What to expect at MSU this fall

Masks, social distancing, and a lot of encouragement to keep yourself and others safe are all part of what we can expect as we move back to campus in a little over a month.

MSU has put together a compact that they are asking all those who are part of the MSU community to agree to. It begins with the acknowledgement that, “In return for being part of the MSU community, by this Compact, I am taking personal responsibility in order to protect the health and safety of myself and others.” Furthermore, “I acknowledge the risks of COVID-19 and returning to campus, and I acknowledge that I will do my part to protect myself and others.”

Playing our part means wearing masks, both inside and outside, physical distancing, self-monitoring for symptoms, and practicing extra hygiene and healthy safety measures. Further details on what exactly that all means are found online as part of the MSU Initiative of ‘Together We Will’ and ‘Keeping Spartans safe.’

Please pray for all those affected by the university’s plans for the fall:

  • Students who are making decisions of whether they will be coming back to campus or learning remotely (if that’s even possible – and if not how to do so in a way that’s best);
  • Administrators making decisions about what is good for as many people as possible
  • Professors pondering how best to teach – online, in-person, and everything in between;
  • All of us anxious about the well-being of everyone in the MSU community, whether that be physical or mental health, or even managing the challenges of so much uncertainty.
  • All those of us who minister to and encourage those at the university.

Providing meaning in the classroom

A recent article about an MSU professor, Lorelei Blackburn, presents a great picture of how a professor helped students see, in a very practical way, why what they were learning and doing matters. As the article notes,

“From the first day of class, Blackburn emphasized the world-changing potential of rhetoric and writing. She informed students they would be collaborating directly with local and national nonprofits, and applying rhetorical practices and analysis that could help organizations achieve their missions. Even more, she set the tone by running her class like a professional creative agency, allowing students to make choices, work in teams, and interact with clients through student liaisons.”

I’m thankful for the work that Lorelei does (and her connections to Campus Edge).

Anticipating a challenging fall

There remains a lot of uncertainty about the coming fall semester: the only certainty seems to be a consensus that it will be challenging. To get a sense of what fall might look like, I encourage you to read the communication(s) from MSU as well as to check out several Inside Higher Education articles that envision what an average day in the life of an undergraduate student might look like as well as for a faculty member.

If you’d like a slightly different experience for envisioning what the fall might look like, a graduate student, Cait S Birby, simulated several scenarios for what the fall might look like for people who are often marginalized: people who have disabilities, live with people with significant health challenges, and/or identify as LGBTQ. There is both a scenario for an undergraduate student, faculty, and graduate student. The scenarios give a sense of how overwhelming being on campus might be this fall.

This past Monday we hosted our first hybrid study – some of us were at the house while others joined the study online. While it was very good to chat with folks outside the house after we finished, the study itself was disappointing. It took us an extra 15 minutes to set up, as the original plan of being outside didn’t work. We then set up a computer attached to the television, which meant that those of us at the house no longer had access to communal chat. Because of social distancing, all (4) of us in the house were seated far from the computer microphone and not all of us could be seen by those online. With the added challenges of wearing masks, it was hard for those online to hear us. The need to speak unnaturally loud, the sense that those online were not hearing us well and that those in the house were not as easily able to participate, plus the seating arrangement that felt less conducive to building community, all of these things contributed to making it disappointing.

Even as I was disappointed in the study, I was very glad to have tried it. Next week, we will try again – and hopefully work out some of the difficulties so that we know how and if hybrid studies can work for us before school starts in the fall. Most importantly, seeing the challenges that we as a small group faced in trying a hybrid study, I became more aware of how hard the fall will be for all those trying to meet in person.

Please pray for all those who are now making plans and working through the challenges to allow people to meet in a way that is most conducive to learning while also taking into account each other’s safety and well-being.

Added August 4, 2020: For another perspective on the challenges in teaching online and in-person, see this article from Inside Higher Ed.

Uncertainty for International students

On Monday, the ICE announced that, despite the current pandemic, international students would not receive a visa if their programs/colleges had primarily online-only instruction. This announcement is causing a lot of stress and uncertainty for international students and the universities themselves.

With this new ruling, students do not know if they can finish their programs or if they can even start a program and enter the country. Students are not sure if staying where they are means they might risk being deported, irrelevant of whether they have a lease for the coming year, whether they can even travel back to their home country, or whether it’s logistically feasible to attend online classes in a significantly different time zone. On top of this, this ruling is one more factor affecting the decision universities need to make regarding opening up their campuses. Universities are now forced to temper their decisions about what might be the safest for all involved with what possibilities might allow international students to remain at their institution. Losing these students would be hard for the individual students themselves but the university would also feel a significant loss, as international students contribute significantly to the university, including financially.

Please pray for the students and all of the administrators who have been impacted by this decision.

For more information on this situation, a recent article in Inside Higher Education outlines some of the key concerns of this announcement.

Update: 27 July 2020: While it thankfully looks like things have changed so that this ruling no longer applies to international students who are already in the United States, it does still apply to incoming international students. For more information, see this article from Inside Higher Education.

