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Connecting to College Students during Transitions

Arnav is a student at a state university. He was involved in youth group in high school, and he attended church regularly—at least twice a month. As he entered college, however, he found himself unsure and out of his element. Friendships he had known since middle school were now spread out across the country, and, according to what he saw on Instagram, all of them seemed to be happily settling in. Arnav, though, was not happily settling in. Since starting college, he has felt sad and upset. If he were honest, he would he would have to admit that he is lonely. He feels an awful lot like he did at the beginning of middle school, except he can’t go home and the stakes seem so much higher now.  

This post is the third in a three-part series about ministering to those who are walking with Jesus in their post-high school and pre-family-of-their-own years.

Arnav stops by the college mail center to pick up a package. Who is sending him something? As he sees the stickers and distinctive, loopy handwriting of his DCE, he knows at once who sent the package. In fact, he even knows what he will find inside. Last year at this time (was that really only a year ago?), he had helped pack college care packages as part of a Wednesday-night youth group activity. Inside the box are cookies, crazy socks he will never wear, microwave mac and cheese, and a phone-charging cord.

Letters from Community

The most meaningful part of the package is not the cord or the cookies, however, but the letters inside. He read a letter from his pastor that reminds him that a Real. Present. God. loves him lavishly. Instantly, Arnav is back inside US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis with his DCE and youth group, enjoying the Toby Mac concert and enjoying fellowship with other youth of the church.

His heart full, he opens another letter—this one from the woman who baked the cookies. She sends a short, sweet note to let him know that she and her women’s circle are praying for him and encouraging him to find a local church to attend.

Finally, Arnav opens the note at the bottom of his care package. Inside is a photo of his youth group from the night they packed the college care packages. In the note, his DCE asks him who he is talking to and encourages him to call small-group leaders from his home church—but also to find new people he can have real, honest conversations with. She also reminds him that the first part of college life is often hard and lonely and shares that some of his friends are feeling out of sorts. Maybe he can reach out to them.

The Need for Community

That night, as Arnav tucks into his midnight snack of mac and cheese from the care package, he opens his Bible and reflects on the way God has shown up for him that day. He finds himself turning to Psalm 46 and rereading familiar passages as memories from pre-Youth Gathering Bible studies and NYG mass events flood his mind. His heart feels so much lighter somehow, and he asks God to help him find a church where he can connect with people in his college community. As Arnav gets ready to turn in for the night, he sends an Instagram message to Ana, his youth group friend who went to college in another state.

How about you? Is your church near a college? Are there students nearby to whom you might extend a place of fellowship and community? How many “Arnavs” are close by your church’s property, needing the Gospel as they try to navigate their college years? Let us pray that our congregations can be a place of home away from home for college students and all who are in need of a Savior!


In transitions, we find pressure to have everything together, but we will never be perfect. During the Patience and Perfection CPH FaithCourse …

 Find Peace in God's Plan for You

Written by

Shelli Haynes

Shelli serves as assistant youth and family minister at Red Hill Lutheran in Tustin, California. She has been a DCE in Southern California churches for twenty-one years! Shelli holds a BA from Concordia University in Irvine and a MA in family ministry from Concordia University in Seward. Shelli is wife to Travis and mama to two daughters, Megan and Mandy. She and her family love the beach, backyard badminton, and Giants baseball.

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