Partnering with InterVarsity to bring the gospel to college students

Julio Batta wasn’t a Christian when he first attended the University of Redlands in 2003. But, he had friends who were, and these friends were a part of InterVarsity, a ministry that trains and encourages students to share their faith on campus.

“InterVarsity was the gateway through which God called me to dedicate my life to Him,” Julio said.

Now, Julio is fundraising to be the campus’ only full-time InterVarsity staff member. Since July, he’s managed to secure 40 percent of the needed expenses, and explains that having a full-time college minister on campus is vital to the growth of the ministry.

For a few years, InterVarsity at the University of Redlands lacked a full-time or even part-time staff member, and so the group went into “conservation mode” and looked inward. They became a small close-knit group of about eight students. Julio says a full-time staff member can push the group to look outward.

“Instead of being a club where Christians come and hang out, we need to be a club where Christians come and are sent,” Julio says.

In the 11 years Julio has been at the university (as both a student and an employee), he’s realized that the main religious belief is agnosticism. Even so, opposition has been rare, as most people he’s talked with have been open to discussions about God and the gospel.

“Overall I’d say people are curious, but for the most part it’s like, ‘oh that’s cool that you’re doing this, but I’m going to do my own thing’,” Julio said. “And those are the students we’re trying to reach.”

While some Christian groups have had to butt heads with their college administrations — like the recent move in the CSU system to derecognize the InterVarsity Christian groups — that hasn’t been a problem at the University of Redlands.

Contrarily, Julio says that religious life is strongly supported by the Redlands administration who sees it as part of the college experience. The university is very protective of that.

While there’s about 3,500 undergraduate students at the University of Redlands, with more than 70 percent living in dorms, currently there’s about 30 regular participants in its Christian fellowship.

But the number of Christians on campus is actually much larger. Julio says Christians probably make up the second largest religious belief on campus, but there’s been a lack of community and a misunderstanding of what it means to live out one’s faith in college.

Julio has plans to change that.

Starting this spring, he’ll be teaching a Friday night evangelism class called Out of the Boat that will last 10 weeks. This is in addition to the weekly dorm Bible studies and bi-weekly worship gatherings that take place on campus.

“In order to grow our chapter, it can’t just be the university students and staff, it has to be the community, as well,” Julio said.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Redlands will continue long after Julio leaves, he says. So he’s been meeting with local churches, telling them about the ministry and asking a simple question: “Would you like to join us?”

The First Baptist Church of Redlands has had a longstanding relationship with InterVarsity. Last year, the Local Outreach Commission gave $2,000 to support its work and has budgeted the same amount this year. They also have hosted parties here in the past commemorating all graduating seniors. Many of our church members were even involved with the ministry back in their college days.

“The benefit, which can’t be predicted, is that students become involved in our church and serve, and be a part of our membership. That’s not guaranteed, but a lot of these students stay in town and they’re looking for a church,” said Hien Huynh, who began attending First Baptist in his senior year at the University of Redlands.

Julio would agree, noting that it’s important for students to know that there is support and resources for them in the church after college. So, Julio hopes to keep the connection strong between InterVarsity and The First Baptist Church of Redlands.

“To partner with us, people would just have to believe in what InterVarsity does, and see how it has been able to affect the community,” Julio said.

A special info meeting sponsored by the Local Outreach Commission will be held in the Chapel on Sunday, Feb. 22 after the worship service, so that the FBCR family can easily come, ask questions, hear about InterVarsity and meet Julio.

-words by Amanda Warner, printed in the February 2015 issue of the Tapestry.

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