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    a grilled cheese sandwich

    Grilled Cheese, Text Please

    Christian students on this secular campus aren’t hiding.

    By Andrew Berg

    December 27, 2023
    • Susan Boro

      Yes! Conversations. Creating comfortable environments and extending invitations to talk about meaningful things. I knew a young woman who went to Bosnia to share the gospel and ended up staying near 10 years ministering to refugees. I asked her “ What do you do with the people?” And she responded, “we have coffee together” I waited for more info, but she waited for me to ask more questions. I learned much from her. This article is refreshing, the things write about are exciting and encouraging. It’s wonderful to get a peek into this world. Think I’ll go make myself a grilled cheese..

    Conventional wisdom says that the college campus is where Christianity goes to die, and that those who do follow Jesus in college have to keep their beliefs well-hidden. And while studies show that is true for many students, for others, college is where their faith comes alive.

    This is a story about one such group of college students, living out their faith in public.

    “Any questions come in yet?” Claire calls out. Someone reloads the landing page, but shakes her head.

    It’s 7:10 p.m. on a Sunday night, but “Grilled Cheese, Text Please” is off to a slow start. Claire, a recent college graduate and intern with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, is standing around in a dormitory common room at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, with a dozen current students from Dickinson Christian Fellowship. Over the past three days, these students had spread the word on campus about a deal that seems too good to pass up: “Text us a question dealing with spirituality, and we’ll deliver a free grilled cheese sandwich to you and talk with you about your question!” Already, hot griddles sizzle with butter, as cheap white bread turns a crisp, golden brown. The smell of melted American cheese wafts down the hallways, temporarily overpowering the other odors in the dorm.

    A batch of sandwiches is ready to be delivered, but the first question has yet to arrive. Perhaps their peers aren’t hungry this early in the night, or maybe they’ve forgotten about the event. Students pull their phones out and start reminding friends. Others huddle and pray for their peers to take this small first step. They know the seemingly insignificant act of hospitality that comes with delivering a hot sandwich (costing much less than a dollar) can be a stepping stone to deep spiritual conversations and connections.

    In the past, some questions at Grilled Cheese, Text Please have been informational in tone, such as when a Jewish student asked for an explanation of Easter. A handful are silly – “Is God lactose intolerant?” Many bring up controversial topics: hell, sexuality, salvation, forgiveness.

    “I actually love this event because it forces us all to talk to each other about hard questions among ourselves, questions that people on campus are actually thinking about,” senior Antonia says. Syrhaiyah jumps in: “Yes, it’s just like the verse ‘as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ We’re sharpening each other, and even if we don’t arrive at a final answer.”

    Affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, these students are united in the most basic orthodox Christian doctrine but otherwise come from very diverse backgrounds, experiences, and theological traditions. These differences have – and still do – split churches, but at Grilled Cheese, Text Please, it’s just part of the package.

    Finally, a cheer goes up – the first question has arrived! It’s a classic: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Two students write down the name and location of the person who asked it, grab a sandwich wrapped in tinfoil, and prepare to head out the door. But before they leave, a discussion breaks out – one of the dispatched students has done a lot of study on the question of evil and is eager to share his knowledge and insight, but another student encourages him to start with a more pastoral and curious approach as he begins his conversation. A theologically correct monologue might technically answer the question, but an actual conversation that sparks spiritual curiosity is far better.

    a grilled cheese sandwich

    Photograph by George Dolgikh.

    To ensure the first delivery goes smoothly, Claire heads out with the students. An intern with InterVarsity, she has been excited all day: she graduated from a Christian college without a dominant secular culture, and this is her first ever Grilled Cheese, Text Please. She wonders what spiritual questions the non-Christian students will ask, and is eager to witness her student leaders having meaningful conversations with their peers. She plans to hang back and let them take the lead in answering the questions (while offering encouragement and suggestions en route).

    Later on, I’ll ask Claire what she’s been learning about ministry to Gen Z college students at this mostly secular campus. She says, “I am seeing more and more students who have a faith background but end up abandoning it either because they had a bad experience, or they just didn’t have anything pulling them back. But I was surprised that even though that was the case for several students I talked to, they aren’t hostile or bitter toward God – they actually seem to want to reconnect to their spirituality. Two people even asked essentially the same question: ‘How can I connect more with my spirituality?’ It honestly just confirmed that campuses are actually fertile soil for the gospel.”

    An InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter has existed at Dickinson, with ups and downs, for close to eighty years. For many students who have been involved, this liberal arts college has been a place where their faith has grown in leaps and bounds, and where they made their parents’ faith their own. The current student president for Dickinson Christian Fellowship, Elizabeth, tells me: “I’m actually worried that when I graduate from the campus bubble, it will be so much harder to share my faith with people around me.” As I express surprise, she explains that now, when she tells her non-Christian friends about Bible study, worship nights, and events like Grilled Cheese, Text Please, they’re neither dismissive, nor patronizing, nor hostile, but instead intrigued. Even if they are not ultimately interested in faith, they generally respect her beliefs.

    On this chilly fall evening, twenty students text in their spiritual questions. Twenty hot grilled cheese sandwiches. Twenty conversations about God that would not otherwise have occurred.

    One Christian student leader discovers that two of the people who texted questions are in her math class, so she invites them to check out her Bible study. Another student reconnects with a friend she hadn’t seen all semester. Even a silly question creates a meaningful moment: a question about God’s favorite cheese leads to a discussion about how the on-campus Bible studies are facilitated.

    Grilled Cheese, Text Please is a goofy event with a silly name. But through it, student leaders learn skills that go beyond slathering butter and peeling apart slices of cheese. Little by little, they gain practice discussing hard topics, responding to their generations’ deepest questions about God, and pointing the way to Jesus.

    One piece of processed cheese and two slices of bread at a time.

    Contributed By AndrewBerg2 Andrew Berg

    Andrew Berg serves as Area Director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in central Pennsylvania, supervising staff, volunteers, and student leaders at fifteen colleges.

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