A Hunger for Truth

Posted by Ruth Malhotra on July 13, 2017
Topic: News Magazine

Summer Newsmagazine: Open Forums and University missions

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Ravi at Michigan State University.

In recent years, college campuses that were once known to be centers of critical inquiry and the ultimate marketplace of ideas have too often become characterized by groupthink, extreme agendas, and even censorship. Although today’s campus environments present new challenges, God continues to open doors for RZIM to reach a diverse cross-section of students with the Christian worldview on a broad spectrum of topics.

“Students have asked a range of deep and revealing questions on matters of belief and identity, and we are humbled that they gave us a hearing,” reflected Ravi Zacharias on this semester’s events. “Our recent open forums showed once again the hunger there is on the campuses for questions to be answered in a cordial and thoughtful manner.”

Open Forums

University of Michigan (February 7)

Over 3,500 packed the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium for RZIM’s open forum on the topic “What Does It Mean To Be Human?” with Ravi and Abdu Murray. This event was the talk of the campus; university administrators, who had been skeptical that a “religious program” would draw a large crowd, were stunned by the attendance in this venue typically reserved for entertainment events. There was even some chatter on social media that attendance at the evening’s basketball game between rivals Michigan and Michigan State was unusually sparse, with some suggesting it was because so many students were at the open forum. The Michigan Daily featured RZIM’s open forum on the front page the next day.

Ravi and Abdu speak to a student during a Q&A panel at University of Michigan.

Michigan State University (February 8)

Ravi and Abdu spoke at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center on “A Post Mortem on the Post Truth Culture” with around 9,500 in attendance. “Thank you to MSU for allowing us to use the beautiful arena to have a dialogue on matters so serious,” said Ravi following the event. “This is an example to the rest of the universities in this country of how we can meet with civility and respectfully engage on deeply significant issues.”

Indiana University (February 16)

Ravi and Abdu spoke at Indiana University-Bloomington for an open forum titled “The Secular and the Sacred: A Culture in Search of Values and Meaning.” Questions encompassed a range of topics from Islam to sexuality. “We believe many IU students were awakened to the reality of God’s love for them in Christ Jesus,” said Grant Lemmons, a Cru staff member who helped organize the event with around 2,000 in attendance. “We wanted students to know that there are coherent answers to life’s biggest questions as a result of knowing their Creator.”

On April 5, Cru hosted a follow-up event at IU with Sam Allberry on the topic “Is God Anti-Gay?” Around 200 students attended as Sam shared his personal story and held an extended Q&A session. “Thank you for engaging in tough topics in a way that reflects both love and logic,” one student said. “Sam’s presentation on sexual identity was very informative and I feel better equipped to navigate these pressing questions.”

Temple University (April 12)

Ravi and Vince Vitale spoke at Temple University’s Liacouras Center on the topic “Does Truth Matter?” An estimated 5,000 people from the campus and Philadelphia community attended, and students asked questions on the exclusivity of Christ, the relationship between faith and science, and how Christians should navigate the arts.

Campus Climate: On a campus in the news for riots and violence this semester, RZIM spent a week at UC Berkeley covering a wide range of hot button topics with students who responded
with curiosity and respect. Our team met this young woman while on a mission week at UC Berkeley during an International Women’s Day march held by students and were able to minister to her. The bag over her head reads “All 5 of my rapists are getting away with it.” In such a turbulent time on the UC Berkeley campus, RZIM was openly able to share hope with skeptics and hurting students.

 

Vince Vitale shares a powerful message on how Christianity engages with suffering at an Arizona State University event alongside six-time Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen.

University Missions

Arizona State University (January 30 – February 3)

Our 2017 campus events kicked off at Arizona State University with “Fearless Q at ASU.” Highlights included a candid discussion on “Success and Suffering: Stories of Champion Athletes” where Vince Vitale and Michelle Tepper were joined by six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken and former NFL safety Darryl Morrison to discuss meaning and purpose in the midst of pain; an open forum on “Jesus Among Secular Gods” with Ravi and Vince; and lunch talks on the stage of the Student Union that garnered widespread interest from across campus.

Cameron McAllister listens to a student’s questions during a week of events at UC Berkeley.

University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University (March 6-10)

“I knew the speakers were brilliant, but I’ve been most touched by their compassion for people.” This comment was from a student who attended Vince Vitale’s talk on pluralism and truth at UC Berkeley, and it reflects the reception our team encountered on a campus that has been in the news this semester for riots, violence, women’s marches, and more. In a series of fifteen events over five days, RZIM covered a wide range of hot-button topics and the cross-section of students who attended demonstrated both curiosity and respect. The theme was “Fiat Lux,” a reference to the university’s motto, which means “Let There Be Light.”

Os Guinness spoke on evil and suffering in today’s culture and the quest for meaning, and he was received with notable enthusiasm. “I first came to Berkeley in 1968 and met Mario Savio who led the Berkeley Free Speech Movement,” recalled Os. “Back then I came here to speak alongside Francis Schaeffer, and it’s a true honor for me to return this time with the RZIM team.”

Jo Vitale spoke on the topic “Is God Sexist” in conjunction with “International Women’s Day,” and coverage of her remarks went viral. “As a woman, I have never met a man who makes me feel more human, dignified, and respected than Jesus does,” contended Jo, who spoke to a packed room in the MLK Student Union.

Other topics included “Is Christianity a White Man’s Religion?” and “Are Christians Scared of Science?” and Cameron McAllister participated in an atheist/Christian dialogue. One student after another expressed gratitude for the tone RZIM takes on tough issues, with many commenting on our team’s love and personal concern for individuals. “Our team members defied all odds and kept the peace and the power of God at UC Berkeley, a hotbed of anti-establishment activism and bastion of relativism,” reflected Ravi. “They were applauded for their graciousness and intellectual rigor.”

Os also spoke twice at Stanford University that week on “The Global Public Square,” in events hosted by Chi Alpha and the Zephyr Institute.

Madeline Jackson shares her story with a room full of students at UC Berkeley.

Daniel Rangel and Michelle Tepper answer questions from the audience at an event in Austin, Texas.

University of Massachusetts, Amherst (April 10-14)

For the third year, RZIM held a week of events at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

This year’s UMass mission fell on Holy Week, something Jackson said was “a beautiful irony that we didn’t plan.” “It just so happened that our final event was on Good Friday on the topic, ‘Why Would Jesus Die?’” Despite a challenging atmosphere on campus, the team was deeply encouraged. “Though we faced spiritual resistance head on this year, we found the fruit that came through actually revealed a greater spiritual hunger and openness than we had ever experienced on campus.”

 

 

Read the next articles:

Bailey’s Story (by Jo Vitale and Madeline Jackson)>>

Abdu Murray’s personal reflection after Michigan university events>>