Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays—you can’t tell because of my high metabolism. At some point, every Thanksgiving, my mother will announce to the house, “It’s dinner time.” What she has is mind is not a time on the clock. Depending on the year, dinner time has been at 11:00 am, 5:36 pm, and 7:02 pm.
When my mother says, “It’s dinner time,” she means the turkey has been cooked to perfection, the stuffing has been thoroughly baked, the greens and candied yams (sweet potatoes) are ready, and all the pies and been cooked and cooled. The cornbread has been baked to a golden brown, placed on top of the oven, cooled, cut and is now ready for consumption. The table has been set and the family is hungry.
In other words, there has been a confluence of events making the time right for the family to be able to eat.
Our Unique, Kairos Time
When we ask the question, “What time is it?” we can refer to a Chronos time which is the passage of seconds, minutes, days, and years. But when a series of events come together making for a unique time, it is a Kairos time.
We are in a Kairos time. The crises unfolding on campuses around the country along #BlackLivesMatter have created a unique season that happens maybe once or twice in a generation.
This current crisis is happening due to a confluence of at least three events:
- They are occurring because of echoes of unresolved ethnic and race issues of the past. Some people have been marginalized, overlooked, and for some time. Behaviors may have changed, but not structures and systems, which means we have dealt with “the fruit, not the root” of our issues. Dr. King, in quoting Victor Hugo remarked, “’Where there is darkness, crime will be committed.’ The guilty are not merely those who commit the crime, but those who cause the darkness.”
- We are witnessing a shift in our culture with social media. People are connected more than ever before. They can share their experiences, whether joyous or painful. Here are a few articles that demonstrate the level of connectedness of this generation because of social media.
- I also believe it’s by divine providence. None of these issues are new. We don’t know why they have become a tipping point, but we as a collegiate ministry must not only observe the times, we must speak into the times to help our students navigate the complexities of living out their faith in the 21st century.
Responding to Our Kairos Time: 5 Suggestions
Here are a five practical suggestions for how to respond in a time of crisis:
1. Create a Crisis Timeline and Plan for Response.
A crisis timeline is a framework chapter or staff can use to determine how, when, and where to respond to events as they unfold. We cannot respond to everything, but there are strategic moments in which our responses can advance or hinder or ministry to college students. To help know if/when to respond, ask questions like:
- What happened? Has this incident happened before? Is this the first or the next incident in a series of incidents?
- Did they happen at or away from an IV chapter?
- What’s the fallout of the event?
- Did it affect a student, a group of students? The campus? The city? The state?
Help our students Christologically interpret events—how racism on campus distorts the image of God in people, insults the ethnic identity to which God blessed a person with, and attempts to question to value of a human life.
The hope is to help our students Christologically interpret events—how racism on campus distorts the image of God in people, insults the ethnic identity to which God blessed a person with, and attempts to question to value of a human life.
Then plan for a response. Here are some general rules of thumb I suggest for response: If an event happens on campus that is affecting our students, a campus staff needs to respond. If the fallout continues to expand and multiple chapters are engaged, a staff director should consider having a ministry of presence* at a large group or event. If the president of the school makes a public address, a regional director should probably send an email.
This process is similar to Jesus upon hearing about the death of Lazarus. He gets the scope and fallout of Lazarus’ death, and then waits for the appointed time to respond.
These crises warrant the salt and light of Christian community to speak truth and hope. Is your community prepared to respond?
2. Connect with Christian Faculty on campus.
Christian faculty, and in this instance Christian Black faculty, most times have the pulse of campus. They know what events are stirring in students’ hearts. They will be aware of protests, cabinet meetings, and various responses from university faculty and students.
3. Look for Needs You Can Meet.
Locate places where you can serve by providing support, helping increase communication to students, or volunteering to provide water, snacks, and food. When University of Missouri was in crisis, for example, the InterVarsity chapter bought pizza for the entire Black Student Center which was greatly appreciated and quickly consumed (pictured right). For students who are unaware, these are great onramps to hear what’s happening in communities they do not frequent.
