Five Realties of Ministering at an HBCU
First off, it has been a privilege to labor for the Lord at an Historically Black College and University (HBCU). There’s no place I’d rather be. With that said, this short list of realities is not necessarily unique to an HBCU, nor is this list exhaustive; a few realties not listed are things like: dealing with rejection from students, disappointment in their responses, a lack of knowledge of the role of the local church in the life of the believer, and the heavy influence of Islam and the prosperity gospel. Yet the realties below are what I have commonly experienced at the school the Lord has called me to. These realties aren’t listed in any particular order, but they definitely rank as most notable.
With constant contact with students on a daily basis, you begin to hear very quickly about the things they don’t enjoy about the campus — whether it be the fact that they have to walk up a huge hill everyday to get to class, or that someone set off the fire alarm at two in the morning. Regardless of the hardship, students are quick to open up when they come into contact with someone who is genuinely trying to get to know them. But after just a few weeks on campus, I came to find out that the thorn in 99% of the students’ side is the administration. This is not a knock on the admin, but rather just an honest assessment of what I’ve heard from students. From getting housing on time, to getting placed in the correct classes each semester, it seems like the administration is a continuous struggle for all students. What does that have to do with ministry? Well, the affects of administration echo into everything that happens on campus. Simply trying to schedule a time to meet up with a student, who is also trying to meet with an advisor, becomes a guessing game because the student has no idea when the advisor will be available. Then you have to find a place to meet with that student or group of students, which the administration also makes difficult. My peers, co-laborers, and alums at other HBCU’s say these difficulties with administration are a pretty common theme.
When I first arrived on campus I tried to keep my objectives simple, one of which was to get a good idea of what the “religious climate” was like amongst the students. A good friend who had been in ministry for a while encouraged me to go find the Christians to see whose on your team. So I did just that. I attended the meeting of other ministries as well as used that as an opportunity to meet students and their friends. Quickly I found, after some conversation, these students had no idea how to articulate the gospel. To them the word “gospel” simply meant a genre of music or the kind of church they went to. It was a sad reality, but many who would boldly say they were a Christian were for the first time hearing the gospel from me. When asked the question, “what makes you a Christian?” I often heard, “because I go to church” or “because my parents are Christians.” There seemed to be a lack of personal ownership of their faith.
In developing relationships with students, I noticed very fast that this was going to be a job that grew me in patience; that’s the case with anyone who we may evangelize. People don’t always see their need for a savior; they may vocalize their need but not actually live in a way that showcases their dependency on God. Enter patience. To spend time reading scripture with a student, to use real world examples as well as personal examples of the fallen nature of man, yet still have a person say, “Well, I’m relatively good…” can tax a relationship. Another way this patience was begged came by spending an entire semester with a student — giving them time and energy, buying them lunch, etc. — to simply have them say in the end, “yeah, thanks but no thanks.” Experiences like this quickly stretched my ability to bear with someone, especially when I’d hear the common refrain, “I don’t have time.” Now that I’m out of college I find that statement almost funny — looking back that seems to be when I had the most time!
Of this list the most unique reality that I have experienced thus far is the idea that, “Christianity is the white man’s religion.” Personally, I had only had a handful of experiences with this in my time of walking with Christ. It didn’t catch me off guard, but I was very intrigued as to how convinced young men were that Christianity is a ploy to brainwash black men. My approach in these moments was simply to begin by asking a lot of questions, and when given different answers, follow up with the statement, “how do you know that to be true?” It was in doing so that I found that many of these claims these guys had were simply things told to them or they read on the internet. Almost all of them had never genuinely read the claims of Christ and if they had, they had some severe misinterpretations.
As is true to all who do not know Christ as Lord and savior, most students have a void that can only be filled by the God of the Bible alone. Students are seeking life in relationships, sports, education, and to the highest degree in fraternities and sororities. I even had one conversation with a student in which they admitted they simply joined a fraternity because they felt it could bring them more worth. The search for worth and value is real on the HBCU campus, and to herald the hope of Christ in this specific setting has brought me joy over this last year. My hope is to continue as a beggar showing other beggars where the Living Bread is. Pray for HBCUs and those laboring at them across America. The harvest really is plentiful!