A year ago, I was a scared freshman who still couldn’t navigate the massive campus and find her 11 o’clock class on time.
I was on my fourth major change. (International studies lasted a whole week, which was a record at the time.)
I was shy and super-awkward, avoiding eye contact with my professors so they wouldn’t call on me during class. I was basically hiding in my room so I could focus on my schoolwork.
I hated sports and everything they stood for, which was hard to do on a football-focused campus like Alabama.
I didn’t have many friends, and honestly, that was fine with me.
My plan was to take my whole sophomore year to study abroad in London and then graduate a year early, so making connections on campus wasn’t something in which I was very interested.
And I was completely ready to walk away from the church.
In high school, my youth group was divided between those my youth pastor acknowledged and those he didn’t. I was herded into the latter group and, no matter what I did, I couldn’t escape it.
He seemed to hold his group of favorites in higher regard than the rest of us. They were outgoing, charismatic and very vocal about their love for Jesus.
That’s fine and dandy. Don’t get me wrong. There were people who were genuinely this way, and I respect them even more for it.
But my youth pastor’s hand-picked society of favorites became the voice of our youth group and, for some reason, it felt more and more exclusive each year.
By the time my senior year rolled around, my Sunday School class wasn’t a place you could open up and talk about what was happening in your life because you knew that people would tell everyone at school the next day.
Honestly, I felt unwelcome in a group plastered with fake smiles and Christ-like personas that they would don on Sundays and shed the rest of the week.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I was done.
If this is what the church in my generation was like, I didn’t want to be a part of it.
So I decided when I went to college, I would please my parents by maybe visiting one or two churches, and maybe go to a service when I went home, but I wasn’t going to be involved in the church.
Sure, I would still believe in God and read my Bible and pray, but I didn’t want a community. I had absolutely no desire to go through what had happened in high school again.
But for some odd reason, one of my friends decided to invite me to an event for freshmen at a Christian campus organization. And for some even odder reason, I decided to go.
I honestly had no idea at the time why I went. (Now I know it was God’s grace working in my life, along with lots of prayers from my parents.)
But it was probably the best thing I could have done.
I walked into a building that read “Baptist Campus Ministries” in big letters on the overhang, having no intention of ever coming back.
I went through the event passively, not really talking to anyone and feeling awkward the whole time.
Even when people tried to engage me, I was standoffish and didn’t want anything to do with it.
At the end of the night, however, the leadership team invited us all to a game night at a church that had opened its doors for us. And once again, my friends made me go.
My friends and I sat around a table, picking at our half-melted ice cream, and that’s when it happened.
This girl, a junior at the time, sat down and started to have a conversation with us. A real, genuine conversation.
This caught me completely off-guard.
Was she being forced to do this? Did she feel obligated because she saw how awkward we were?
Honestly, I’m still not sure, but even if she was, she didn’t show it.
At the end of the night, she told us which church she attended and invited us to come anytime (an offer I didn’t take advantage of until about two months later). Her roommate, who is now one of my closest friends, drove us back to our dorm.
For me, getting to see this version of the church – the one where people actually cared about each other and wanted to build a community – changed the way I viewed the Christian community.
It was so encouraging to me to see people from different backgrounds and groups come together to worship and fellowship. And it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
One year later, I’m still active at the BCM. I look forward to worship services and sermon series. I love talking and fellowshipping with people I don’t know very well and learning about their lives.
For once in my life, I have a strong group of Christian friends whom I know will love and support me through thick and thin.
I met my best friend there, and for that, I am forever grateful.
It’s funny to see how much I’ve changed in just one year. I’m more confident in myself, can actually get around campus (most of the time) and am willing to watch football at any time, no matter who’s playing.
I have a desire now to be a part of a community that I didn’t have a year ago.
But if this year has taught me anything, it’s to not be afraid to talk to the awkward girl in the corner.
There will always to be people who aren’t quite sure how they feel about the church, and it’s our job as Christians to show them the love of Christ through accepting them.
The point of the church is to make people feel welcome, and if it doesn’t then something is wrong on their end.
I still have a long way to go, but I’ve already grown so much from where I was last year.
I’m so, so thankful for the girl who decided to take a chance on me, and I hope that one day, I can make someone else feel the same.