When 20-year-old Kalu J. Ogbureke first started the Ivy League’s Columbia College in New York City three years ago, his conservative southern evangelical Christian sensibilities were left a little “shell-shocked.”
It wasn’t that the city or the college was hostile to his faith. They were far from it.
For Ogbureke and other Christian students like him who had come to the city from the South, it was mostly that Christianity isn’t seen as such a big deal. Indeed, for many New Yorkers, Christianity is like an artifact that is no longer relevant for life in the modern world.
And it shocked Ogbureke and his kind as they struggled to fit in.
Three years later, however, after overcoming a deep learning curve, a more confident and urbane Ogbureke, whose family is from Houston, Texas, has emerged as king in a space for Christians on campus.
The economics junior is now leading Columbia Faith and Action, a Christian leadership ministry serving all four undergraduate colleges of Columbia University that boasts nearly 200 members.
It’s an arm of a group called University Christian Union founded at Princeton University in New Jersey by Matt Bennett about 12 years ago. The group aims to disciple Christians at the nation’s eight Ivy League universities due to their undue influence on American culture.
“Christian Union focuses energy toward developing Christian leaders at eight universities and select cities because of their extraordinary influence on our culture and society. The universities are: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale. Out of the 2,500 four-year colleges and universities in the country, these eight produce 50 percent of the most influential leaders in our nation. Graduates from these schools also have extraordinary influence on the international scene,” explains the organization’s website.
As of this year, there are about 1,300 students involved in Faith and Action efforts across all eight schools, according to Christian Union representative Jim Black.
And together, the students in the movement at Columbia have embraced their brave new world and are navigating it with their faith intact.
“I would say a lot of us, myself included, came from that southern United States culture which is very conservative; so when you come up here you are a little shell-shocked. Things are just very different,” explained a nattily dressed Ogbureke at a gathering on the university’s Morningside campus Thursday night where the group had gathered for a panel discussion billed “Race & The Gospel.”
“You deal with people who are not Christians where I come from, but there is kinda that overall culture that at least there is that cultural appreciation from those who may not practice or may not be large on their faith. So coming here, I think it was a lot of rallying around each other,” he noted.
“It was a big learning experience to know what it meant to be a representative of God in a place where it’s not anti-Christian, it’s not opposed to Christians, but it recognizes that it’s an important part of our country’s history,” said Ogbureke.
The economics major said he believes that Christians from the South will have to learn how to engage this culture in order to remain relevant and not be overwhelmed by the indifference to Christianity that’s now mainstream. Being at Columbia, he said, has taught him that.
“As a society, the mainstream, we’ve gone past that (Christianity). So you have to know how to properly and maturely navigate the society. How you talk to people who know what Christianity is but don’t think that it’s relevant for the year 2015,” said Ogbureke.
“How do you talk to people who antagonize Christians or throw different insults or presumptions your way? It’s been a big learning curve. Columbia’s kinda like a microcosm of New York City or the northern urban life, but we’ve been able to do that through a pretty good maturing process. It kinda takes all of us to rally around each other,” he explained.
“From the cultural side you really have to embody the term ‘in the world and not of it.’ It comes to life when you have to move to a place very different from where you grew up,” he said.
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SOURCE: The Christian Post