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01 September 2008

Fresh students

Fresh students

The Alliance's Churches in Mission Executive Director Krish Kandiah looks at the challenges faced by sixth formers as they head to university...

My last A-level exam had just ended, and there was a celebration at a friend's house. So as soon as youth group finished, I went over with a carton of orange juice. But I didn't even need to ring the door bell to realise my drink contribution was not going to be appreciated that night: the house was full of a hundred inebriated teenagers. Couples were having sex on the back lawn, bongs were being smoked in the lounge, and guests were rifling through the cupboards upstairs. We spent the evening trying to herd the drunks home, replace the parents' belongings and clean vomit off the bathroom carpet.

A thought crossed my mind: "If this is what happens when parents are absent for an evening, what will university be like with no sign of adult supervision for weeks on end?"

It's been 26 years since I started my own university experience, and I was wondering if sixth-formers today had the same concerns and expectations. So I caught up with four of them and asked for their thoughts.

This is what Mel told me: "As a Christian, I find it difficult going to house parties with loads of alcohol and watching my friends do really dumb things and getting hurt. A lot of people get really freaked out when they find out I am a Christian, and then they try to get me drunk and pressurise me into doing things I don't want to do. I expect my uni course to be full on, constant and tiring, but I am most worried about my relationships. I am scared it will be too easy just to hang out with Christians and I will miss the huge opportunities to share my faith. But my head is exploding with ideas about how I can practice midwifery as a Christian and take up the opportunities to help people who are young, on drugs or even homeless."

"Drinking, sex and drugs are already issues for my friends," said Hannah. "I am finding it difficult to know how to respond to them because they are my mates. At uni, it is a completely new lifestyle, and everyone can do whatever they like. I am expecting it to be hard to get the right balance of work, social life and Christian faith. And I am worried about the finances. But I am also excited about trying something new and meeting people from different cultures."

"A lot of people get really freaked out when they find out I am a Christian"

Chris said, "I find it fairly easy to talk with people about Jesus and how Christianity should change your life. But living it out constantly is going to be really hard. I am not as consistent as I want to be. I want to be in the rugby club at uni, but rugby brings massive challenges relating to drinking, being a lad, clubbing and so on. I am going to have to turn down a few nights out, and that is not going to do my social status any good. I need to be prepared to sacrifice."

"I get asked about the no sex before marriage issue a lot," said Jo, "and also the drinking and swearing. They wonder why I don't join in, but when I do slip up they come down on me like a tonne of bricks. I have been with the same group of friends since I was 11. Going to university will throw me in with a whole group of people who don't know me, so it will be hard to keep going as a Christian. But I am looking forward to being independent and having to solve my own problems, and I want to make the most of it because I know that God has a plan for me."

Freedoms and temptations

Speaking to these teens, I discover they are already facing all the same challenges that university students face interms of lifestyle, relationship and faith issues. But at university, they will leave behind their support structures, as they move out on their own and are told to have the time of their lives. The freedoms and temptations are greater than ever before.

But university is also a place where faith and Christian maturity can grow and develop greater than ever before. We need to pray for the 2 million university students in the UK and the organisations that are serving them. There is some exciting work happening on university campuses. For example, UCCF is in the middle of a big Gospel distribution project, Fusion has its "love the university" initiative, and Agape is offering an evangelistic DVD for students.

When asked to offer advice to this year's intake of "freshers", Fusion's National Team Co-ordinator Rich Wilson said," Live 100 percent for God, join a non-Christian society, bless the socks off your mates, make local church an absolute priority and enjoy every moment."

Nick Pollard, director of Damaris, says, "Starting at uni is a bit like bungee-jumping: it's exciting, it's scary and it involves a lot of hanging about. But don't hang about too long: join a Christian group and another form of student society as soon as possible, and stick with them until you feel at home."

After 20 years working with these fresh students, it's clear that they need the encouragement of family and Christian friends to help make a good start to university life and get the most out of living for Christ on campus.

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