The first person I met on campus at UBC was a Christian, and it’s because we were introduced by my atheist father.
In a similar vein to my last post, I thought I’d tell the story of how I ended up joining UCM (University Christian Ministry), a student club at UBC. The four years I spent in Vancouver (three living on campus and one living in Dunbar) were fun, challenging and formative, and it’s impossible to imagine what my university career would have looked like if I hadn’t found UCM.
By the end of Grade Eleven, I’d pretty much decided that I wanted to attend UBC. I put in applications at Simon Fraser, the University of Calgary, and the University of Alberta as well, but I had my heart set on that Vancouver campus. I was even more resolved after doing a campus tour and hearing about the Arts One program. The way I figured, Vancouver was exactly what I was needed for the next stage of my life: a city where I could be independent, but also not too far away from home and not without a support group (my dad has quite a few friends in the city).
When that dream became a reality, it was a bit of a different story…
I’d like to say that on the drive out to Vancouver, my trusty CR-V loaded with everything I’d need to live in dorms for a year, I only felt excited about this new adventure. However, let the record show that I pretty much cried nonstop from my house until we stopped at a gas station in Golden for coffee and muffins.
I thought I was making the biggest mistake of my life. I didn’t know anybody at UBC. All of my friends were either going to Mount Royal or U of C, so why the hell had I decided to be adventurous (not the first word that anyone thinks of when describing me) and move to an entirely different province for four years? Okay, not four consecutive years – I knew I’d be coming home for the summers – but still. How could I possibly have been ecstatic to get my acceptance letter to the English program? Why didn’t I see at the time what a terrible idea this was?
When my dad and I were finished unpacking my room in Place Vanier (KU House), I was already counting down the days until I could go home for Thanksgiving. I was dreading having to start the process of meeting the other people on my floor, and still a little mortified to discover that instead of signing up for a co-ed house with single gender floors, KU was completely mixed.
And then my dad heard it: an English accent.
Being from England himself, my dad feels an instant affinity for anyone from his homeland. We had to go find this person immediately. So my dad dragged me out of my room and down the hall until we found the open door that contained the accent, and that’s how I met Joe.
My dad introduced me and then started asking Joe where he was from in England. While my dad was interrogating him about his support of sports teams, I noticed one of the posters Joe had on his door: it was a Bible verse.
The first person I’d met on campus just happened to be a Christian too. Well hey. That had been one of my biggest concerns about coming to UBC – finding Christian community. I’d been warned over and over again in my last year of youth group that if I didn’t get connected right away, it was basically a given that I’d abandon my faith within a few weeks. I knew there were clubs on campus but I hadn’t done much research prior to showing up, and I wasn’t too excited to check out all these groups by myself. But now I had a friend who maybe I could convince to come with me.
My dad rather unceremoniously abandoned me soon after – practically shoving me into a passing group of people who were going outside to throw a Frisbee around. After my first introduction to Vancouver’s love of Ultimate Frisbee, the floor’s RA rounded us all up to head to the cafeteria together for a floor dinner. I made sure to stand behind Joe.
When Joe turned around to say hi again, I oh-so-casually mentioned that I’d have to get up early tomorrow morning to go to church. He perked right up at that because, what do you know, he was getting up early tomorrow too to go check out a church on campus, wasn’t that a coincidence, and did I maybe want to come along with him?
Yes. Yes I did want to come with him.
Joe and I checked out a couple churches together and I eventually decided on U-Town (now Redemption Church) pretty early on because, for lack of a better explanation, it just felt right. It was originally on campus too, so that was a bonus. Joe had also done extensive research about the Christian clubs on campus and so I tagged along with him to a few of their welcome events. I didn’t feel particularly attached to C4C or Intervarsity and was beginning to get a bit discouraged, but when we went to UCM’s welcome barbecue, I knew almost immediately that this was what I’d been hoping to find.
I sat with Joe and his new friends Liesl and Justin at the barbecue. We made the kind of aggressively enthusiastic small talk where you can tell everyone is just desperate to meet people and make new friends. As we were heading back to KU, I stopped at the info booth to sign up for a core group (small group) and saw a flyer for UCM’s annual Fall Retreat.
It was only a couple of weeks away. It would happen before the core groups started up. Joe didn’t seem interested when I told him about it. I didn’t know if Liesl or Justin would go. I wouldn’t know anyone.
And yet, I felt like I had to sign up.
Retreats weren’t a new concept to me; I’d been on my fair share of them in youth group. I remembered that those insane weekends, with lack of sleep and late night conversations and running wild, were where I’d really bonded with my youth group friends. So, I figured if I wanted to make new connections, I could either wait for core groups and slowly get my feet wet – or just dive right in.
Again, I worried I was making a mistake. Maybe I’d spend the entire weekend as the awkward loner in the corner and regret the $60 I’d dropped on the trip.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t regret a second of it.
That weekend, I met the people who I would do life with for the next four years. I laughed until I felt like a had new six-pack abs, stayed up way too late every night, learned a bunch of new games, voluntarily went on a hike, and met some of the best friends I’d have in university. I’d go on to meet even more amazing people in UCM over the next few years, and it was always this first big event of the school year where we started forming those initial bonds of friendship.
UCM became a second family to me. That club was a place where I wasn’t afraid to be completely and totally myself. I initially bonded with Michelle over a Hawk Nelson t-shirt and our mutual love of the Redwall series. Alba tagged along with me to see Marianas Trench in concert. Janessa and I geeked out over Disney and Friends. I could talk for hours with Devon and Andrew about video games and superhero movies. I wasn’t afraid to make a fool of myself in front of these people:
That was also probably the first time in my life where I was convicted of the need to make my faith my own, where I realized that this distance I’ve felt between me and God wasn’t something I could be content with any longer. Over the next four years, I’d wrestle with a lot – but it made all the different to have a solid community around me during that time.
I started each school year looking forward to that weekend in September. Every subsequent retreat became a chance to meet people new to UBC or just new to UCM – people like me in my first few weeks on campus. The retreats were where I started to learn how to “turn it on” – pretend I wasn’t a socially anxious introvert and introduce myself to new faces. I remembered how it felt to be desperate for friends and community, and if I could make the process of connecting easier by initiating a conversation (even if I was still a little awkward), then there weren’t any compelling reasons to do otherwise.
I don’t know if I would have ended up in UCM if I hadn’t met Joe my first day. I don’t know if the person in a gorilla suit at their booth on Clubs Days would have terrified me and put me off. I was worried about not being able to find community and maybe losing my faith altogether, and those fears were nipped in the bud before I even really had time to get worked up over them.
Again, despite the fact that I often feel like God doesn’t much care about what’s going on in my life, I can look back and see how he provided for me. Another answer to another prayer I never prayed. My atheist father introduced me to a Christian, and before classes had even started I was already in the first stages of getting plugged in to an amazing community.