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Reflections on the Campus Ministry at Oklahoma State University

By Barry Bennett D’06
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A Camp Exploration field trip for K-2 graders, Summer ’05.

STILLWATER, Okla—A 6-year-old boy walks in the door at 8:30 on Monday morning. His name is Adam, and his grandmother is bringing him for another week of Camp Exploration. The moment they step inside, Adam runs away from his grandmother, cursing. James, a senior at Oklahoma State majoring in environmental science, takes off after Adam, trying to catch up.

In the kitchen, another student fixes breakfast for two young sisters whose mother forgot, again, to feed them before camp. Two Asian graduate students are practicing English in the library with a tutor. Nearby, Jessica, an English major, clears away exercise balls in preparation for the children’s yoga workout. Outside, people are gathering at the doors of The Storehouse, which provides food for the needy. The phone rings. Another troubled teenager wants to volunteer for courtordered community service.

The name on the front of the building is The Wesley Foundation: the United Methodist Student Center at Oklahoma State University. This is an unusual vision of campus ministry, and yet, it is perhaps a vision that was always meant to be, empowering students for the missional work of the church.

By the end of the week, these college students will have logged 40 hours each working with at-risk children. Twenty-five families will have received assistance with food at The Storehouse. Twenty families in need will have eaten together at the nightly LoveFeast. The homeless will have come in and out, the world will have come and gone, but the church will have remained.

For the past 10 years, the Rev. Michael R. Bartley D’94 has labored to transform campus ministry. “The heart of what we’re doing here is transformation: transformed students, transformed communities, transformed church. The Gospel transforms. It turns the world upside down. It’s bold, and it’s alive. It’s here.”

Like most campus ministries, the Wesley Foundation at Oklahoma State understands itself to be the church’s presence among college students. But this ministry is not simply in ministry to college students, but with college students.

Campers in the K-2 group take cake decorating (and wall painting) to new artistic heights at Camp Exploration, Summer 2005.

It all began nearly a decade ago, when a woman came to Bartley’s office and asked for money. A student recognized the woman as a cafeteria worker on campus, and asked why she was there.

“She was asking for food,” Bartley explained. The student was shocked to hear that the woman who served him food every day could not afford to feed her family. “It was an epiphany moment when we started learning about the nature of higher education in America,” remembers Bartley. Research revealed that 45 percent of university employees at OSUStillwater lived at or below the poverty line. They found similar situations at major universities (public and private) in America. At the Wesley Foundation, students began asking, “Where is the church?”

As they learned of needs in their own community, students developed ministries. Among them is The Storehouse, a student-operated emergency food program for those in extreme need. This ministry, which distributed 180 tons of food last year, is a direct outgrowth of that original cafeteria worker’s plight.

A related program is the LoveFeast. This free meal is offered to all each Monday through Friday evening at Southern Heights United Methodist Church, a mission congregation partnered with the Wesley Foundation.

The New Foundations Project stems from a student’s research into the eating habits of children in poverty. What began as an after-school cooking class for a handful of middle-schoolers now serves 50 at-risk children.

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DIVINITY Online Edition :: Winter 2006 Volume 5 Number 2 Duke Divinity School