Hospitality for Christ
November 20, 2011
Jason Pickard (MDiv '10), campus minister for RUF-International at Texas A&M University
I am a campus minister for international students at RUF-International. I will be ordained as a teaching elder in the South Texas Presbytery of the PCA, and on campus I am basically like a chaplain for international students. I seek serve internationals in any way that I can. Sometimes this means simply welcoming students and helping them to understand how things work in Aggieland (what we call College Station).
A large part of what we do, and one of RUF-International’s core values, is hospitality. Scripturally speaking, hospitality is not fellowship but “love for the stranger.” All Christians are called to practice hospitality (Heb. 13:2; Rom. 12:13) and I am convinced that as our world becomes more and more postmodern, the initial act of hospitality goes a long way in beginning a relationship and building a bridge for communicating the gospel.
International students are often lonely and most will never have an American invite them into their home. I recently preached a sermon on hospitality and was struck by the language of the second half of Ephesians 2. This is the famous passage about God reconciling Jew to Gentile and both to himself. Paul uses the language of being “far off” and a “stranger” before being reconciled to God—both Jews and Gentiles are strangers to God without faith in Christ, we learn. Therefore, it is legitimate to think of the reconciliation of God in Christ as the greatest act of hospitality the world has ever seen. In Christ, God welcomes strangers. Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 2, that those who are reconciled to God through the blood of Christ now have access to God and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The reason I share all of this with you is because this passage shows us that the ultimate goal of our hospitality is to bring people into the presence of God.
My calling, and the call of the Christian, is to ultimately bring people into the presence of God through Jesus Christ. Initially, this might simply be by praying for the people I am meeting, asking the Lord to prepare them for gospel conversations. Other students very quickly are interested in discussing the gospel and considering the claims of Christianity and some students we meet are already Christian. The relationship initiated by hospitality is the context in which ministry can happen, whether it is pre-evangelism, evangelism, or discipleship.
Why did you decide to join RUF? Have you worked with them before?
I decided to join RUF-International because I became convinced that God was calling me to work with international students. My initial call to ministry was largely influenced by the book Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, so missions has always been on my mind. My wife and I always considered serving as missionaries, but we did not feel called to a particular place or people. So when my good friend and fellow Westminster alumnus, Rev. Alex Graham (RUF-International minster at Georgia Tech) told me about this new work at my alma mater, Texas A&M, I was intrigued. After several months of talking with Rev. Al LaCour, coordinator for RUF-International and also a Westminster alumnus, my wife and I decided the Lord was calling us back to Texas to work among the nations gathered on the university campus.
How has your time at Westminster influenced your work with RUF?
I am thankful for my time at Westminster every day! Seminary is only one component of preparing for ministry but it is a very important one. Most of the students I work with are graduate level students—they are the brightest and the best from their countries and they ask difficult questions! I am most thankful that Westminster grounded me in the Scriptures and gave me a great theological foundation, but most of all I am glad that Westminster taught me how to think. Seminary does not give you all the answers for the situations and questions that arise in the work of ministry, but Westminster, if you let it, does prepare you to think through issues in a systematic and biblical-theological way that is essential if you want to be faithful to the gospel.
The biblical theology of Westminster has proven to be greatly important not only in preaching but in evangelism. When students ask me questions about the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament, what they are really asking most of the time are hermeneutical questions. Approaching these questions from a redemptive-historical point of view allows me to talk about Christ even when asked the most obscure question about the Old Testament.
My training in apologetics and systematic theology has also been very helpful. I have already met a number of Islamic students from Middle Eastern countries. Having a proper understanding of who God is and of the Trinity, and being able to explain these doctrines are essential to my work. I have found that Islamic students are very willing to have conversations about the existence of God and who God is. This is where systematic theology and apologetics are really important.
What is something you are learning now that you didn’t learn in the classroom?
The two biggest things I am learning right now that I didn’t learn in the classroom is that God really is sovereign and that the Holy Spirit is real. Now, of course, I learned these in a theoretical way at Westminster, but the work of ministry, especially among non-Christian and non-Western students, forces you to rely upon the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. The day-to-day challenges of ministry also make you learn in a new way that God is sovereign, he is the only one who can change hearts, and he is really in control even when things don’t go as I planned. Things happen that you cannot control and the very best transcendental arguments often do not make much sense to international students. I think it is fair to say that if this doesn’t move from theory to reality, from the head to the heart, then you will have a hard time lasting very long in the ministry.
What fruit have you seen as a result of your ministry?
The Lord has greatly blessed RUF-International at Texas A&M already. I have met students faster than I thought I would; he has already given us people all along the spiritual path, so to speak. Some students are just becoming friends are not ready to seriously discuss the gospel. Some are very eager to have apologetical/evangelistic discussion. We have even seen a conversion already! One young man from a Muslim background just told me last Saturday morning that he had become a Christian. And we have a student from Ghana who has gone through the new members class and is singing in the choir here at our local PCA church, Westminster in Bryan, TX.
How is God growing you in the grace and knowledge of Christ?
As I am going through the ordination process, I am learning in a new way that living a holy life is essential for a pastor. I have my struggles like everyone else, but the responsibility of leading a ministry and having students who look to you as their pastor/chaplain brings home the importance of living out the gospel in new ways. I don’t earn my salvation through obedience, but yet united to the obedient Christ by faith, my obedience is really important and something I must strive for each day.