Encountering God in a Pandemic
The Redeemer community has found creative ways to lean into the love of God through community despite socially distant times.
4 min. read
March 22, 2021

Opportunities to connect with God and each other to worship and grow spiritually at Redeemer looked a bit different this year, but God is still present and moving. Redeemer aims to integrate faith into all aspects of life and learning for its students. While the classroom is a key part of this process, the university also offers many other opportunities for spiritual growth and for connecting with God and others.

“We’re aiming to equip students for lives of service under the lordship of Christ,” says Josiah Bokma, Redeemer’s chaplain.

As chaplain, Bokma, in collaboration with the chapel team, residence life staff, student leaders and faculty, leads the Redeemer community through a variety of spiritual touch points throughout the year. These include weekly chapel, spiritual and pastoral care, discipleship groups and a variety of other events designed to help students fully accept the love of Jesus and grow in their journey with him. “We want to instigate a sense of the thrill of power and truth of Christ’s Kingdom,” he says.“God is way bigger than we imagine!”

But with the arrival of COVID-19 in Ontario, it became clear that the usual spiritual activities and rhythms on campus would need to change. With virtual meeting fatigue becoming a hurdle, Bokma knew things would need to play out differently. “We have to persevere in being creative with community, for the love of others, not just ourselves.”

We want to instigate a sense of the thrill of power and truth of Christ’s Kingdom…God is way bigger than we imagine!

With this in mind, Bokma, along with student leaders involved with spiritual activities and ministries, set out with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of purpose.

“Instead of just repeating what’s been done before, it was really interesting to rethink things,” says Matthew Lewis, chair of the spiritual activities and services committee (SASC) of student senate. He worked with the committee to implement a number of new ideas and twists on well-loved activities. They created a prayer walk with different stations around campus with a focus on peace and solitude. Students could visit the stations and pray, then walk and pray. “We wanted to access how students were feeling about the pandemic, let them sit in silence and walk with God.”

HotSpot, a regular worship night at Redeemer, was transformed into Mobile HotSpot. Rather than gathering together for worship, dorms booked time slots and the musicians and worship leaders came to them. Dormmates could then worship together with their own household. Lewis says he heard a lot of great feedback about this event. “This is what many students were longing for. They just wanted to be able to come together and sing praises.”

The Common Ground, the men’s ministry at Redeemer, also had to get creative about their activities. “Zoom is nice and it’s easy, but at the end of the school day, nobody wants to do another Zoom call,” said Rowan Scott, one of The Common Ground’s leaders.

Instead Scott and his co-leader Johnathan Gordon put their heads together to come up with a weekly email newsletter that included video testimonies, a devotional and links to other resources. Then they encouraged readers to get together within their dorms and talk about what they had heard and learned. “Even though we’re not meeting, we’re all talking about the same things. In that way, we still feel like part of the community,” said Gordon. “A big word that came up for me was peace. If our newsletter could bring a moment of peace, we wanted to be vessels of that.”

The Common Ground also had some fun within the provincial health guidelines during times when restrictions were loosened. To promote awareness of the men’s ministry they organized a disc golf tournament on campus that observed health guidelines. Over the summer they also reached out to students with a plan to make a physically distanced visit with their free-coffee van. “Some of these people hadn’t had any human interaction in a couple of months,” said Gordon. “We figured we’d see what’s going on in their lives and make sure they’re okay.” The free-coffee van was outfitted with Christmas lights, lo-fi music, a hanging plant and of course, free coffee. “It was one of the most joyful days of the summer!” said Gordon.

Bokma has been encouraged by the Redeemer community. Not only have faculty and staff worked hard to care for students well, he says, but student leaders have also been creative in reaching out to provide community. In the spirit of Song of Solomon 8:5, his hope is that Redeemer comes out of this wilderness season leaning on our beloved, Jesus, and his beloved, the church. His prayer is that we emerge from the pandemic more in love with Christ and more united as his church.

“The collective level of anxiety has been really high,” Bokma laments. “We’ve all been stretched in that way. We aren’t self-sufficient. We can’t be all, we don’t know all, but God’s grace is available for us, right now, every day, all day.”

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