By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MARTIN — A college campus can be a frightening place for a first-time student.
Baptist Collegiate Ministry organizations can play a major role in helping incoming high school students adjust to college life, said Morgan Owen, BCM director at the University of Tennessee in Martin.
While some high school grads enter college with friends from hometown or church, many do not, Owen noted. BCMs provide incoming freshmen opportunities “to connect” with like-minded students, he said.
At UT-Martin, the BCM offers Survival, a four-day event for incoming students, freshmen and transfers.
The objective for Survival is to cultivate a faith-based community setting for incoming students as they make the adjustments to college, Owen said.
“The event is very evangelistic and missional,” he said.
Owen said the BCM Leadership Team chooses the various activities which include survival groups, large group worship and topic sessions, such as “How to Survive the Roommate,” “How to Survive Dating,” and “How to Survive the Social/Academic Setting of College.
“At various points of the four days the gospel is presented and upcoming BCM Mission trips are mentioned,” he continued. “Our desire is to see students come to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord and to understand that followers of Jesus are called to be on mission — which includes their new mission field — the UT Martin campus.”
During the event, students connect with six local churches through meals and activities, Owen added. “We encourage students to find a church home while in college.”
In the end, the objective is to assist new students with their spiritual, social, and emotional needs as they adjust to the college campus.”
In an interview with Radio B&R, Episode 20, Owen noted that after six years of the program, students still tell him that Survival “was the thing that really helped them make that leap onto the college campus.” Participation in Survival has grown from 40 that first year to 141.
First is the value of faith and community and the concept of “iron sharpens iron. They push one another and they encourage one another.”
Second, Owen continued, BCM allows students to explore and use their talents and gifts.
Third, BCMs can provide peace of mind for parents. As a parent who has had two daughters go through college and one still in school, Owen knows firsthand what it’s like to “let go” and let them explore who they are in their faith. BCM programs allow them to do that in a like-minded community, he observed.
And, finally, Owen said BCM provides an actual place (a facility) where students can go.
“It’s a place that they can go and enjoy being with others, a place that they can just hang out. The campus and the dorm sometime can be a frustrating place to be, and so that’s why we call our BCM a home away from home.”
As someone who has served as a BCM director for 16 years, Owen said his goal is to make the BCM a place where students can be accepted and grow in their faith to the point of taking steps forward — such as taking leadership roles, going on mission trips and sharing their faith with their peers.
“I think when students begin to take those steps, we can see the changes in their lives, and often times I see those students’ hearts break for their campus,” Owen said.
In addition, “I see their hearts break for the mission field,” he said. “They go. They’re nervous and scared. They come back and their hearts are broken for a place in our world that is in desperate need for the gospel.”
Owen is grateful to Tennessee Baptists for their support of 20 BCMs across the state through their gifts through the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
“When we support our BCMs, we are investing in those young people who will make the transition back into their communities and who will be our future youth ministers, pastors and missionaries,” Owen said.
In addition, Tennessee Baptists are investing in world missions when they support BCMs, he observed.
“I know for our students, we’ve seen our international ministry group reach out to students from Saudi Arabia and Japan.”
“It’s great to see our students have a passion for these students who are from other countries, who are hungry to hear about the American culture. But we try to get beyond that, in order that we get to share the gospel.”
Owen has invested his life in BCM because he saw firsthand what the ministry can accomplish when he was a student.
“I was really able to see the call that God had on my life. I was challenged because of that community, and I was pressed forward to seek out what that future is that the Lord had for me in ministry. I’m here today because of what BCM did in my life.”