Prayer for MSU, universities, and the world

MSU stopped in-person classes yesterday, has been encouraging students to leave campus and return to their permanent residence, and has been cancelling gatherings of large groups of people. Most of us are a bit overwhelmed and still processing the concrete implications of this for our lives, while also being uncertain of what will happen in the next few weeks.

In thankfulness for and solidarity with the prayers that people are already offering throughout the world and in response to everything related to the coronavirus, I lift up this prayer:

Almighty God, we pray

  • ​For those who are sick. That they might have knowledge of their illness, courage in isolation, healing, and the means to limit the spread of the disease.
  • that you might sovereignly move in mercy to spare lives. May there be effective measures to limit the virus’s spread, the quick development of a vaccine, and may You guard against mutations.
  • For wisdom for leaders on our campus and throughout the country and world. May all those who are responsible for cancelling events and/or closing schools, at any level, have the courage and strength and help in making hard decisions requiring much wisdom.
  • For Christians to walk in tangible faith and love, and be ready to share the good news of hope. For wisdom for faith communities as they know how best to respond and take care of people’s physical and emotional well-being.
  • For a spiritual hunger, especially among those who do not know Jesus, during this time of social distance (and Your hand in guiding people and resources to them).
  • For the vulnerable elderly, due to both the danger of the virus itself and the isolation they must endure.
  • For all those in health care and research of disease, that they might have strength and wisdom. May they stay healthy.
  • For those whose livelihoods are significantly affected, especially those in hospitality, the travel industry, and retail, where they bear some of the brunt of people’s anxiety.
  • For professors (and staff and students) who are facing the daunting challenge of switching their classes online.
  • For students whose lives and plans have been disrupted, especially ​those who will face difficulties in finishing their programs (e.g., because of cancelled recitals/shows) and ​seniors whose in-person college experience has suddenly and unexpectedly ended. We pray especially for students with complicated living and food situations or for whom it is unsafe to ‘go home.’
  • For those who are no longer able to travel to check out grad programs or interview for a job; and the departments/programs as they find creative solutions to people not being able to travel;
  • For those who have cancelled their trips, whether conferences or holidays. ​
  • For those who are currently in a country that is not their home and unsure of where they ought to be.​
  • For those facing social isolation: we pray especially that families might grow through more time together and that there might be creative ways of helping those living alone deal with loneliness.
  • For those facing discrimination as people take out their anxiety about possibly becoming sick.
  • For those with unexpected time on their hands (especially those who were expecting to watch sports or travel), that they might use the time to be creative and to rest.
  • For children and parents, and all living in close quarters, that we might have extra grace for each other, and appreciate and love each other.

With thanks to Chris Ahlin (who helps lead the MSU faculty and staff prayer gathering), for many of the words above.

May Report from Pastor Brenda

One of the things I love most about pastoring is getting to walk alongside people in their faith journeys. I am honoured that people are willing to share their struggles with me, and I am thankful that I can be an encouragement in the middle of the questions and the challenges that life can bring.

Another thing I love about what I do is looking at the Bible with others, including difficult texts like the book of Judges. When we started reading it this past semester, I wasn’t sure how encouraging or applicable it would be. Yet, fairly quickly we saw how the text reveals how God uses the unexpected people around us. At the same time, the text raises questions about how God intervenes in peoples’ lives. Struggling through why God acts in ways we don’t understand in the text provides a means of talking through the questions we have about how God acts today.

It’s important to me as a pastor to provide opportunities to have difficult conversations, whether that be talking about how God acts, political issues, or racism. Because these conversations matter so much, we spent part of the semester discerning why these conversations are difficult and then helping each other learn better how to speak about things that matter to us, including spiritual matters. We could still use some practice with this, so we’ll keep talking about political issues at pub theology, and we’re looking further at racism this summer.

Lastly, I want to express thanks for the people who have encouraged and helped me in the ministry. I have been inspired and encouraged by Hannah in the short time she’s been with us. I have also been challenged and helped by the students who are part of Campus Edge, especially with our Lenten service and pub theology. I also am thankful for Cory and Heather who willingly answered questions connected to their academic journey. Thanks, too, to the CEF board who pushed me to organize such an evening and who have supported and encouraged me in many other ways. Finally, I give thanks for all of you, especially for your prayers, financial support and general encouragement of the ministry.

Hoping for Change at MSU

Satish Udpa, the new interim president at Michigan State, apologized to survivors at a recent MSU board meeting. Upda spoke the following “on behalf of the university I love, as acting president and an executive officer, and as a former dean and faculty member:”

“I am sorry you were subjected to the pain and humiliation of sexual assault by somebody you should have been able to trust. We failed to comprehend and acknowledge your injuries. We were too slow to grasp the scope and enormity of the offense you endured. And we failed to treat you with the respect and care you deserved even as we sought to make amends.

