NEXT: College Students' Pledge Changes Their Own Faith Community and UMC

November 28, 2012

By Vicki Brown*

Fighting human trafficking, giving $100 to help a student start a ministry, building interfaith community on campus, and learning how students in the Middle East pushed for change were all among the topics presented to the 560 people attending "Imagine What's NEXT."
 
College students were asked to do more than listen: They were asked to make their own plans and sign pledge cards spelling out in writing what they "imagine" is next. Those pledge cards will be mailed to the students in a few months to remind them of their plans.
 
The speakers included college students involved in ministry. The Wesley Foundation at Florida International University/Miami-Dade College showed a video of a "walk-through brothel" they built as part of their efforts to raise awareness of human trafficking.
 
"We had a survivor who was 13 years old when she was trafficked into the sex trade," said Regan Kramer, associate director of the Wesley Foundation. She and Sarah McKay, a US-2 mission intern assigned to the Wesley Foundation, spoke about the efforts to raise awareness.
 
The survivor got into a conversation with the mother of a student who happened to be on campus, Kramer said. The mother spoke about how her daughter came home one day to get her passport and say she was dropping out of college. She had not seen her again.
 
The survivor told the mother that she needed to get in touch with the FBI. Agents found the girl living in a brothel and were able to get her out of the situation and bring her home.
 
"The fact a girl had been trafficked from this very campus and that God could use us to rescue that one girl out of trafficking was so amazing," Kramer said. "Use what you have to make a difference, allow yourself to be passionate. God is so passionate about this."
 
They warned the NEXT group that traffickers target educational facilities.
 
"Learn about this issue. You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you didn't know," Kramer said.
 
The new United Methodist event held in St. Louis, Missouri, Nov. 9-11 was meant to challenge and inspire college students to consider and plan the next faithful steps for their vocations, their communities, the Church, and the world. 
 
In addition to the students and campus ministers who attended, representing more than 150 ministries, 149 people watched sessions through live-streaming video from www.umsm.org.
 
"God truly accomplished more than we could ask or imagine. Attendance, enthusiasm, and engagement were high. The affinity groups had intense conversations that resulted in real plans for engagement and change. As we interviewed students toward the end, they articulated next steps they would take in their communities and toward their vocations," said Beth Ludlum, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry's director of Student Faith and Leadership Formation.
 
GBHEM hosted the event with other partnering general agencies: the General Board of Discipleship, United Methodist Communications/Rethink Church, the General Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR, and the General Board of Church and Society.
 
"However, the real success of the event won't be known for weeks or even months. Our followup with students will include an evaluation of the event's impact on their spiritual lives, vocational choices, and missional engagement immediately after the event – as well as six months and even a year later," Ludlum said.
 
Ramy Farouk, a Catholic student in Cairo, Egypt, spoke about role of students in the popular uprising in Egypt that began on Jan. 25, 2011 with a series of demonstrations, marches, and acts of civil disobedience. "For 18 days, youth stayed in Tahrir Square," Farouk said. He urged those in attendance at NEXT to look for ways people of different faiths can join together to fight for justice and said, "A church without youth is a church without a future."
 
Lydia and Liz Lanni are sisters who work with Catalyst, a ministry at Wayne State University that gives students $100 to start a project of their own or to help an existing service ministry in Detroit. They asked for three volunteers from the audience, and at the end of their presentation, those volunteers got $100 each. "This is God's money. Take this money and use it to grow the Kingdom of God," Lydia Lanni said.
 
One of the students, Jalen Lawson of Bennett College, said she wasn't sure what she would do with the money, but she was sure it would involve children.
 
Sarah Ruegg, a University of Hawaii student who took part in a small group that focused on public health, said she was interested in organizing a health fair after hearing from another member of her small group, Juliet Hawkins, about the health fair held at her church, Centenary UMC in Charleston, South Carolina.
 
Tiffany Rea, a student at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, liked that the conference and the speakers focused on empowering college students to do ministry now instead of focusing on ministry in the future.
 
Jacob Cogman, a Claflin student who was in the small group on ordained ministry, said his group had some deep discussion and that he now is ready to start the candidacy process for ordained ministry. He also praised the diversity of both the speakers and those attending the conference.
 
Ludlum said surveys the week after the event will be used to set the three main priorities for the United Methodist Student Movement in order to focus awareness and resources.
 
"We will continue the important conversations that began at NEXT through blogs, forums, and videos at UMSM.org. In the next two months, UMSM will select the student field organizers who will lead and guide the movement in the coming year and [who] will be engaging with Annual Conferences and jurisdictions to discuss hosting regional NEXT events in 2013, before the next national gathering in Denver in 2014," she said.
 
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.