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.”
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.
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.
“The Psalms are not religious in the sense that they are courteous or polite or deferential. They are religious only in the sense that they are willing to speak this chaos to the very face of the Holy One.” (Walter Brueggemann, “Praying the Psalms,” 19)
In the spirit of the Psalmist who brings vulnerable feelings of to the Holy One, today I offer these prayers, using words from Psalm 5:
“Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray.” (v. 2)
Gratitude for all medical workers, grocery store workers, scientists and others on the frontlines of the pandemic. Thanks for their persistence and their sacrifice. “Spread your protection over them.” (v. 11)
Anger at the murder of another unarmed black man, Ahmaud Arbery. Anger at the denial of systemic injustice. “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you.” (v. 4)
Frustration at lies and misinformation, which hurt the most vulnerable. “For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction; their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues.” (v. 9)
Sadness that communal singing may not return soon. “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.” (v. 3)
Encouragement for the homeless, the jobless and all those suffering economic hardship. “Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing.” (v. 1)
Gratitude for moments of grace and joy. “But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house.” (v. 7)
Jessica Wrobelski speaks graciously regarding the grief connected to this pandemic in her article, “Jesus Wept: Pandemic Grief and the Fifth Sunday of Lent.” She notes that, while we in the United States are likely facing more suffering here on account of illness and death from COVID-19,
“we are nevertheless collectively experiencing a kind of grief right now due to the practice of social distancing and other early impacts of the pandemic on our lives. The loss of daily interaction with friends and coworkers, the cancellation of travel plans and events that we have looked forward to, the economic losses, and our inability to gather as communities of faith—these losses are real, and so is our grief.”
Wrobelski highlights that the gospel for the fifth Sunday of Lent, the story of Lazarus’s death, presents Jesus’ own grief in light of loss. She highlights that Jesus does not “‘skip over’ the experience of human grief.” Recognizing this “should free us to acknowledge our own grief—to experience all the emotions of sadness and anger and disappointment and frustration that come with real losses—even if we ultimately have faith and hope in God’s promise to bring life from death.”
She concludes by encouraging as “to allow ourselves time and space to grieve, to name our sorrows and losses and even to bring our accusations before God. Faith in these times does not mean stoically denying our human emotions, but trusting that God is present in and through all of it.”
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.
Terry J. Stokes regularly posts online short contemporary prayers (collects) on all manner of topics. A recent prayer that he posted was for dechurched folks. As we at Campus Edge especially want to be a welcoming community for those who have “been hurt or disillusioned by the church,” this prayer was one that I wanted to save and share.
This past semester, my prayer has been that God would lead to Campus Edge those for whom it would be a blessing and who would be a blessing to Campus Edge. As a ministry that serves a transient population, numbers tend to be a concern for us. This has been especially true this last year as several people were active in Campus Edge for a shorter time period or left earlier than expected. Yet, God has been gracious, and we’ve been blessed by new people who strongly desire to understand faith better. Join us in giving thanks for these new people and pray with me that they might experience Campus Edge as a welcoming community and might know God’s grace. Please also pray for those who are nearing the end of their programs: that they might continue to stay motivated and that they might be hopeful during the challenging experience of job searching.
We’ve spent significant time in our studies looking at biblical texts that encourage and challenge us in our living faithfully for God: the book of Isaiah and the texts for the chapel services witness to God’s concern for the natural world and justice. The books of Daniel and Acts encourage us as we engage with the culture around us and remind us of how the Spirit works in and through people like us. To hear more about our studies and other events Campus Edge, I encourage you to read the rest of this blog.
The Los Angeles times recently published an article by Varun Soni, who is dean of religious life at USC, highlights some of the changes that he’s seen among students during the eleven years he’s been in that role. In the beginning, the conversations he had with students centered on “quests for meaning and purpose. [Students] were striving to translate values into action, cultivate joy and gratitude, live extraordinary lives.”
However, more recently the conversation has shifted more often from “how should I live?” to “why should I live?” As Soni, notes that students today are more likely to “grapple with hopelessness and meaninglessness. Every year, it seems, I encounter more stress, anxiety, and depression, and more students in crisis on campus.” He goes on to present the research that has also noticed this shift on campus.
Soni notes that students are often overwhelmed and lonely, and they find it difficult to know how to make friends, a trend that Jean M. Twenge, who has done a significant amount of research on the generation entering college, has also noticed.
Soni further notes that, while we sometimes consider this generation to be coddled,
the reality is they face unprecedented challenges and circumstances. They are entering a world in which many of the career paths of their parents’ generation no longer exist or have changed drastically. They face escalating tuition costs with little sense of whether their future opportunities justify the outlay. They have participated in active shooter trainings and campus lockdown drills for most of their lives.”
In this challenging context, Campus Edge and other religious communities strive to provide community and support for people who are struggling, as well as speaking hope into people’s lives. Please pray that we might do that well, as well as praying for all those who are struggling.
Emerging Scholars Network recently published an article by Jamie Noyd which provided suggestions for how walking can be a means for praying for one’s campus. She envisions the campus as a crossroads, “a place of intersection where the church and academia meet.”
Noyd has walked the campus weekly this past year, praying that she would see the university campus as God does. She notes that “the discipline of being present on campus and looking has slowly been changing [her] heart and helping [her] to recognize the presence of God’s kingdom in this place.”
Noyd gives the following suggestions for how others might also walk through campus and pray for the university:
“Look at the buildings – old and new – and pray for the work going on in them.
Look at posters of upcoming lectures and events. Are you drawn to attend any of them? How can you pray for them?
Ask for compassion for the students, faculty, and staff walking past – and pray that they may be blessed.
Ask God to show you the good way to live out the good news on campus and the courage to walk in it.”
For more suggestions for how to grow spiritually while being connected to academia, I encourage you to read more of the series.