By Sharon Mager and Shelley Mahoney
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Aletheia Church, in College Park, a five-year-old church plant, is not only “plugged in” to campus ministry — that’s their primary focus. Rob Stephens, the pastor of Aletheia Church, recently had an opportunity to share the story of Ruth with a University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) freshman at an international student dinner. A young woman, in the USA for the first time this year, asked Stephens for a suggestion for an American name. He thought for a moment then suggested “Ruth.” Addressing the group of students sitting around her, he asked, “Do you know about the Bible?” They shook their heads.
So, he explained. Ruth was a “stranger” in the land, who left her home and her “gods,” to follow her mother-in-law and worship the God of Israel. She eventually became the great-grandmother of King David and was in the line of Jesus. The young woman was thrilled. “Jesus!” she echoed, with a huge smile on her face.
Asked about such a perfect story for a young Chinese woman, Stephens later said the Holy Spirit brought it to his mind.
Stephens has had many such opportunities. “When we moved here, the reason we chose this area was to influence students with the Gospel. We started with a handful of young singles, who had just graduated and a small core group of college students. We did a lot of evangelism, and that’s how we grew,” he explains.
Alethia is not an “events” driven church, Stephens says. “Most of our evangelism is very organic, constantly challenging them to be missionaries where they are. We do have some avenues. We go out sharing every week at specific times, and we walk around campus and have conversations about the Gospel.”
They recently set up a “stress relief” table outside the student union. “I took my dog,” he laughs. As students stopped by to pet the dog, Stephens, and others offered to pray with them. “It’s a good opportunity to have a conversation,” he says.
The church also has an annual chili cookoff that draws many guests who church members have opportunities to engage. “We had over 50 people for that,” he says of the last “cookoff.”
With the bulk of their members being college students, attendance naturally fluctuates. During the school year, Stephens said they average 115 people weekly. During Winter break, and in the summer, that number looks entirely different he says.
A crucial element to the church is the help of several mature Christian families. “They ‘get’ the mission of what we’re doing, and they set aside the idea of being a consumer and have opened up their homes to college students and the students have blessed them,” he says.
The church regularly baptizes new believers, and Stephens is overjoyed when he sees college students “falling in love with Jesus and serving Him.”
A part of collegiate ministry is having to say goodbye, and the church works diligently to prepare students for the transition. Many have been involved with “parachute” campus ministries, such as CRU, that provide wonderful opportunities to grow in their faith, but without being in a church, Stephens says they miss a significant component of Christian living.
Stephens says,“ Sometimes in parachute ministries, students don’t understand how to live, breathe and move in a local church. Part of our calling is that we want to see college students, when they have to leave us, plug into a local church and be ‘ready to roll,’ because they know how to function in a church.”
This is part of a series of articles titled “Baptists & Baptisms,” printed in our Winter BaptistLIFE magazine.
Shelley Mahoney is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor of communication at Anne Arundel Community College.