Belhaven University and Jackson State University are distinctly different. JSU is a large, historically African American, state-run university, while Belhaven is a small, Christian Liberal Arts institution. The Tigers compete athletically within the NCAA, and the Blazers are in the NAIA. However, in addition to sharing residence within the Capital City, there is one very distinct common bond between the two schools.
The Gospel is actively at work on both campuses and in particular has brought the campuses together through Reformed University Fellowship.
Two years ago, Elbert McGowan, campus minister of the first RUF at a historically African American college, and Chad Smith, in his second year as RUF campus minister at Belhaven, joined together to take students from the two schools to New Orleans for Spring Break. Instead of normal Spring Break activities, these students gave up their vacation to work, helping St. Roch Community Church and Desire Street Ministries with Katrina relief in the 8th Ward. This was far from an ordinary Spring Break roadtrip. According to Chad, what happened there was “nothing short of heavenly.”
During the week, the students were not only able to serve and minister to the residents of the damaged community, but also also strengthen a brand new community that God had formed between the two schools. Since then, JSU and Belhaven students have regularly attended RUF meetings together on both campuses, along with getting together frequently during their free time.
According to Smith, “Our relationship with Jackson State RUF has been like a taste of Heaven, because we’ve realized that when two different groups of people fellowship around a common bond as strong as Jesus, the fellowship and bond are sweeter.”
McGowan agrees, and feels that it is healthy for the church as a whole to connect in such a way. ”We must truly be the church that Paul described,” he says, “Neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.”
One week this past fall, the groups switched things around, with the JSU worship team and McGowan leading the Belhaven RUF gathering on Tuesday night, and Smith taking the BU group to the Jackson State campus to lead on Thursday night. The two ministers, close friends since their days at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, are also planning even more collaborations this semester as well.
“It’s been great for our students to see how another RUF functions,” says Smith. “It’s been a good way for them to see the whole body of Christ and that the Kingdom is bigger than just one group.”
The students also feel the importance of keeping the bond healthy. Bryan Grove from Jackson State told the collective group in the fall that “we might as well start hanging out now so we don’t die of culture shock when we get to heaven!”
Two years ago in New Orleans, the Gospel broke down cultural barriers through work in a hurting community by a bunch of college students. Today, the Gospel is keeping those barriers down, by bringing a taste of Heaven to Jackson through the community of RUF at Jackson State and Belhaven.
(Mission to North America wrote a story on the New Orleans trip for their Winter 2009 Multiply publication. The story can be found here.)