Josh Irving, Auckland Team Leader, shares what’s happening on campuses across Tāmaki Makaurau
Whenever someone asks me about student mission in Auckland, I’m tempted to respond, “Which Auckland are we talking about?”
The seven Auckland campuses with current TSCF groups all differ significantly: they’re geographically scattered, some more central and some further out; they’re different in size and in the number and type of subjects offered; and, for all those reasons and more, each campus has its own distinct student culture.
The key challenge of student mission in Auckland is to know which “Auckland” we’re in and what opportunities that presents for students wanting to live out their faith in Jesus. So far this year, the major encouragements for me have come from students who are engaging prayerfully and creatively with their contexts.
After some years without a TSCF presence at AUT North Campus, it’s been exciting to see a new group form. This “Auckland” has a growing concentration of students in health sciences, education, and sport and recreation. To put it another way, it’s a mix of nursing uniforms and activewear.
The new group started with two willing students—one training in occupational therapy, the other in podiatry. Even before their first official meeting, they were joined by a nursing student who saw them praying and wanted to join a Bible study! Throughout the course of the semester, mainly through hostel connections, the group has grown to involve students in paramedicine, physiotherapy, and psychology. In short, two students have become ten, and a few are revisiting Christian faith or considering it for the first time.
So, what does mission in that context look like? In addition to reading Luke’s Gospel together, the students decided their missional rhythm had to involve spikeball (think volleyball but hitting down against a mini trampoline-like net). The hope is to be more visible on campus, to lower the stakes for others to join in, and to build community. And while it’s early days, spikeball has already created space for new students to connect, and one seeker who’s committed to journeying through Luke this semester.
The world on our campuses
One of the many things Covid is to answer for is the drop in international student numbers in recent years. Steadily, however, our international friends are returning. At the beginning of Semester Two, the influx was so great, and sign-ups so plentiful, that a couple of our student groups had to re-think their plans. The “Auckland” they’re now engaging with on their campuses is quite often Chinese, and also Indian, South American, and Pasifika.
Remarkably, TSCF’s international student ministry at Massey Albany alone saw 101 international students sign up for our English Corner, Bible study, and/or field-trips—many coming with little or no understanding of Jesus. In view of this, it’s been heartening to see TSCF Massey (another student group from the same campus) also getting involved with the international student community. TSCF Massey are now trialling an interactive evening gathering, led by two Christian international students, to complement their existing lunch-time Bible study.
The Overseas Christian Fellowship (OCF), based at the University of Auckland’s city campus, are also rediscovering the “O” in their name. While signups were modest in number, the opportunity before them was clear enough during re-orientation week as more translation happened at the club stall. So, they decided to shift their study through the book of Daniel to another day, opening their usual Friday slot for a more accessible exploration of the “I am” statements in John’s Gospel.
The re-build continues
God is evidently working in and through our Auckland student groups. The missional impetus and stories of growth are deeply encouraging. Yet, significant challenges remain for staff and students as we re-build following the pandemic.
For one thing, there is another “Auckland” that exists in large part online and may only venture to campus for compulsory tutorials. We need wisdom as we respond to the still-changing campus contexts in our region.
Finally, the sheer size of Tāmaki Makaurau continues to stretch our staff team. For this reason, we give all praise to God for sending us two new staff in Lance and Katie Knight; their appointment is a tremendous answer to years of prayer for our region. And I invite you to continue praying for Auckland—that God would build our team and lead us forward, that more students will come to know, love, and worship God with their whole lives.