Reflections on our weekend with Cornell University students

Posted by Stephen Witmer on October 3rd, 2016

Thanks, PCF, for sending my family and me to teach and encourage Cornell University students this past weekend. I spoke four times over the course of the three-day retreat, on the topic ‘The Gospel for All of Life,’ and we interacted with lots of students. We gathered at Camp of the Woods, a beautiful Christian retreat center in the spectacular Adirondack Mountains of New York.

Here are a few reflections on the weekend:

  • I was encouraged to see how God is working through Christian Union, a ministry to students on the eight Ivy League campuses. I’ve seen firsthand God’s work on the Harvard campus in past years, and it was great to see how He’s working at Cornell. These students were hungry for the Word, and they loved to linger in singing and praying. They were still going strong late on Saturday night, when I was nearing the point of exhaustion!
  • I felt God’s help in my talks. His help was apparent as some new, fresh thoughts came to me immediately before some of my talks and even in the course of some of them. I felt particular freedom and His particular enabling on Saturday night. It felt to me as though the Word was coming alive and connecting straight into the hearts of many of the students.
  • I was personally encouraged and convicted as we looked at ‘The Gospel for All of Life.’ I don’t want to ever move past the gospel: don’t want to get to a place where I’m bored with these central truths and seek to move beyond them. It was pleasant, rich, and fulfilling to linger this weekend on the core truths of our faith.
  • There was good fruit. In my interactions with the students, they seemed encouraged and helped. I know of a couple students who were doing deep business with God over the weekend. One person told me that the students were saying this was not teaching they had heard before in their churches, even though it was all fairly basic gospel teaching. I think that, far too often, our evangelical churches are assuming the gospel truth and then teaching on other things. But we simply cannot assume the gospel. If we assume it, the next generation never hears it and therefore doesn’t believe it.
  • I’m thankful for friendships that are centered on Jesus. I’ve been friends with Jim and Liz Thomforde, who lead the Christian Union ministry on the Cornell campus, since seminary. Jim and I (photo below) used to pray together and encourage one another. Being able to connect our families and do ministry together was a fantastic privilege. Jim is a deep thinker (doing his PhD on Jonathan Edwards) and also a genuine, warm, pastorally-gifted lover of people. What a joy to continue and deepen our friendship.
  • It was really, really cool that I could bring Emma and the kids with me this weekend. I don’t like to be apart from my family. They had Camp of the Woods at their fingertips while I was teaching, and during the free times we got to hang out and have fun together on the climbing wall, mini-golf course, at the lake (though it was pretty cold and rainy most of the time), and in the game room.