When the Rev. Yohang Chun was appointed to First United Methodist Church in Oswego in upstate New York in 2011, he began a Friday-night meal and Bible study at the church parsonage. The guests were international students from State University of New York Oswego. The program has continued each year with new students who learn of the small group primarily through word of mouth.
Living a mere three blocks away from the college campus, he saw the location providing the perfect opportunity to begin a ministry for college students.
Chun is Korean, as are many of the international students at SUNY Oswego. He started the program because "My wife cooks delicious Korean food. Many of the students missed home and their ethnic cuisine. My policy is to fill their stomach and their spirit."
Each Friday, Chun leads the students through a Bible study followed by a meal. While most of the students who come are from South Korea, students are from other ethnic backgrounds, such as Indian and Chinese. Some are Christian; some have never been to church.
Dong Gun Lee and his wife, HyunJoo Ahn, began attending the Friday night gatherings in the fall of 2016 when one of Dong Gun's friends invited him. He and his wife are Catholic.
Dong Gun and HyunJoo's five-month old son, Daniel, attends the gatherings with them. HyunJoo, who studies communications and hopes one day to become a psychologist, said, "It is so nice to get together with people who understand me and who share the same beliefs as me."
Chun brings the international students together on other occasions as well. They have a large Thanksgiving celebration and a Korean New Year celebration. They also volunteer at the Salvation Army twice a year serving meals. Chun said, "It makes me happy to see how the students enjoy serving the community."
Seeing how the program was successful with international students, Chun initiated a gathering for American college students during the past academic year. He has asked Ray and Barbara Morrison to join and lead the American students at the parsonage on Friday nights. The Morrisons met Chun when they began attending First Church in 2016.
Barbara, a registered nurse, and Ray, business librarian at the university, also welcome students into their own home. "We want them to know they are welcome to come anytime, not just on Fridays," Barbara said. "If they need a place to study or just hang out and relax and watch television, our doors are open."
Ray explained why he and Barbara are excited to lead a Christian small group for college students. "I went to a state university and remember what it's like to be a Christian when it seems that nobody else is. I am excited to offer a place where Christians feel comfortable getting together and getting to know one another."
While church and campus ministry with college students is changing and evolving, one thing has not changed: college can be one of the most critical times in a young person's life. For many students, it is a time of spiritual discernment.
College ministries, such as those led by Chun and the Morrisons, can strengthen college students' faith, helping to assure that the mission of The United Methodist Church, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, is achieved.
Shannon Hodson is a writer and editor for the Upper New York Conference. This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of the Upper New York Advocate.