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The changing face of student ministry

Gareth Burke, 10/11/20

CUI are honoured to have connections with church leaders all over Ireland. Gareth Burke, minister of Stranmillis Evangelical Presbyterian Church, shares his experience of being a student, and the importance of perseverance for CUs in a ever–changing season.

The changing face of student ministry

Back in the Dark Ages I began studying modern history at Queens – 1977. In those dark days ‘The Troubles’ were raging and Northern Ireland was famous throughout the world for all the wrong reasons.

Studying at Queens was a good experience not just academically but also because of the broadening–out experience that it proved to be.

Students nowadays might find it hard to believe that I met very few people of a Roman Catholic faith and even less folks committed to a republican political ideology prior to starting at QUB. It was good to discuss with students of a completely different outlook albeit against a backdrop of violence and unrest in the society at large.

Back in those days studying at Queens could not be described as a multi – cultural experience, with only a few international students around campus. We had a girl in one of our tutorial groups whom we rather unfairly referred to as ‘the girl from England’, as students even from mainland UK were in short supply.

As someone who now ministers in the heart of the University area, it seems to me that perhaps the most notable change in the whole student scene is the welcome increase in international students as well as a good number of students now studying in Belfast from mainland UK.

Those of you who can’t remember back to The Troubles perhaps can’t fully appreciate the drastic change that has occurred. Here in Belfast we have the opportunity to reach out with the good news of salvation not just to those who are identifying as British and Irish but to many nationalities. God has done this and we mustn’t let him down.

Yes, the pandemic is challenging and has made it difficult to do the things we used to do in outreach, but we must not lose our vison for international student ministry. The opportunity has always been with us in south Belfast. Today, it’s with us in a way that many of us could never have dreamed of.

‘Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest’ (John 4:35)