Upda committed to “listen more closely, ask more caring questions and act more thoughtfully as all of us work to advance the culture of this campus to one focused first on safety and respect.”

I pray that all of us connected to MSU might have the courage and strength to indeed make it a place where people are listened to and cared for.

Prayers for MSU

Periodically, I (Brenda) lead the congregational prayer at River Terrace Church, which supports the ministry of Campus Edge. As a reflection of this semester’s studies on difficult conversations, the prayer includes some of the topics that would be considered difficult, like politics, being vulnerable and honest, and doubt.

As a way of continuing to pray the words in this prayer I am posting it below. It is also a way of praying for the current situation at MSU and the challenges faced by what appears to be the soon resignation of interim president, John Engler.

Almighty God, we come before you with our thanks and our concerns. We thank-you for the work that you are doing in this church and in the ministry of Campus Edge. We thank you for all those connected to MSU that we are able to encourage and support.

God of all peace, we pray for the world. We pray for those harmed by religious persecution or climate change and those suffering on account of war, poverty, or hunger. Bring comfort to all those who are suffering and protection to those who are fleeing dangerous situations. just as Joseph, Mary, and Jesus once had to.

God of all wisdom, we pray especially for this country in the midst of the government shutdown. May good dialogue happen; help those in charge find a way forward that will protect those living in the United States while also being a place where foreigners might be allowed to seek refuge.

God of all power and truth, we bring before you the church – and ask that Your spirit work among us. We pray that we might be able to speak the truth in love with each other, both encouraging each other and holding each other accountable. And that we might find ways to be vulnerable about our struggles and grow through voicing our disagreements. We pray this not only for the wider church but especially for River Terrace and Campus Edge.

We pray also for the work of your church at MSU. We pray for all those reaching out to those on MSU’s campus: that we might provide places where people find fellowship and support as well as space to ask questions about faith and know You better.

God of all comfort, we bring before you the communities of which we are a part. We pray for our families and friends, for the community of River Terrace Church, for those participating in Campus Edge, and for the wider community of Michigan State.

For the MSU community, we pray especially for the challenges that are part of a new semester. Fill people with hope and courage for the challenges and experiences that lie ahead of us. We pray for the family of the student who passed away this week in an accident. And we pray for those who’ve been harmed this past year and for the leadership, especially as John Engler’s time seems to be coming to an end.

We pray for those who are suffering. We pray for the illnesses and suffering that we know  about and for those things we don’t know about – whether that be spine surgeries or infertility, financial troubles or relationship troubles.

May all those suffering know your grace in all of the complicated areas of our lives. Give us the courage and wisdom to know how to be honest and open with each other, speaking about things that matter to us. May we also listen well, encourage each other and to be a strong community to each other.

Knowing that you hear all of our requests, we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Day of Men’s Fellowship and Fun in CEF

On Friday, March 15, a group of men from Campus Edge came together for a day of fellowship.  It started with service that morning at Lansing’s Veterans of America Community Kitchen.  We all got up much sooner than we normally would for a Friday morning, only to realize that our sacrifice is really a way of life for the people we were serving.  By the time we arrived at 6:30, there were already people waiting at the facility for the free meal that would help them get through the day.  An hour and a half later, with well over one hundred hungry people fed and kept warm, I think all of us had a deeper appreciation for God’s call that we love one another as Jesus loved us. 

Fast forward twelve hours and the same group of men showed up at Spare Time in East Lansing for some laser tag fun.  I couldn’t have imagined a more enjoyable way to bond with my brothers from CEF than by chasing them around in the dark wearing vests with fluorescent lights.  That alone probably motivated me to join the YMCA the following weekend!  We played two 15-minute missions, trying different sets of teams, only to learn that it really helps to be over 6 feet tall when playing laser tag. 

We finished the night off with dinner together at Olga’s in Frandor.  During that time we all enjoyed some great food, a chance to catch our breath, and time for conversation.  We all got excited learning about the fun we’ll be having this summer playing softball with CEF, shared a little about our backgrounds and faith, and connected as fellowship of believers. 

~Diego Avila

Thursday Night Bible Study

We have been studying Moses and Paul and it has been very insightful. These are two individuals that were just as imperfect as any other human, yet did amazing things for God. We have been trying to learn and understand what made these two men unique, yet still human like us. How did God use them despite their imperfections? That is a critical question we have been asking during this study. We have tried to relate the story of Moses and Paul to our lives. We see our imperfections, our failures, our shortcomings, but then we see God display His power through it. We see how Moses and Paul were frustrated at times, tired, and angry, yet they persisted through God’s strength. We want to model their character and behavior in our continual pursuit of a relationship with God. Being able to take what God has given us, use it in the face of difficulty, is of paramount importance to our every day lives. Relying on God and not on ourselves. This is what Moses and Paul exemplified. Yet, they were still both imperfect which shows us that no matter who we were, or who we are, God can use us. All we have to do is commit and say, “Yes Lord, please use me because you are greater than me or any of my failures.”

 ~Bryan Crutcher