Last winter, as temperatures dropped in Vancouver, Christian and Muslim students from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) came together for their community. They worked to assemble fifty bags of toiletries, food items, and warm hats and clothes for those in the area experiencing homelessness and went to Surrey Urban Mission, a local Christian ministry center, to hand them out.
“The idea was to express that both traditions are keen on serving the poor,” said Ethan van der Leek, a Resonate campus chaplain at KPU. Both faiths emphasize a God of love, forgiveness, and mercy.
“Those streams run really deep,” he said.
Christian Reformed campus ministries nurture Christian groups like Ethan’s, but the ministry is not just about the group—it’s about influencing every corner of the campus. Faith in Christ drives students in campus ministry to learn how to enter into all the joys and challenges of campus life, like engaging with those who are different from oneself. And at KPU, this takes a little extra work.
The massive KPU campus buzzes with students coming and going to class, but not staying around. KPU is a commuter campus, so the ethnically and religiously diverse student body of 17,000 is spread throughout the city.
To create conversation and community, Ethan is intentional about helping students find a “spiritual home” and discover ways to discuss and live out their faith in a world full of diverse ideas and beliefs.
Part of Ethan’s job is offering Christian perspective and leadership at KPU’s Multifaith Institute, a cooperative program between several Christian, Humanist, and Muslim chaplains seeking to promote fellowship, service and dialogue among students of different faiths on campus.
“[Society] is diverse and pluralistic, so Christian faith has to find a way to engage with different faith traditions,” Ethan said.
Working with the institute has enabled Ethan to connect the Christian club he started on campus with the Muslim student association. The two organizations have started sharing meals and working on service projects together.
Ethan sees a lot to share and admire between faiths. “The Islamic practice of prayer is always inspiring,” he said. Muslim students requested a prayer room to pray five times a day and students of many faiths use the space as well.
“We [also] found ourselves to be allies on certain things, like faith in public when we are faced with secularism—which tends to be opposed to faith in public.”
Since participating in the service project, leaders of the Muslim Student Association feel comfortable stopping by Ethan’s office to talk. Recently, Ethan spent a semester in conversation with Omar, a Muslim student. Together, they discussed the commonalities and differences of their faiths.
“We have a meaningful friendship,” Ethan said. “[Conversation] is a very hospitable approach without trying to cover over the differences.”
He has big hopes for building the institute and dialogue between Christian students and members of other faiths.
“University is an exciting time where you are exposed to a lot of ideas and people...part of Christianity is being in public and being in a sphere beyond the walls of the church. Whenever there is an important conversation—when you see students gathered together—it’s a deeply rewarding, hopeful thing.”
Resonate Campus Ministry leaders like Ethan empower students to engage in dialogue that makes a difference in spreading the influence of Jesus. Thank you for doing the same through your prayers, support, and conversations in your community.