By: Zach Lozano, Wesley Scarborough, and Doug Waters
For one week every spring, Christian ministries at the University of Texas gather together for one aim: to discuss faith with their peers.
“I feel like it’s important to at least, once a year, have an honest dialogue on campus about what Christians believe,” said Justin Christopher, director of UT ministry Campus Renewal. “Not in an argumentative way.”
Since 1995, Christopher has been the head of Rez Week, a worship and discussion-centered event hosted at UT’s Gregory Plaza. Student worship bands perform nightly with a speaker presenting a different message every evening related to a specific theme. The location and atmosphere is directed towards serving not only the Christian students of campus, but also those who do not share the same faith.
This year, 200 students volunteered from UT’s 20 campus ministries for the week of March 27th-April 1st. In the weeks prior, student leaders assembled to pick the theme deciding on the title “Greater than Fear.”
“This year we felt like anxiety and stress and fear were heightened with students,” Christopher said. “We wanted to have something that speaks to ‘Why do we have fear of the future?’ and ‘Why are we afraid of failure?”
Christopher said the theme is meant to reach beyond the Christian community at UT. Student leaders meet weeks in advance to discuss the theme, one that will be relatable to a college campus.
“What I appreciate is that they’re not very pushy,” international relations senior Adam Hamze said. “My experience with Christians includes a lot of presumptuous questions thrown my way. I feel [Rez Week] is aware of ‘that’ kind of Christian.”
Hamze, who is of Islamic faith, said he walks past Rez Week every year.
“I think organization-wise, it could be a good model for other religious groups to spread awareness,” Hamze said. “As a Muslim student, I give them kudos. I’d like to see my [religion] throwing an event like this next year.”
Aside from 24-hour free coffee and one-dollar-meals, Rez Week involves a more interactive way to discuss faith on the sidewalk near Speedway. Volunteers place ten-foot-tall white boards in the path of students’ walk to class, reading questions above a blank space for where students can write their responses in crayon. A board reads, “What is your biggest fear?” with scribbles that read “Trump” and “The Power of God.” Some wrote “religion,” and one response read “mannequins.”
“It’s a very open atmosphere,” Christopher said. “That’s why we have the free speech boards.”
Christopher said that the goal for the boards is to initiate a conversation on faith with students who pass by. He said, by the end of the week, hundreds of stories are shared with him about interactions with students. One board reads, “What happens when you die?”
“A lot of people don’t care what happens,” said Tina Sanchez, a missionary at the University Catholic Center. “They either have no hope or they don’t want to think about it.”
Answers on the board include “nothing,” “people forget about you,” and “you stop living.”
“I found that a lot of people fear being forgotten,” Sanchez said. “It ties back into the existence of our life.”
The theme for the week resonates with the speaker’s evening sermons. Speaker Dan Baumann was invited to Rez Week this year to talk about the idea of fear and how it relates to faith and the lives of college students.
“My heart is really invested to help people shift their view of God,” Buamann said.
Buamann works for a non-profit called Youth with a Mission (YWAM) in Kona, Hawaii and travels the nation sharing his beliefs about Christianity with college campuses.
“The best way to get over fear is not to get over fear,” Buamann said. “The best way to get over fear is to be obsessed with Jesus.”
Baumann told his story of being arrested in Iran. He was falsely accused of espionage in 1997 and thrown into a high-security prison. Baumann said he faced a death sentence, but was released after spending 9 weeks in the prison. He explained to his audience at Rez week that he credits his escape to a miracle of God.
“If God can help me in a place like an Iranian prison cell, then it allows people to have hope that God will help them with whatever they’re going through,” Baumann said.
Rez Week was hosted at 40 different universities across the nation this year. Christopher is aiming to reach 100 next time around. He said he plans to keep sharing his passion for having open discussion about the Christian faith on college campuses.