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Confessions of faith: Colleen Thorson

Two new friends discover that college offers opportunities to grow in faith and share what they learn with others.

Colleen’s college experience didn’t start the way she expected. The basics all went off without a hitch. Before her first campus visit was even over, she made a new friend, and the pair agreed to be roommates. She purchased all the textbooks she needed to get started on her biology major. She laced up her cleats and put in some hard work on the softball field.

What Colleen didn’t see coming was the brand-new priority that would soon enter her life—a relationship with her Savior Jesus, who was little more than an unfamiliar story to her when she arrived on campus.

Colleen Thorson and roommate Megan
Left: Colleen (left) and Megan. Megan and Colleen are roommates and softball teammates at Agnes Scott College. Megan invited Colleen to church; Colleen has since taken instruction and joined Intown, Atlanta, Ga. Now they both invite other members of their softball team to church and Bible study. Middle: Intown’s campus ministry Christmas party. Fellowship events are an important part of Intown’s campus ministry. Right: Megan (front) and Colleen.

A time of discovery and growth

Campus Ministry sidebar

Colleen didn’t grow up in the church. In fact, when she started at Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Ga., she had never set foot in a worship service. When she was growing up, her parents were looking for a church, but they never ended up in the pews. On the other hand, Colleen’s new roommate, Megan, a member at Victory of the Lamb, Katy, Texas, had been going to church her whole life. When Megan asked if she wanted to check out a new church together, Colleen was interested to find out what all the hype was about. That Sunday, the pair found themselves at Intown Lutheran Church, a mission congregation in the heart of Atlanta, Ga.

Megan didn’t have a secret agenda when she asked Colleen to come to church with her. Talking about her faith didn’t seem like that big of a deal. “I grew up in WELS, so finding a place to worship was definitely on my list of priorities as I started at Agnes Scott,” says Megan. “I invited Colleen to come along because a familiar face can be really comforting while you get used to a new place!” God knew exactly what he was doing when he put Colleen between a new friend and his Word.

After that first worship service at Intown, Colleen didn’t waste any time making plans to come back for more. She said, “All I could think about was that I wanted to learn more. I felt incredibly blessed to worship with so many kind people and was very inspired by the beautiful message Pastor Lucas was sharing.”

Lucas Bitter has served as pastor at Intown since being called to start a new mission in Atlanta in 2017. He sees the city’s college students as souls hungry to hear about the peace and security Jesus offers. When Megan and Colleen first attended worship at Intown, Bitter quickly learned their names and invited them to attend that week’s Campus Ministry Bible study. If there was any doubt in the roommates’ minds that they belonged at Intown, these weeknights spent in the Word dispelled them immediately.

When Colleen approached Bitter one Sunday after worship and asked what she needed to do to prepare herself to take Holy Communion, he saw an opportunity. He invited her to take the church’s Bible Basics course. Colleen says that Bitter’s willingness to work with her busy softball and class schedule was a huge factor that kept her coming back. She took most of her lessons over Zoom during free hours in her school day. She completed the course and was baptized and confirmed on Easter Sunday 2022.

Colleen isn’t the only college student getting involved at Intown. “Since Colleen completed the course and got baptized, several other students have enrolled in the class and three have nearly completed it,” says Bitter. “Lord willing, there may be more adult baptisms coming soon!”

A time for sharing

When I asked Colleen and Megan why campus ministry is worth squeezing into their busy lives, they didn’t hesitate. “It’s such an important time!” says Megan. “The small group sessions give us a chance to apply what we learn in church to our lives in a deeper way. We get to discuss our faith in real-time with Pastor Bitter and other students just like us.” Colleen adds, “When things get tough during the week, this time in the Word is a great reminder of what’s really important. We’re always trying to get more people from the area involved, to show them how much of a difference Jesus can make in their lives too.”

Bitter loves seeing regulars like Colleen and Megan bring friends from all different walks of life to Bible study. He sees their different backgrounds but recognizes their common need for a Savior and desire to grow together. “Pastors often hear experienced church members expressing concern about the direction our society is headed. These college students are right in the middle of all of it,” says Bitter. “In these small group discussions, students learn to listen to other people’s viewpoints and build thoughtful arguments for themselves based on Scripture. It’s been very cool to see our WELS students growing in their confidence as they explain various Bible points to their classmates—some of whom don’t know much about their Savior.”

Colleen Thorson and her family at Colleen’s baptism
Left: Colleen Thorson and her family at Colleen’s baptism (middle). Right: Megan Smith and another college student, Nolan Winter (far right), volunteering at a festival booth along with teens and youth from Intown.

Intown’s model for campus ministry isn’t flashy. There are no gimmicks. There are just human beings who love Jesus or have an interest in getting to know him better. Megan is careful to say that even though she brought Colleen to Intown at the start of freshman year, it was Christ who captivated Colleen’s heart. It was the Spirit who saw the perfect opportunity to make a change in Colleen’s life when the time was just right.

The blessings and trials of college create opportunities for God to work in the hearts and lives of young adults. As the shepherd of a congregation largely comprising college students and young professionals, Bitter considers the role he plays in these formative years to be a huge privilege. Even so, he is passionate about not wasting a single opportunity to encourage the students to be bright lights themselves, like Megan was to Colleen.

“College is a time when young people are exposed to new ways of thinking, and this can be a great opportunity for personal evangelism,” says Bitter. “When we send our Christian kids to a massive secular university, we are giving them the opportunity to expose many, many classmates to the gospel of Jesus. It’s the greatest outreach opportunity that they will have in their adult life. Never again will they be surrounded by so many young unbelievers who are still malleable and unsure in their unbelief and potentially open to other ideas. Never again will they be so well-positioned to reach the lost in their own age group! Instead of being afraid that our college students will lose their faith, we can be excited at the vast number of people they will be able to share their faith with. College students are some of our synod’s most important missionaries.”

Like a stone thrown into a still pond, the cross of Christ disrupts the narrative the world tells us about those college years. As the ripples multiply, young people gather around the Word and learn of Jesus’ love.

Author: Cameron Schroeder
Volume 110, Number 2
Issue: February 2023

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This entry is part 6 of 68 in the series confessions-of-faith

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