Connor Perring (Ministry Trainee at Christ Church Balham) shares how God has been growing a significant student ministry at Christ Church Balham (CCB) and how the gospel is bearing fruit from humble, and unexpected, beginnings.
At a recent social event, the students of CCB spent - or you might argue, wasted - a whopping 11 hours and 23 minutes watching all three extended versions of The Lord of the Rings films. Just as we were settling a date to watch The Hobbit it struck me that Tolkien’s subtitle - ‘An Unexpected Journey’ - seemed a rather fitting way to describe the history of the student work here.
By all accounts, a student ministry at Balham probably shouldn’t exist. We are close, but not particularly close, to what is essentially a large medical college at St George’s Hospital. This university boasts a relatively small 4,000 undergrads, with only a handful of Christian students arriving each year. It all started by accident really. Six Christian freshers made friends and after a while of not knowing where to go to church one of them suggested CCB, because they’d heard from a friend of a friend that it was alright.
CCB had never really had students before, and at first, they didn’t really know what to do with them. Thankfully, God had a plan. It just so happened that only months before this ragtag bunch of energetic but clueless students arrived, CCB had appointed a new Assistant Minister from Christ Church Mayfair, who just happened to have years of student ministry experience. Between that and discovering that John Piper was speaking at REVIVE that year, the six stuck around. What followed was simply faithful and sacrificial service to a group of students, who didn't realise what amazing input they were getting. Each week we would enjoy
a Bible study, training, one-to-ones, and of course, a lunch every Sunday. And by God’s grace he steadily gave CCB more students to look after, adding two or three each year.
Fast forward to 2020, and CCB regularly receives around 20 students each Sunday. Only a few weeks ago we held our first-ever student weekend away, where 13 of us enjoyed great teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Compared to many of the big student ministries in London, these sorts of numbers might not seem very impressive, but for us it is testament to God’s faithfulness. In particular, it was a joy to see there a few students who had only recently come to saving faith.
One of them is Saad Muhammad. When he was baptised in September 2019, he made these comments: “A few years ago, if you saw me, you would think I’m just an ordinary person... but deep down no one really knew what was on the inside - the pettiness, the anger, the frustration and everything else. Because you see, my father passed away a few days after my 18th birthday and that hit me as it would to any 18-year-old who is close to their father... Some Christian friends of mine introduced me to the claims of Jesus... And that’s when it really hit me. If Jesus is who he claims to be - the Son of God - then I’ve been rejecting and going against him my whole life. Yet not only is he willing to forgive me, he has such love for me that he’s willing to die for me... I received forgiveness, love, a Father, and therefore a family. So, I’m done living for myself. I have been given the comfort and security of God’s love and I could talk about that for ages!”
At CCB we try hard to make sure that students are both specifically looked after and encouraged in their unique period of life, but also that they are fully integrated into the wider church family. A fresher summed it up well when she said this: “There is a wide mix of people of all ages and stages of life which is really nice because as a student you don’t really get a chance to hang out with anyone that’s not a student! Everyone is so welcoming, loving and genuinely and prayerfully invested in our lives... and they feed us!”
This integration into the normal church family means that all the students learn to serve. It is a pleasure seeing how many of them are teaching our kids each week, making coffee and sorting our tech. This year will be the first year that we have students graduating and potentially moving on. However, as a testimony to how much they are invested in the family many are trying their best to stay in the area and continue serving. When a final year student was asked, “Why do you want to stay at CCB after you graduate?’, they said “Because CCB is the loving and supportive church family to which I belong”.
Looking back, it is clear that all this would not have happened without God working through the prayer and faithful service of CCB staff and members. Looking forward we pray that God would continue to work and carry on this ‘Unexpected Journey’.