The news is filled with new updates regarding actions related to COVID 19. Three feet, then six feet. Groups of 50 restrictions now down to 10. Messages from federal, state, and municipal sources, and of course even our own bishop. Among those reports have been guidelines regarding university best practices during this time. I wanted to hear from our campus ministers how things were going with them, and their students.

Rev. Hannah Bonner hannah.bonner@gmail.com in Tucson shared with me that UofA has moved to online coursework until further notice. Students who can, are being asked to move out of their dorms. She’s holding Bible Studies and weekly gatherings via ZOOM. She’s creatively determining ways to combat isolation.

The effects?  Hannah writes, “I have been keeping track of where each of my students is and staying in touch with them. Some were already home for Spring Break and stayed home, and some have gone back home. Those working in housing staff have returned to the dorms and maybe here throughout the duration (the dorms are staying open – as of now – for vulnerable students). They are as close to “front-line” as students can be, so I am concerned for them. I am working closely with my students that are RA’s to get the best information about what the feel and needs of campus are since they are the best informed (both officially and unofficially). I’m encouraging any students to vacillate about whether to go home to go ahead and do so. I’m most concerned about the students that are living off-campus in apartments and will be staying put; I have a couple I am keeping a close eye on because I do not want them to feel too isolated. I made sure those off-campus were stocked up on groceries before the stores emptied, so I feel okay in that regard.”

Pastor Jamie Booth pastorjamie@tempefirstumc.org leads our campus ministry at ASU in Tempe. She talked about the stress, but also about the worthy opportunity to come together and figure things out during this time. Jamie shared, “ASU has requested that anyone who is able to stay off-campus.  Many of my dorm students are staying with their parents, if at all possible. A large number of my students are in apartments off-campus.”

“I’ve reached out to almost all of my students in the past couple of days to check in on them.  Many of them are stressed.  Some are disappointed that graduation ceremonies, etc. will be canceled.  Some classes don’t lend themself well to online learning. I have us set up on ZOOM for our weekly meetings.  So we will continue to meet through the end of the semester.”

Rev. Samara Jenkins samara@universityumc.org is our pastor to students in the Las Vegas area at UNLV. Samara shared, “As you know, the world has ramped down and many are struggling. We have canceled all student meals and the church has shut down except the child care center which is hanging in the balance. Our students are no longer meeting face to face.  We were thinking that maybe we could do brown bag lunches however that would require people. We’re just waiting it out and praying.”

Rev. Kathleen Day is our campus minister at NAU. Her narrative is personal, as the ministry has been touched by the virus. She writes, “NAU is currently on spring break and the changes for the remainder of the semester have been fluid and the timing challenging. When students left campus last weekend they understood that classes would be online for two weeks after spring break, and then resume on campus. Students were encouraged to stay on campus through spring break and during the online class period. Unfortunately, virtually all the students left campus and Flagstaff, and now it appears classes will remain online throughout the semester, so they’ll need to come back to fetch their things.  However, at this point, the campus will remain open, including the dorms.  I suspect that will change once we get going with testing for the virus and have a better idea of the outbreak and needed restrictions. So, this week we are on hold with plans until students are back, either on-campus or online.

Our ministry has had this virus hit close to home with one of our student leaders called back to Las Vegas about 10 days before the break because her father was in ICU and on a vent diagnosed with the Corona Virus.  Her parents are divorced and her only sibling is 17 years old. They have no extended family within several hundred miles, so at 19 yrs old she became the legal medical decision-maker for her critically ill father, and he is still critically ill and worsening. Both her parents accompanied her brother to a college visit in Seattle, WA, so her mom and brother have been quarantined so she also has had to stay–by herself–at a hospitality house affiliated with the hospital. I accompanied her to Las Vegas and helped her get set up with a place to stay and helped her initially connect with the medical team and health department to schedule regular updates. Our ministry has provided some emergency relief money to compensate for her lost wages as a student worker on campus.  I’m in touch with her several times a day and our leadership team has also maintained contact, and together with video call when we’re together. Her dorm is her permanent home, so she is hoping the campus remains open and she can return to campus to work on the online classes. Several of my students are worried about their practicums and how they will finish classes that require labs or student teaching and worried about how that impacts their graduation plan and already unmanageable college costs.

Several students will be back on campus next week and we are waiting to see where NAU is at with guidelines and access before making plans.  Every single one of our students works and they are very worried about how to pay for food and basics if they do not have a job. A meal plan of 10 meals a week costs $4,000 for the academic year. Food security is an issue for our students. I’m sure they are also wondering if there will be enough toilet paper!

We had been collecting and distributing hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes for several weeks and including information on hygiene practices to stay healthy, and reliable sources of information for protecting against colds, flu, and the Corona Virus.  For Spring break, we emphasized Sabbath practices, finding time each day to detach from email, social media, worry and homework and to be intentional in “filling their cup” and connecting with family, friends, and long periods of sleep!

So how can we in the local church support our campus ministries? Here are some ideas from our wonderful campus ministers:

  • Pray for students
  • Remember students from colleges all over the country who have returned home to their communities (many of my students have come back to Phoenix)
  • Support the cost of ZOOM
  • Order food or other encouraging things to be sent to students apartments
  • Support the cost of gardening as a way to get out in a non-interactive way (it is a goal for the few students here to restore the irrigation system and have the garden ready for next semester – something to focus on)
  • Continue to bring food so it can be packaged in “to-go” containers
  • Donate funds to help students with rent or utility bills as some will have their income impacted
  • Reach out to students you know, or, send cards to campus ministries to be distributed to students who are feeling isolated and alone
  • Donate toilet paper, kleenex, hand sanitizer, gift cards, basic food items

As with so many ministries in the Conference, the apportionment rate of the collection has affected the campus ministry budgets. Please remember our campus ministries when thinking about your donations. They do such important Kingdom work, and while as people say the ‘children’ are our future, WE are the present. Please help our campus ministries not only succeed but flourish. Thank you!

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Author: Billie K. Fidlin

Billie K. Fidlin is the Director of Outreach & Justice for the Desert Southwest Conference. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University and attended Claremont School of Theology for religious studies. Ms. Fidlin currently serves as the President of the Arizona Faith Network in her second term. She is President & Founder of Whisper n Thunder Inc., and sits on various boards including the Justa Center and the Phoenix Police Department's Faith Advisory Council. Her awards include the UM Foundation for Evangelism 2004 Distinguished Evangelist; 2016 Church Women United / United Nations Human Rights Award; 2018 Servant Leader Award AZ Faith Network; 2022 Southern Poverty Law Center Certificate of Recognition; and 2022-23 Class of Who's Who in America.
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