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The Only Minister on Campus

October 18, 2023
Students participate in campus ministry events at Medicine Hat College.
Students participate in campus ministry events at Medicine Hat College.

“I’m an atheist, but . . .”

That’s how a lot of students start conversations with George Koopmans, a Resonate Global Mission partner campus minister at Medicine Hat College in Medicine Hat, Alta.

Koopmans is not only the sole campus minister on the Medicine Hat campus—he’s the only spiritual leader there from any faith background.

“Being the only campus ministry, the only chaplain, the only spiritual-support person on campus provides the opportunity—and the responsibility—to work with everybody from all faith backgrounds,” he said.

Medicine Hat Ecumenical Campus Ministry is one of 31 partner campus ministries that Resonate supports, and this is its newest venture. Originally started and supported by several local churches in Medicine Hat, the ministry found a CRCNA connection through Medicine Hat CRC, where Koopmans served as lead pastor at the time.

Noticing that the college had no worship gatherings, Medicine Hat CRC began hosting one of their Sunday-evening worship gatherings on campus. And eventually, Koopmans said, he felt called to take on a bigger role on campus. He stepped in to serve as the campus minister in 2022.

Resonate and the denomination have been able to help take this ministry to the next level by providing funds for Koopmans to go from a half-time position on campus to being present full-time while school is in session from September through May. That support helps to fill a huge need on campus to share the love of Christ with—and help meet the spiritual needs of—students wherever they are on their faith journey.

Some students are believers and are looking to grow in their faith. Some students are not believers but are asking questions and seeking truth. Some other students are content practicing another religion or identifying as atheist or agnostic. There are also faculty and staff members who have spiritual questions and needs, Koopmans noted.

Supporting Christians on Campus

The campus ministry provides Christian students with a supportive faith community where they can grow and build relationships.

“I get to know Christian students, pray with them, and offer worship,” said Koopmans. “There’s a church body here. We worship together. It’s anchored in the interfaith center, but [the Christian community] is practiced and experienced all across campus.”

Koopmans often sees and connects with students sitting together at lunch or spending time together on campus. They bring new friends with them every week, he said.

And during this academic year, a Resonate Emerging Leader grant is making it possible for a student leader to take a significant role in helping to lead and grow the ministry. Koopmans will mentor the student one-on-one.

Engaging Seekers

Some students are Christians but are uncertain about their faith and have a lot of questions. Some students might practice another religion or identify as agnostic or atheist but are curious about Christianity.

These students might attend campus ministry events, said Koopmans, and he often makes himself available by walking around campus, introducing himself to students, and getting to know them. He’s quick to meet with students for one-on-one conversations in which they ask questions about the Bible, church, Jesus, and differences between religions.

One student who doesn’t identify with any religion attended nearly every event Koopmans hosted through the campus ministry, he said.

“She basically lived in the interfaith center,” said Koopmans.

When the student finished her studies and prepared to return to her home country, she told Koopmans that she wanted to continue learning about Christianity.

“I plant so many seeds during the year. I have so many conversations, so many times that I pray with students, so many opportunities to demonstrate the love of Christ,” said Koopmans. “And I just pray that the Holy Spirit will give life and growth to those seeds that are planted.”

Making the Church Appear Beautiful

Koopmans observed that a number of students who practice other religions or identify as atheist or agnostic are very comfortable with their beliefs. So for those students, he said, his job is to “make the church of Christ, and Christ himself, appear beautiful to them.”

Koopmans hands out food and hygiene products to students regularly. Every week, he also makes and serves lunch to students in the interfaith center, and he hosts life groups where students can connect with and support one another over daily topics such as study habits, missing home, managing stress and anxiety, and more.

“Whether they’re from a faith background or not, they are forming connections,” said Koopmans. “I’ve had students say, ‘These groups feel like family to me.’”

Because Medicine Hat College is a community college where many students take only a few classes or they graduate and transfer after a two-year program, Koopmans said he doesn’t always get as much time with students as he would like. As part of the only ministry on campus, however, he is confident that the campus ministry is making a big difference.

“I have a list of students whom I routinely pray for,” he said. “Some of them are believers. Many of them are searchers and seekers. And many of them are students who are just struggling. My prayer is that they find the true hope and peace that God offers to us in Christ.”