It’s that starting over every year that is simultaneously exciting and exhausting.
I look forward to them with dread and a weird gritting-my-teeth and girding-up-my-loins determination. It has to be done though it is always a bit daunting since the student organization fair is simply massive. As far as the eye can see at Dunn Meadow hundreds of tables are set up for groups and agencies ranging from the academic (Physics) to the creative (Harry Potter Club) to the service-oriented to the religious and to the secular. Literally, we were set up across the way from the Secular Alliance. According to some of the students these folks are aggressive and don’t mess around. No bowls of candy or anything.
Armed with huge tubs of Tootsie rolls and boxes of Dots and packets of Ramen with UKIRK @ IU stickers on them I stepped away from the table and forced myself to basically collide with students who were walking by in either direction with a voice two octaves higher than normal: “Good morning! Lunch is on UKIRK!” Most students looked up surprised and would mumble a precious but quick thank you while speeding up their stride. A surprising number of students actually turned down the gift.
Let me pause for a moment. And reiterate: STUDENTS ACTUALLY TURNED DOWN FOOD. FREE FOOD. FREE FOOD THAT IS ESPECIALLY TASTY AT MIDNIGHT WHEN ONE IS TAKING A BREAK.
I forget sometimes. Young people are a lot more conscientious these days. They want to eat healthy and even want to skip soda pop for water. Still the rejection – though it stung a little – was worth the few that actually stopped and not only gave me their emails but asked thoughtful questions like what the H is UKIRK and even what’s a Presbyterian. Those momentary connections were sweet.
I keep thinking about a convo with a mom who dropped off her daughter at school and how the daughter was having such a hard first week. She was lonely and uncertain. And then the freshmen girl from Zionsville who went to a party during Welcome Week and fell down a flight of stairs and died. Her parents had probably just dropped her off and they would be coming back – not for Parents’ Weekend or to surprise her with a dinner for her and her friends – but to collect her body.
So, ok yeah. The awkwardness and the heat, especially a fussing and sleeping little furnace pressed up against me in the Ergo, and the colorful bounty of candy taunting me all day long (I cant say no to candy) … All of it is small compared to the possibility of connecting with a student that needs community. Needs Jesus.
I won’t get all sappy and evangelical but I will say that I am weirdly thankful for these fairs. Without them I wouldn’t be able to meet many of the student. And even a short conversation – probably the only one I will have with most – it’s ministry. They don’t have to give me their emails or take the Ramen or show up on Sundays to church to hear a word of love and encouragement.