Spiritual thriving at TWU
by Jack Taylor
The stands were packed for chapel at Trinity Western University. Students from many different backgrounds sang out “Be Thou My Vision” and “Let this be true, that all of my heart for all of my life belongs to you.” Students were there because they wanted to be, and that must be a relief to those concerned about life at the University after the signing of a mandatory Community Covenant was dropped.
Perhaps this has to do with the quality of the 270 student leaders charged with the DNA of the university. Every one of them has a mentor discipling them to be like Christ. A new initiative is targeting global leaders to engage in the process.
Abel Vargis, a 3rd year Psych. Major, arrived at TWU from Ontario interested in the Spartan soccer program. He was welcomed warmly and now functions as a D-group leader for eight young men. “The key to growing spiritually on campus has everything to do with the people here,” he says. “TWU is a positive community where the leaders help us grow as disciples of Christ. We might come from different denominations,” he says, “but here we feel like we’re all part of the one body of Christ.”
Raised in a missionary family
Eva De Souza, a 3rd year Nursing student agrees. She was raised in a missionary family and her sister, Stephanie, first attended the CanIL linguistic program on campus. Her constant Skype reports to the family encouraged her parents to push for a Trinity education. The programs have been beyond her expectations. “The profs are caring and bring the Christian perspective into everything we learn. Our dorm leaders, at every meeting, call us to remember that it is all about Jesus. Only what’s done for him will last.”
Sharon Roy is in her 4th year of the International Studies program. Her dad is from India and her mom from Korea. She shuffled back and forth between the two countries during her parent’s missionary career. Her father studied at ACTS and they found that TWU was a cheaper option for international studies. She says that she has always felt challenged to grow spiritually. “At TWU, it is always a personal choice on how you will grow.” One thing that still amazes her is that students talk openly about Jesus. International students are still amazed at how everything is geared to talking about becoming like Jesus.
A non-Christian in a Christian university
Matthew Bender is in his 4th year, studying Human Kinetics. He didn’t come to TWU as a Christian but was challenged by student leaders regarding his life choices. It was on a mission trip to Hawaii with Habitat for Humanity, less than a year ago, where other Trinity students had the transformational discussions that led to his commitment to Christ. He was overwhelmed when he was told that there had been a group of students and faculty praying for him during his first years of free living.
An offspring of TWU alumni
Lincoln Nikkel is an offspring of TWU alumni but didn’t want to come just because of that. He arrived full of his own anxieties and fears. His RA challenged him to share his testimony. As he did, he wept, experienced the supportive care of his dorm mates, and felt freed from the heavy weight of worrying what people thought of him. Even his hockey team coach and some of the players stepped up to speak truth into his life. He now functions as a Community Facilitator for the Resident Advisors in Fraser Hall.
A leader of Student Life at TWU
Richard Taylor, VP of Student Life at TWU, says that leaders are being challenged to practice “spiritual wellness in the midst of an anxious generation” by being thankful, prayerful, peaceful (Phil. 4:4-8). He says that “our mission within Student Life (as part of the overall Trinity mission) is to ‘invite all students to connect, thrive, and serve in a dynamic Christ-centered learning community where they develop as maturing disciples, thoughtful global citizens, and compassionate servant leaders.’”
Spiritual growth is available through voluntary daily chapels, Sunday night live worship, discipleship groups, spiritual retreats, integrated learning in classrooms, and intentional investment and personal dialogue through student leaders.
De Souza, in a moment of vulnerability, admits that “Trinity is a broken community, continually being redeemed. Instead of students having to decide through a covenant how far they can go without crossing the line, they can now focus on determining how close they will get to Jesus. TWU is not a place where I need to, or have to, follow Jesus. It’s a place where I get to follow Jesus. From the top down, we are encouraged to live out our love for Christ by loving others.”
President Bob Kuhn, repeatedly, was given kudos for setting the tone at TWU over these last five years. His choice to leave vacation early to spend a weekend with student leaders spoke volumes to all about the value he places on those who are being deliberately discipled. “It’s every layer, from the top down, which makes Trinity a special place to be,” says Nikkel.
It seems clear that the intentional effort to expose students to the world with caring Christian mentors continues to make a difference. TRAC leader, Jordan Kowalski was impacted for his life mission while on the Golan Heights and in a Bethlehem refugee camp. Abel was also impacted while on a separate trip to Israel. Matthew was in Hawaii on the Habitat for Humanity trip.
Taylor concludes, “As our campus diversifies, we need to be more committed to our faith than ever before. The Richmond campus is almost entirely international. We have great opportunities but fulfilling our vision and mission as an institution in these challenging times requires us to focus on developing a dynamic mentorship community moving beyond the formal programs (as important as they are) to one-on-one relationships with wise mentors, dedicated faculty, and committed peers who lead students to a living relationship with Jesus. We want them to develop spiritual disciplines that will carry them throughout their lives. We envision a generation ready to share the hope, truth, and reconciliation of Jesus’ love. So far, we have strong building blocks, but we are going to significantly increase our investment over the next few years.”