Overwhelmed, a little excited, and ultimately perplexed, I was trying to make my way through a sea of students to find my next lecture. I was hoping to see a familiar face and asking myself, Does anyone notice I’m here?
Overwhelmed, a little excited, and ultimately perplexed, I was trying to make my way through a sea of students to find my next lecture. I was hoping to see a familiar face and asking myself, Does anyone notice I’m here? These are common feelings shared by students on campuses across the country, especially in the month of September. As a student on a university campus just a little less than 20 years ago, I remember those feelings keenly. As a Christian I felt isolated, anonymous, and had less of a sense of community than I’d ever experienced in my life before. However, like many of our less-than-good experiences in life, there were positive takeaways. The clearest one was the sense of wanting to do for others what perhaps had not been done for me—acting on my unique knowledge about how best to meet the challenges and needs of Christian campus students.
I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I am a first-generation Canadian. My parents immigrated from Punjab, India. A central reason for their journey from India to Canada was to give their children the opportunity for higher education, and great sacrifices were made to make this dream a reality.
Before moving on to theological studies, I followed in my father’s footsteps by pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology. At that time, there was often a degree of shame attached to being associated with a declared faith while studying the sciences. I remember a professor attacking the intellect of Christian students by demanding that we not discuss our creationist theories when the theory of evolution was presented. I’ll never forget sitting silently in that small sea of students. My silence was deafening to my own soul, and I carried a sense of guilt for letting her views be declared without being graciously challenged.
Though I was a part of a well-intentioned local church back in those university days, I sensed a profound lack of support from the Christians around me. Education was viewed as suspect, if not a vice to God’s broader calling. I had not personally encountered any organized, life-giving presence on the campus. My only faith interaction was with a campus group: I was accosted on a sidewalk between classes and agreed to fill out a contact card for their TV draw. When I gave them my contact information, I thought I would hear from them. And I did! It was to inform me I had won the TV they were giving away. It still sits in my mother’s kitchen now, and whenever I have the pleasure of eating the hot, fresh, well-buttered roti she prepares, I see that little blue television. And I remember that after I won it, I never heard from that Christian club again. It is a sign and a reminder of the emptiness, loneliness and questions I had about faith during those years.
I am living out the fulfilment of the righteous educational dreams of my parents in ways they would never have imagined—honouring the legacy of Grandfather Ramith and continuing in the example of my dear uncles who have shone the light of Christ brightly. Uncle Baktawer “Buck” Chaudhary lives in my home town of Halifax. He maintains beautiful flower beds, and at the young age of 82 he still has a micro farm in his backyard, producing peppers, cucumber, and lots of tomatoes. He also tends fruit trees. “Uncerd” prayed fervently when we were growing up. At the time we kids thought his prayers were just long.
Uncle Daraz Chaudhary pastored for many years in India at the family village church. I remember listening to him preach as a young boy, not understanding his words but connecting with his passion—and being terrified on his scooter.
In the same village church, my grandpa Ramith, a farmer, would sing and lead the worship liturgy. Often he could be heard in the courtyard of the family home singing the praise of our God. As I think of it now, it was a gracious response to other faith traditions whose loudspeaker calls to prayer dominated the early mornings. That heritage and its influence on my upbringing give me something precious to draw from now as I engage this new expression of ministry.
Fast-forward my student story to today, and this Bluenoser and first-generation Canadian has begun a new adventure as PAOC’s national co-ordinator for SERVE Campus Network. This opportunity with Mission Canada is one that takes me across the nation, connecting with our workers, churches and local Christians who have a heart to serve university students.
One of the greatest privileges I’ve had in life thus far was to return to Dalhousie University as an alumnus to serve the students. I was a chaplain and was eventually invited to be the co-ordinator of the Multifaith Centre. I sat with students who reminded me of myself; it was moving. I listened. I prayed. We served and supported students from beautifully diverse backgrounds. In some ways, being unique has an aspect of loneliness to it, and I recognized this in some of these students.
We are continuing to build a campus network from coast to coast—one that will serve and influence every post-secondary campus across our nation. This will not happen without prayer, people and resources. While there are pockets of missional campus communities in our nation, it is now time to become a missional campus movement. We are currently on 57 of our 221 Canadian university and college campuses. By December 2020 our goal is to be on 100 campuses. By 2025 we are believing for a PAOC presence on every campus because all of our students deserve the dignity of being served.
As parents, aunts, uncles and guardians, we are concerned for our kids, many of whom we are dropping off this fall to university for the first time. As local churches and pastors, we want to know that our students will be welcomed and influenced in good and godly ways while they are away from their faith communities. To help these young adults find their connection, or if you sense the Spirit’s whisper to get involved and support Serve Campus Network, let’s connect. Message me through our website (www.servecampus.net) or on Instagram @ServeCampusNetwork.
Paul Khosla is the co-ordinator for SERVE Campus Network, a PAOC priority under Mission Canada. Paul also serves as the co-ordinator for PAOC communications at the International Office in Mississauga, Ont.
Photo: A group of university students make their way to class at the Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building at Dalhousie University.
Photo ©istockphoto.com. This article appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.