go. We may not really understand why we are going to a particular place but if we bring it to the Lord He will make it clear to us and show us the way we should go. I close with two more scriptures:
James 4. 7, 8 ‘Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you’.
Psalm 16. 11, ‘Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore’.
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