The Need for Interns

Elizabeth Turnage  |  January 13, 2017

Hannah grew up in church. An active leader in her high school youth ministry, she was seen by her community as “solid in her faith.” No one could have anticipated that the universalist thinking of liberal academia would draw her in as it did (nor that she’d find it at a Christian college). But when she moved home after freshman year, she wanted nothing to do with Christianity, saying she was considering various religions, since, after all, “all roads lead up the mountain.”

Alix had been a Christian since she was 5. She was a popular girl in high school and looked forward to pledging a sorority with her friends in college. Her single mom worried about the tales of drunkenness and casual sex at the large public university. At Christmas break, Alix came home depressed. Her happy affect had changed; she hardly left her room, and she didn’t want to hang out with her friends. She finally told her mom, “I’m not me anymore. I party too much, I don’t study, and guys are so mean.”

These are slightly fictionalized stories of two female college students that my daughter, an RUF intern, has worked with.  

As the mother of one intern who has already done a three year stint and another who, with her husband has completed one year and is beginning her second, I want readers to see and understand what interns do. I’m a little weary of people thinking campus ministry offers college graduates the opportunity to play for a couple more years before they move on to a “real job.” This is real, down and dirty work, front-line stuff in the battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil for students’ hearts. This is the hard labor of faith, hope, and love.

Why Campus Ministry?

Before we look at what interns do, let’s consider the college experience, a mixed bag of the “best of times, the worst of times.” That experience may include…

an exciting global culture where students interact with diverse cultures, meeting people who speak different languages (“southern” or Japanese:-), states, nations, and religions.
an opportunity to mature and discover who they’re called to be.
a treacherous classroom where Christian students are sometimes called narrow-minded by so-called open-minded professors and students who are in fact tolerant of everything except Christianity.
a fun football-filled Saturday. (In some cases, followed by a drunken Saturday night and a head-hung Sunday morning).
a place and time to meet forever friends.
a place where they may know the deepest shame, isolation, and doubt.

RUF campus interns come alongside students wherever they are on the continuum of college life and offer true hope.

How might a Campus Intern from RUF help Hannah or Alix?

Think back to the stories of Hannah and Alix. Interns may not know all of the theological answers to Hannah’s questions yet, but they know how to listen and engage. They may not have experienced the “mean guys,” Alix described (as it turned out, that meant “date rape”), but they know that knowing Jesus’ suffering helps them sit with someone who is in pain (and that this student will need lots of resources to deal with her tragedy). Mostly, they know that the only One who is enough — for them, for their students — is Christ, the One who died and was raised from the dead, that we might live in an entirely new way, freed from performance-ism, forgiven for sin, resting in our Savior.

Yes, an RUF intern spends a lot of time hanging out with students. But in their everyday work, they encounter evil in its various forms and face it down with the redeeming love of the victorious Christ. Their work is to invite believers, unbelievers, and anyone in between to know the true story of the gospel.

What does an RUF Campus Intern’s Life Look Like?

Calling students whose parents have expressed an interest in their student being part of the ministry and leaving messages that are never returned. Calling them again. And again.
Getting together with the one out of 20 of those students that return their call and listening to their hearts.
Calling, emailing, and writing potential supporters to ask for prayers and financial support —
Praying about the pressure of raising a full-time salary (a 50-60 hour work week is not unusual!) of at least $35,000, depending on cost of living.
Studying serious gospel-rich theology like Martin Luther’s Spiritual Depression and the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Meeting —  with the student ministry team, large group, and for mentoring with an ordained campus minister who leads the local RUF.
Leading small group Bible studies; discipling student ministry team leaders who are continuing to grow in the gospel in college.
Offering counsel to a girl who has made her boyfriend her savior and pointing her to Christ as the only one who can save.
Standing in the hot sun during the campus organization week trying to lure students to the RUF booth with popsicles and maybe a puppy if you’re lucky.
Following up with students they meet with more phone calls.
Waiting and watching for mustard seeds to grow. And watching some more. And sometimes feeling extremely discouraged and very vulnerable to the evil one’s whisper that their work doesn’t matter or make a difference.

So very fun. And so very hard, some days. And most of them would say, so very worth it. So, how can we support these front-line warriors, fighting to change campus culture?

Pray. No, I mean, right now. Let’s not talk about it — let’s do it —

“Dear Mighty, Saving, Merciful, Holy God, thank you for your work on college campuses. Thank you for these laborers you have sent to sow and grow the hope of the gospel in students’ lives. Please forgive me for forgetting to pray for them and support them.”

Give. (Personal opinion — feel free to disregard:-) – I think it’s good to pray and give for either 1) someone you know, because you’re more personally involved with them, or 2) someone at a local college or a college you are familiar with — you went there, your child went there, you like to root for them in basketball:-)!

Write them. If you do pray or give, you will receive a newsletter occasionally, in which they try to describe the joys and acknowledge the heartache (RUF interns know the gospel allows honesty). Instead of junking that email or tossing that letter, why not jot them a quick note with a little prayer or verse or thank you inside? They need to know someone besides their mama cares about what they do!

Should you, as a parent, have specific questions about the RUF Internship please visit ruf.org/internships. Elizabeth Turnage is a wife, mom of 4, story coach and writer. For more gospel-centered posts, please visit her personal blog at  elizabethturnage.com.