Like any Obie, whenever I’m asked what is the one word that defines me, many words come to mind. Scientific. Musical. Intelligent. Compassionate. Overcommitted. Energetic. Driven. These qualities seem to make up a pretty incredible person (though, in actuality, a pretty alright person), but Oberlin has taught me that I am above all of these superficial qualities. Still, the most uplifting definition of my being would be loved.
Growing up in a nondenominational, Protestant home for my entire life, faith has always been at the center of my existence. I was always active with my church community, which extended beyond the building where I attended Sunday school every week. Reading scripture, praying, and fellowship with other Christians were part of my daily routine. However, as I read about such topics as grace, peace, long-suffering, goodness, love, and perfection, I couldn’t fully relate. Many of these words had an ethereal, heavenly ambiance, too intangible for my mind to grasp and for my actions to perform. And when I would land on the precipice of understanding these concepts, I experienced many feelings of self-righteousness
It all started to change when I joined Oberlin Christian Fellowship at the start of my freshman year. Oberlin Christian Fellowship (OCF), as I would later learn, is a chapter of the larger Intervarsity USA, an evangelical campus mission serving students and faculty on college and university campuses nationwide that aims to see students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world changers developed. Despite this grandiose statement, OCF seemed at first like any other Christian group on any college campus. They held weekly worship and expository preaching meetings with all the members of the organization (called “Large Groups"), organized small bible studies based on members’ interests (called “Small Groups"), and held prayer meetings throughout the week.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that this group was more than your average Christian college organization. They helped me to realize that all of the concepts I had been struggling with were not as insubstantial as I thought. Such words as love were more than just words; they were a reality. People within this community — or family rather — had strong desires for social justice and impact, and they wanted to bring all of their friends on campus into this family, including me. They acted out the words of Jesus in actual ways that were rarely seen in my Christian group in high school. I could watch the hungry being fed, the needy being clothed, and, most of all, the strongest feeling of love towards all people of kindreds, nations, and tongues. This completely shattered the ethereal nature of faith and completely humbled me to the point of wanting to reshape who I was as a person.
This reshaping and grappling with faith in order to make my theology a reality was further propelled by my newfound on-campus family. Whenever I would go to Large Group or my freshman-associated Small Group, I would be grounded in a community that allowed me to explore how grace and love factored into my day-to-day life. Because of OCF, I was able to take such classes as Under the Banner of Science: The Crusade Against Evolution, and Traditional African Cosmology, which challenged various aspects of my faith in many cultural and scientific settings. Because of OCF, I was able to begin giving meaning to the community engagement work I was doing as a Bonner Scholar (a scholarship based in community service for low-income and underrepresented students) at Oberlin Community Services, creating safe spaces for people throughout Oberlin and providing food assistance to those less fortunate. Because of OCF, I could further explore other areas in my life that had always been sheltered because of my conservative hometown environment, such as race, gender, sexuality, and their related stereotypes.
My family at Oberlin has shown me love in many ways and on countless occasions. And I have become more and more involved to the point where I now coordinate our weekly Friday night Large Group. The only way that I could truly get anyone to understand how much grace and affection I have been given is to, in the words of Jesus, allow them to “come and see” what we are all about. And trust me, I hope to extend the same love, if not more, to anyone who walks through our doors, so that all can feel the agape given at Oberlin Christian Fellowship.