It is back to school season and here at NIU, it can be a wonderful and conflicting time. I remember being a student and being excited to take the new classes, meet new people, and reconnect with friends who I knew were going to be on campus. At the same time, I remember coming on to campus for the first time and feeling overwhelmed. I also remember cramming for tests, writing papers all day and all night, and feeling the anxiety of not knowing what the classes would be like. Like I said, back to school season is a wonderful and conflicting time.
I also remember the intense isolation I felt. I grew up in a family where I had siblings and someone was always around. When I first came to NIU, I didn’t have my family or normal support system. It was like a self-imposed exile in the cornfields. The whole reason I chose NIU was it was just far enough away from home that my family would have to consciously make a decision to come to see me, but close enough if there was an emergency I could be home. I was close to home, but it was just out of reach. I can only imagine what it is like for our friends from other countries who have decided to join our community at NIU.
Although I never experienced an exile as intense and life-changing as those mentioned in the Bible experienced, I still connect with some of the feelings. The longing for home and the feeling of safety and stability that home gives us because we are surrounded by those we love and trust. Now for those in the Bible, exile was a forceful removal from their home, which I hope we have all chosen to go to NIU. Yet, the emotions that come with being in a foreign place, knowing you are not home, possibly far from family are emotions I am sure those in the scriptures who were exiles felt. It allows me to empathize at least a little with those people in the stories like Adam and Eve, Ezekiel, and John of Patmos.
I think when I ponder exile I initially think of punishment, however, I also see it as a time of refinement and transformation. The prophet Jeremiah writes to the people in exile taking place in Babylon, to encourage them to settle in because they will be there for a while. God reassures the people that they are not abandoned, but God will call them out of their exile and there will be blessings on the other side. I believe that is the hope in the college experience. That despite being away from our home, we create a home away from home. We form bonds with new people, we grow not just intellectually because of the classes, but in our experiences, as we enter a new stage of adulthood. I believe college is where we take our faith to the next step. College is often the time when one’s faith becomes their own. We rely on God, challenge God, all because we as individuals are being stretched and challenged in college. In my experience as a pastor for campus ministry and as a student in college, I find that people who continue to walk in their faith in college are transformed by the experience in a way that is profound. Everyone I know has explained in some form or fashion that they are now more deeply connected to God and have grown not just as a person of faith, but as a whole and complete being.
Of course, a big part of that transformation comes in finding a safe place to fully explore all your emotions and journey with God in this new stage in life. At BCM I know I was able to meet people from diverse backgrounds and I explored my faith in a positive way. Being challenged in my beliefs I felt like a plant being trimmed, letting go of not useful things and making room for new growth. I also cannot tell you how many times I have heard of transformed lives because of people who have met their significant others. It is not unheard of alumnae saying, “my life changed when I came to BCM because I met [insert name] and we began a life together on the foundation of Jesus.”
For those who are alumni thank you for sharing your stories with us. Your faith inspires us. For the current and future BCMers, I pray that your life is met with a revelation of God that takes you deeper in your relationship with Christ.