Being a student movement, UESI has always been closely associated with academics. Starting from Prof. Enoch, many of our founding fathers were teachers in various academic institutions. They have not only used their presence in the campus to influence students with the message of Christ but have also served as role models in the campus and contributed significantly to their field of study. This had a profound impact in the campuses.
However, with the rise of career opportunities in software, technology industry and management, there has been a major shift in the career choice of students. This is partially due to the number of opportunities available and partially due to the fatter pay packages. This shift has affected student ministry in three major ways.
- Limiting graduate presence to cities
UESI family enjoys a unique and special bonding with each other. Young graduates become the back bone of the ministry by prayer and financial support, as mentors to students and by opening their homes for the ministry. They meet for Bible studies as EGF. The presence of EGF in a town goes a great way in the furtherance of student ministry in that area. The career opportunities available to young graduates draw them to metro cities. As a result, certain cities have a large number of graduates while smaller cities and towns have very few or no graduates.
- Taking graduates away from the students
UESI ministry is a faith ministry and our founding fathers have set a model of walking by faith. Students need to see faith life demonstrated in the lives of graduates and staff workers. Working in an academic institution provides opportunities for a graduate to interact with students without much of an additional effort. If the person is living in or close to the campus, students can meet for fellowship in his/her house. It enables students to observe the life of the graduate from close quarters and such learnings stay in the minds of students. However, the present work culture leaves very little time for graduates to be available for students. Now, a graduate needs to plan early to meet with a student. Sometimes they may have to meet outside the house. From home and homely food, the fellowship moves to cafeterias and food joints. This has affected the quality of mentoring and interactions between students and graduates.
- Taking time away from graduate and students
While the new industries pay highly, they also demand a big commitment from the employees in terms of time. There may be formal working hours. But often it is not adhered to. Finding time for family becomes a challenge and ministry is given a lower priority. On top of this, lifestyle influences are quite significant in such industries which knowingly or unknowingly introduce materialistic attitudes into a graduate’s life. Many graduates are fighting these odds and still give their time to the ministry whereas many others succumb to pressures. When it comes to students, the race is to get into highly paying companies. They are also equally pressed for time. On the other side, the academic scenario is changing in our country and in a positive way. The number of premier institutions (institutions of national importance) has increased multi fold. Earlier, there were a few IITs and NITs in this category. Now, there are national level institutions in all states and in all fields. Central universities are also coming up. In a city like Patna, there are at least 5 institutions of national importance in addition to IIT and NIT. This means three things in the context of Missions in North India.
- Increased need for witness in campuses
Premier institutions attract a large number of students who are of high intellectual calibre to their campuses. These are the places where thought leaders of tomorrow are trained. In the North Indian context, where Christian presence is minimal and most of the mission work is focused on rural community, we cannot expect local Christian students to come and witness in all these campuses. However, this is the place where Christian witness cannot be avoided if we ever have to reach the intellectuals. UESI has a much larger mission field.
- Increased opportunities to be missionary students and tent- makers
There are institutions which provide opportunities for studies and for jobs in academic and non-academic roles in almost all major North Indian cities. These institutions provide good facilities for their staff and the salaries and other benefits are on par with what private companies offer. Being centres of excellence, these institutes demand high level of professional commitment. However, it still provides sufficient opportunities and time for interactions and personal mentoring. This opens up a good avenue for graduates for tent- making and for students to come as missionary students.
- Demands of changing political environment and potential social impact
In the changing political and social environment, facts are often branded as lies and fictions become facts. There are conscious efforts for polarizing opinions and promoting falsehood. Being the largest users of social media, intellectual communities are targeted for such propaganda. The times demand the presence of living witnesses to counter this in every campus. The agents of social change should come out of these institutions and they need to be influenced with the Truth. Eventually this will bring about a lasting social reformation in our nation.
EU students and graduates in Kerala need to start praying seriously for the Lord’s call in their life. While we make choices for our career or studies, can we keep these needs and opportunities in our mind? Can we care less for the attractiveness of living in bigger cities (or abroad) with bigger pay-checks and care more for the needs that are there in the Kingdom work? Can our students opt for studying in one of these needy campuses that offer the same quality of education as any of the institutions in our state and be a witness for the Lord?
Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone and encourage others to do the same? The Lord said “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain”(John 12:24). May the Lord, who stepped out of His comfort zone, guide you in your decision.
Joseph Paul did his B. Tech at MACE, Kothamangalam. Worked for a brief period at Trivandrum and decided to move to North India as a tent-making missionary. He is presently working as Manager, Incubation Centre, IIT Patna and is actively involved in the EU-EGF ministry in Bihar along with his wife Manju and sons Johann, Daniel and David.