Two rooms, 27 tables, 162 chairs, one hour and one Gospel message: all the ingredients to a Free Lunch on campus at UTD.
It seems like the one thing we keep talking about here is how much lunches have grown. From a maximum of around 80 students a year ago, to over 200 weekly this spring, it is certainly something to talk about.
The growth has made some of the logistics of lunch more difficult. Churches have risen to the challenge terrifically, and God has provided food for all these students, far more than we expected or imagined. We are still struggling to find a student or volunteer leader to facilitate discussions at each table, but the numbers are growing, and we now only have six or seven un-led tables, with 20 or so manned by a BSM member or church volunteer.
These table leaders do their best to engage the students who sit with them in conversation. We might ask about classes, the weekend, the students' families or religious backgrounds. After everyone has received food, we move into the discussion for the week. This semester we are talking about "Holy Vocabulary," words such as "sin," "love," "holy" and "justice."
We are more organized, having our leaders sit at the same table each week, which has served two good purposes. First, students can also sit at the same table week after week, which builds the relationship between the non-Christian and the BSM leader. Second, student leaders can let those they invite to lunch know what table they will be seated at, so it doesn't feel so daunting to enter a room for lunch with 200 strangers.
There are always some students who just come for the food. It is hard to get them to converse with you or answer any questions. They leave as soon as they've finished eating. We are happy to provide a free meal to these students, and hope eventually they question why we continue to do what we do and begin to consider the Gospel message. But, for those students who engage in discussion, free lunches are our best opportunity to reach out and share the Gospel. We intentionally structure our discussion questions so it is easy to lead into a Gospel message as conversation continues.
This week, I was able to share with someone before lunch even officially started. She and I were the only ones at my table, and I knew she had been coming to lunch all year, so I asked her what she liked about them. Her response was that, apart from the free food, which she appreciated, she really liked the opportunity to talk about religious things, because she didn't find that anywhere else on campus. She said most of the conversation she had outside of our lunches was about classes, homework and projects, but she liked the chance to come to lunch and discuss spiritual matters. She is Hindi and shared with me some of her beliefs, while also letting me tell her the main message of Christianity - the Gospel. She also told me she is planning to attend an event we are having later this week to hang out and get to know more people. Lord-willing, this relationship will continue to grow, so she will be able to hear and see more of the Gospel of our great Savior!
If lunches continue to grow as they have been doing this school year, we will have to rethink and restructure again. But what a good problem to have! We are praising God for the opportunity to reach so many students at UTD, and trusting him to continue providing the necessary ingredients.
Kinsey Cline is a campus missionary intern at the University of Texas at Dallas.