I am sitting here in the Tangeman Student Center on the campus of the University of Cincinnati. This is my last day on campus with students. Next week is finals week and then they will be gone. At the end of May, so will I. I will transition from campus ministry to the pastorate. Forgive me as I reminisce for a moment.
In 1977, after serving as a college student summer missionary for ten weeks, my call to ministry came as a question. “You made yourself available for ten weeks, would you make yourself available?” No vocation, no location, just availability. In 1982 the question got a little more interesting. “Everything the world has to offer is available on the college campus, would you make Me available there?” In 1987, after a long wrestling with seminary preparation, I took my first role as campus minister in Phoenix, Arizona at Grand Canyon University, then a Baptist college. In January of 1992, I moved my wife and kids to an unknown land called Ohio and God asked me to make Him available to students at the University of Cincinnati. I have been here ever since, just being available and making the Christ available to the college community.
These students are the reason I came. This is such a critical time of life for a young adult. They are making all the big decisions that will guide their steps and their faith for decades to follow. Our campuses are populated by men and women, not kids, who are seeking life answers. This place of ministry is strategic in reaching the world for Jesus and is usually done best reaching them one at a time and teaching other students to reach their campus one life at a time.
I have several highlights that come to mind. I enjoy teaching, especially the scriptures. I have done this with large group worship, conferences, retreats, and events. But I especially value the times sitting one-on-one with students. Here we talk about life, faith, and apply Truth. I value all the international trips (Russia, Israel, China, Turkey, Japan, India, Uruguay) where students learned to make God available in new and different cultures, but all with the same need of the Gospel.
“How do you know...” is a common beginning to a conversation with a student wrestling with the challenges of life. The campus has changed over the years, but the students still bring a lot of the same questions. They need to see that God is working in them, around them, and through them all the time. He is preparing them through experience, education, adversity with family, health, finances, and especially He is preparing them through His word for their next steps.
I love the local church. Our family joined FBC Mt. Healthy in 1992. We have been there ever since. I have served churches as a guest, an interim pastor, a confidant for young pastors, and even had the joy to pastor for six years at the Bridge Church at Miami University. One piece of life I have often shared with students wrestling with their future is “everything that I have ever done has prepared me for what I am doing now. Why shouldn’t I think that this is just preparation for what I am doing next?” Now here I am, a co-vocational pastor, both on the campus and at Mt. Healthy. We were loved into that church in ‘92 and this church family is still loving on me and my family today.
The logistics and practices and rhythms are different from campus ministry, but the need for an available Savior, an available grace, an available guidance is still present. I am excited for the new challenge and the new chance to see God work in lives engaged in the next phases of life. These too are precious and precarious events. I am excited to make Jesus available to them.
Like so many churches today, FBC is rebounding from the impact of COVID. These amazing people are holding each other close, inviting their friends and neighbors, sharing their faith in word and deed. We are seeing God move intentionally and steadily as we rebuild, redesign, and recommit to make Him available in our community.
My wife, Mary Kay, and I met during our years involved at a college campus ministry. We married in 1979 and have three grown children and a couple of amazing grandmanchilds. Her gifts of hospitality and grace have fed many college students. She has enabled me to go and do. She sometimes would go with me, but often would hold down the home front as I was out.
For me, it has always been about the students and now my focus shifts to the local church. The future of college ministry and the local church is good. God is not done on the campus or in the local congregation. It is filled with rising cultural challenges and changes. But the Word of God is sufficient and available to all. It is my joy and yours to make it available today and tomorrow and wherever that we find ourselves.
Thank you for your prayers, encouragement, and friendship. None of this needs to ever stop.
Blessings. Ken and Mary Kay Dillard
Collegiate Ministry Group