What does parallel parking have to do with campus ministry? Today’s guest blogger shares a story about teaching and sharing life skills – as well as the Gospel.
By Augusta R. Mennell
We must have looked crazy as we tried over and over again to parallel park our car. We did this many times on many afternoons. Isuri from Sri Lanka was practicing her parking so that she could pass her driver’s test.
Campus Ministry at All Saints Lutheran Church and Student Center wants to be available to help international and American college students who attend Slippery Rock University. We’re here to take students to the Giant Eagle for groceries. We are here to listen to their problems. Some face the clash of two cultures; so they want to know how to convince their parents to let them marry the person they love, rather than going along with tradition and allowing their parents to make the choice of a mate. Others want help dealing with a boyfriend or girlfriend who has been unfaithful. And some, like Isuri, ask for help learning how to drive a car.
Isuri has been part of All Saints for some time. She has helped with the student meals, and she has kept us in touch with the international students (she has been the president of the international students group). She went from being an occasional visitor at our congregation to attending rather regularly. We have often taken her to lunch after church at the Red Rock Restaurant at the edge of Slippery Rock.
Those lunches turned into a friendship outreach event when she met Donna Jean Heintz (Bethel Evangelical-Glenshaw). We had all gone out to lunch after church when Isuri mentioned that she was looking for an internship this summer or in the fall semester. Donna was able to tell her about Concordia Lutheran Ministries in Cabot as a possible internship location. She urged Isuri to apply, which she did. She was accepted by Concordia and will be an intern there in the fall. She cannot wait to begin.
When Isuri asked us to help her learn to prepare for the driving test, it was a great opportunity for us. It gave us extra time to talk as we practiced driving. Isuri described her warm, loving, flexible and supportive family at home. She shared that the reason she is familiar with and comfortable with our liturgy is because she attended a Christian church occasionally at home in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. I asked her what she thought of the teachings at the church there, as well as Buddhist teachings at the temple she also attended. She replied that she did not, and does not, see any difference.
Isuri took the driver’s test but failed the first time. Even though she had sailed through parallel parking and driving on the road in Mercer, she let the car’s tires touch the curb at the end of the test and that meant she had failed! We were crushed. However, we returned a week later and she passed, with a great deal of relief and joy.
Two Sundays later she came to All Saints’ worship late. This was unusual for her, and it happened because Pittsburgh friends – who were helping her find a car to buy – shocked her by bringing the car to her apartment. She beamed as she showed her new car keys to everyone at All Saints. The congregation broke into applause for her.
Immediately after worship she approached Rev. Larry K. Loree, Jr., and asked if he would give her car a blessing. He was thrilled to do so. He gave the blessing in Jesus’ name, asking God to keep Isuri safe and happy in her car.
Helping Isuri learn to drive was a great opportunity to grow a friendship and to talk about God. Campus ministry will continue to teach driving skills as a way to connect with college students. We’re already doing this with another student who is from Iran. Such help does not obligate the students to become Christians. It does not mean that they will come to Bible class, worship, or student meals. But it is a great opportunity anyway!
I recently read something that applies to campus ministry. An article by Chad Fox in the July-August 2017 issue of the Lutheran Layman titled ,“Increasing Persecution of Christians Opens Doors for Gospel Proclamation,” says, “While you would think that persecution would have a negative effect on Christianity, we see quite the opposite,” says Rev. Peter Kirby, LCMS regional director for Europe. “It actually opens doors for the Gospel.”
The very same phenomenon can be said to work concerning campus ministry outreach at our nation’s universities. Although Christianity is often treated with hostility and the secular view that “Putting me first” is treated as profound truth, nevertheless, campus ministry grows anyway. Therefore, it is a blessing to have had this crucial opportunity to influence students for the past 40 years at All Saints. It is a blessing to help a student learn to parallel park. Who knows where parallel parking will lead? Please pray that we will have 40 more years of parallel parking instruction for students.
Augusta R. Mennell is the Campus Ministry Director at All Saints Lutheran Church and Student Center in Slippery Rock, PA. If you have a mission or ministry story you’d like to share, please submit for consideration via email to Lynne at firstname.lastname@example.org.