MANHATTAN, Kan. (BP) – The baptism services closing out the semester for Christian Challenge at Kansas State University have become consistent, though anything but routine. Each story represents a life changed, but also many lives invested.
It begins with director Robbie Nutter and extends through the staff. For Nutter, collegiate ministry at KSU has been his life since the Spring 1993 semester. That’s when his freshman year ended through his involvement in what was then called the Baptist Student Union, shortly before the name change. That continued through graduation and two years on staff before working in East Asia with the International Mission Board.
Even during his time away, Nutter maintained contact with Challenge. Director Bob Anderson, who has been in his position since 1972, discipled and corresponded with Nutter on the other side of the world. Nutter rejoined the staff in August 2002 and worked under Anderson until June 2013, at which point Anderson retired and Nutter became director.
Consistent connections as modeled to Nutter have remained with the ministry. The most obvious fruit bears witness during the baptism services.
“It’s become quite a celebratory thing,” Nutter said. “God has used it to reach lost people who come to see their friends and family baptized. A lot of students hear the Gospel and react to it.”
The services began around five years ago, held at a nearby lake. Family, friends and Bible study group members would hear testimonies.
“There would always be these amazing stories and I thought, ‘Why don’t we do this where people can hear them?’” Nutter said.
He asked for and received permission to use an auditorium in the student union, which included 500 stadium seats and a stage. Christian Challenge brought in a tank and filled it up. Cheering and even specially designed shirts from Bible study groups for those being baptized have accompanied the event. This year saw 28 baptisms, which Nutter said is in line with most years, adding that since placing an end-of-semester focus on baptisms, some patterns have emerged.
“We’ve learned more about evangelism as we’ve tracked the stories,” he said. “For one thing, we’ve seen very few students come to Christ through a single relationship or conversation. It usually takes several of both over the course of a semester or even years. It brings to mind the image of pulling someone away from something; it takes more than one person.”
Students are encouraged to make the most of the communal living that occurs in college, whether that’s the dorm or through the Greek system. Over the last few years, more struggles have surfaced, such as mental health issues, depression, thoughts of suicide and shame connected to sexual sin. And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the campus in a variety of ways that greatly limited interaction.
Challenge student leaders faced those with a goal of establishing relationships however possible and moving toward a Gospel conversation.
“Our staff cast a vision for them to be praying about where they lived,” Nutter said. “We weren’t the ones specifically trying to reach those students, but [Challenge student] leaders were.”
In particular, Nutter added that students were urged to get peers to read the Bible with them.
“If a student shows interest in Christ, lead them in that,” he said. “Help them read the Gospel and ask them two questions: ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘What is He asking of me?’ We tell them that their job isn’t to get their friends to believe, but for them to understand the claims that the Bible makes about Christ.”
The plan has brought many stories of collegians beginning a new relationship with Jesus.
This year, that included a freshman. From a rural area and now living in the relatively large city of Manhattan, he battled depression but found a community of believers with his newfound faith. It also included a student battling pornography. She had tried to keep it hidden but was eventually reminded of the purity found in a relationship with Jesus and now wants to tell everyone how He changed her life. In a previous case, another student who was baptized began sharing her story with a friend, who herself was baptized a year later.
The relationships built into collegiate ministry tend to stay. A recent family vacation to Moab, Utah, included a stop for a wedding officiated by Nutter. Yes, it was for two former students. No, that is not unusual.
Those connections last, but they can begin with seemingly little impact.
“When people ask me how well our ministry is going, sometimes I don’t know what to tell them,” Nutter said. “Sometimes we don’t see fruit in our own timing, but at the end of the semester we see how the Gospel is really having an impact. Nobody can argue with a story.”