A brave millennial recounts her mission aroundthe globe to investigate howChristian studentssurvive secularuniversity.
What was I thinking? Nobody flies around the world alone with no supporting organization, no fundraising, and no plan except to talk to strangers for six months. Despite my hesitation, I couldn’t deny God’s leading so far, even from the first moment I’d felt his call to defend biblical authority beginning in Genesis. In fact, that call had originally compelled me to concoct this wild scheme.
Maybe, I thought, I could find ways to help Christian students keep their faith during evolutionary classes. But to understand what those students experience, I’d have to become one of them myself. So I headed to a university and registered for some of the most evolution-saturated science courses available. At every level, my classes championed naturalistic evolution as truth but essentially shouted, “Myth!” at the slightest whiff of divine creation.
Even as a deeply grounded Christian, I could feel those constant evolutionary messages chiselling at my biblical beliefs….I wondered what strategies were helping other Christian students worldwide.Afterall, I’d once read that over 60 nations have signed an educational statement claiming that “scientific evidence has never contradicted” evolution or millions of years. What if I could interview Christian students in some of these countries to learn what they experience?
Obviously, I reasoned, I can’t travel that far. Or can I? With that, I began plotting a DIY mission to backpack solo 360°around the world in 180 days, documenting Christian students’ university experiences. I’ll see how far I can travel on savings from my summer work, I figured. Just me, God, and a backpack.
I prayerfully began knocking on doors, writing contacts, and confirming several initial places to visit. To test my research methods, I began exploring campuses, interviewing students, and collecting baseline data in Canada before launching into distant parts of the world. Finally, late one night in 2018, I booked a one-way flight to Australia.
From Australia, I journeyed to New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan,Thailand, two nations that for security reasons I won’t name, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, and England.
Originally, I hadn’t planned to visit many of these places. During my final weeks overseas, in fact, I often didn’t know which country I’d enter next—or even where I’d sleep some nights. But whether I ended up staying at ministry bases, mission stations, or with friends of friends (of friends), God always provided. Meanwhile, I lived simply, flying budget airlines, eating inexpensive groceries, and sleeping in more airports than hotels. And all the way I prayed to find the right people to interview.
God answered those prayers creatively, connecting me with students,campus ministers, university chaplains, pastors, and retired Christian professors. Often I met these interviewees through churches, friends, or campus ministries. And almost always, I asked four key questions:
•What are the challenges of being a Christian student here?
•What are the opportunities?
•What advice would you give a first-year Christian student?
•How can churches support students?
Between interviews, I also gleaned insights into worldview climates by reading university campus bulletin boards. In Canada, for instance, I found Bible study posters nestled among ads promoting Eastern spirituality, campus nightlife, and an extremely secular view of sexuality. I also found cartoons mocking Christianity, a poster advancing Communism, and even business cards fora Wiccan university chaplain. Clearly, I realized, Canada has drifted far from God’s Word as the foundation for its thinking.
In comparison, when I visited a Filipino state university, I spotted Bible verses on the walls. My surprise mounted as I joined local Christians for campus evangelism, only to watch the first students we spoke with open their hearts to Christ. “Evangelism is not this straightforward in Canada,” I told my Filipino friends, “because most Canadians believe science discredits Scripture.”
They replied that if they were in a similar situation they’d just ask,“Who created science?” The openness to evangelism on Filipino campuses made sense once I read Ken Ham’s book Gospel Reset, which contrasts the Jewish audience Peter addressed in Acts 2 with the Greek audience Paul encountered in Acts 17. Because the Philippines are mostly Catholic, many Filipinos, like the Jews who responded to Peter’s preaching, already accept that sinning against our Creator results in death. These concepts, founded in Genesis, pave the way for the rest of the gospel. This is how Filipino Christian students share their faith easily.
In Japan, however, Christian students experience a whole different cup of matcha. That’s because Japan, like the Greek culture Paul reached in Acts 17, rests on a completely different worldview foundation from anything associated with God’s Word. In fact, according to a retired diplomat I interviewed, only 0.2% of Japan’s population attends church. To be clear, that’s just two-tenths of 1%—one out of every 500 people. (And I suspect this is partially related to the fact that Japanese schools teach naturalistic evolution.) Understandably then, Japan can be a lonely place for Christian students.
Besides the challenges of embracing a different worldview from their culture’s, Christian students in countries like Japan and Thailand also face being nonconformists in a collectivist society. Unlike individualistic Western cultures, which esteem personal independence, collectivist cultures prioritize group harmony. The shame of nonconformity places Christian students under extra pressure to follow cultural expectations, such as bowing before statues or becoming Buddhist monks.
Still, these hardships intensify for Christian students in a Communist nation I visited. Not only is evangelizing there illegal, but students who repeatedly share Christ risk expulsion from their university. Yet I’d rarely met students more excited about evangelism.