For students of color, we demonstrate a ministry of presence and support as they discern what to do next. When I was in Ferguson at the Christian Black Scholars Conference, local Pastor Traci Blackmon said, “Those students told me, ‘We are afraid, we don’t know what to do, but we are not going to stop.’”
We serve 18-22 year-olds that have a fire inside of them. As Christians, we help them channel that fire into something that becomes productive and advances the kingdom, rather than something destructive. In short, we help them to bake a cake, not burn down the house.
4. Be aware of Social Media
It’s Jesus’ words to the disciples, “Who do the crowd’s say I am? Who do you say I am?”
We must be aware of what students are saying on campus and what they are saying about Jesus, because we are there to help them understand who our Lord is.
If you’re not on Social Media, get on an outlet. Even if it’s overwhelming, check Twitter or Facebook once a week. It is this generation’s method of communication. The vehicle with which they communicate may be different but their message is the same across generations.
Check to see what’s trending or ask students if there are items we need to be aware of as we care for the entire campus and want to be salt and light.
Even if it is overwhelming, check Twitter or Facebook once a week. It is this generation’s method of communication and a vital tool to learn the diversity of campuses responses.
As a campus staff, social media was a vital tool for me to learn the diversity of campus responses after numerous racial incidents: when a Chinese student was seriously injured at a fraternity party and the Asian fraternities and sororities were hurting, or when the Caesar Chavez statue was erected, or when a group held an Affirmative Action Bake sale to offend Black and Latino students, or if there were white students involved in ministries that misunderstood because of previous painful events.
It is not enough to save the soul and never address the context in which that soul will be placed. We need to know what’s happening on our campuses outside of our chapters. Social media is an indispensable resource for understanding our context. Use it.
5. Be Peacemakers
The IVP New Bible Dictionary defines peace as, “shalom, completeness, soundness, well-being.” Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice, righteousness, and the end of oppression. Sometimes being a peacemaker means being prayerful and avoiding conflict. Sometimes being a peacemaker means stepping into conflicts to demonstrate how to love, listen and lead.
There are two forms of action I think chapters must take: spiritual action and physical action. We must be people of deep and consistent prayer. We do not fight against people, but ultimately against spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6). If we model only physical action, but not spiritual action—namely prayer, fasting, and other spiritual practices—we communicate the issues are solvable by human effort.
We must also move beyond words into action. If we know there will be a peaceful demonstration on campus, how do we become salt and light there? We attend. We demonstrate our support. It’s ok to clap when the words of people align with the Scriptures and God’s Kingdom. We demonstrate as Christ’s ambassadors how to love people even if we disagree with them. Help pick up trash or send out messages on social media to show your support. Consider doing a proxe station that asks questions about racism, equality, justice. Shock your large groups and leaders by teaching a message that comes from the Scriptures and addresses the crisis in the newspaper.
Don’t Be Afraid to Engage, DO SOMETHING.
We love Jesus overturning money tables in the temple, but if Jesus did that today in any of our churches, we would go crazy! There is a way to engage peacefully with these events because we as communities of faith want to demonstrate our being allergic to injustice and racism in all of its ugly forms. Jesus’ word to His disciples and us from John 17:15 state, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”
It is not a mistake these events are happening in our lifetime. Not only is it Kairos moment that has created these events, but also that we are present to see and be a part of them. Our call as Christians is not merely to witness the times, but to speak into them. If we look did a crisis timeline of the past and discovered the ways silence destroyed cross-cultural church and eroded confidence in the church, imagine what could happen if we boldly and courageously engaged people and issues as Jesus did.
We would see students and faculty transformed, the campus would be renewed, and world-changers would be developed.
* Having a “Ministry of Presence” means we show up to a large group/small group. We are present and available to listen, grieve, speak to, and pray for students. It is not always saying the right thing, or doing the right thing, but simply being there to walk with students through unexpected valleys.^