From Monday 4th to Friday 9th February, Cambridge University played host to a week of events exploring what Jesus has to offer students in the 21st Century. Michael Ramsden set up base for the week and led a RZIM team that included the Cambridge-educated neuroscientist Dr Sharon Dirckx and Hassan John, who had travelled all the way from Nigeria.
Speakers from the ministry were involved in front-line work each day through casual lunchtime talks and packed-out evening events, held at the historic St Andrew the Great Church in the heart of the city.
“How often do we pause and ask ourselves where we are going?”
Toby Saer, president of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, believes that weeks like this are important in the flow of a university’s life because “how often do we pause and ask ourselves where we are going?”. It is especially important for these students, at this time, in this place. As Toby says, “not only are our own lives and personalities probably changing more than they ever have before or will again, but we know we have a part to play in the transformation of the global society around us.”
For Cambridge students, it is vital for them to have a forum to listen to, and engage with, Oxford and Cambridge graduates who bear witness in their professional lives. With that in mind, the week was launched with Michael in conversation with Sharon about her latest book, Am I Just My Brain?, a work that mines her background in neuroscience to explore the very nature of religious belief and human identity.
Being in Cambridge had a different resonance for itinerant speaker Hassan, “Let me say that Cambridge has had a tremendous history with Nigeria. Christianity was introduced to Nigeria right from Cambridge, they brought the Cross, they bought education and they bought health. So, coming here is like reliving history for me.
“It’s also an excitement for me to meet with the students and answer whatever questions they may have and to be able to help build the faith of those who are Christians already and are having struggles. But more importantly, to establish the faith that we all have and that we all share. And we are praying that we will have many more come into this wonderful loving relationship with Jesus Christ.”
That relationship with Jesus Christ was front and centre of Michael’s mind on the Wednesday night as he spoke to an enrapt full house on the subject of discovering your identity in Jesus. That night, Michael, in his own inimitable way, laid down a challenge to the students, “I don’t know what you may think being a Christian is, but if you think being a Christian is thinking certain things, experiencing certain things or doing certain things, you haven’t got to the heart of the Gospel.
“Being a Christian is meeting the person of Jesus Christ. It is encountering him. It is allowing him to change us, that we then become a new creation in him. He changes us.”
Oftentimes the focus of that change becomes deeply personal and sometimes we are blessed enough for that change to be shared directly with us. And we were so blessed on Wednesday night when Izzy, a second year Classics student, told us her story of how the Gospel changed her and her relationship with her dying mum.
“I became a Christian at the end of my first year, [my mum] was diagnosed with a brain tumour about six months later.”
For Izzy the abstract aspects of faith suddenly appeared very real and for her mum, what had previously been unimportant shifted to the forefront of her mind. Izzy’s mum was suddenly “desperate to hear about Jesus and hear about how she could get the same hope that I had to have eternal life. She became really soft-hearted towards the Gospel.
“It was so great to be able to share that with her in her last year, read the Bible with her and pray together. I think that was a very helpful experience to have as a young Christian because it helped me to see how important the Gospel is and how fundamentally it changes everything.”
Whether it was students engaging with Hassan and his stories of putting his life on the line for his faith in Nigeria, Sharon telling of her journey from “happy agnostic” to happy apologist or Michael sharing Scripture with a weight of understanding and then huddling late into the night to answer people’s deepest questions, the ministry made its evangelism matter on every level on Christians who will go on to shape the world.