In hindsight, I think it is pretty true to say that I entered college woefully unprepared for the new freedoms and responsibilities that I had living somewhere other than under my parents’ roof. I had been an above-average student, and athlete, and a church-going young man for the bulk of my adolescence. I assumed I had it all together, but man was I wrong.
I’ll spare you the gory details (for now), but let’s just say it took about eight years and four colleges for me to even begin to even begin to “get it together.” There are a lot of people I should express my gratitude to for the growth that I finally began to experience. Strangely enough, more than a few of them were affiliated with an organization headquartered here in Pittsburgh called the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO). Since that time I have continued to rub shoulders with people affiliated with the CCO from time to time. I can say, without reservation, that every one of them has been an excellent individual, friend, and leader. I really couldn’t be more impressed with the people who go to work for the CCO. I hope that after learning a little more about them, you will join me in holding them in high regard.
What it Looks Like
The CCO was founded in 1971 when a group of clergy recognized a void on most college campuses. Students at both private and state schools were being exposed to a flood of challenging, exciting new ideas – but there were very few opportunities for them to either pursue or grow in faith. The CCO saw a need for for people who were equipped to come alongside of college students and help them think through all these new ideas in light of a worldview that believes all things belong to God, and that faithfulness to Him is best pursued communally.
Today the CCO is on 116 college campuses throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West. It’s representatives are often partnered with a local church, and end up filling any of a wide variety of role on or off campus. Some teach, others counsel, work with campus life, with athletes, or even in a coffee shop. The CCO tries hard to design each role to meet the needs of a particular campus.
Many, though certainly not all of the CCO’s staff are recent college graduates themselves. They are able to mentor and share life with students through service learning opportunities (locally or traveling), discussion groups, Bible studies, and just hanging out and having fun. Ultimately, the goal is to strengthen and equip. So many young people feel compelled to “make a difference” as they are exposed to new ideas and needs in college. But it’s hard to know where to begin, or what foundation this “difference making” should be grounded in. The CCO exists to encourage these students to recognize that their entire lives can be seen as service to Christ. They can serve in their studies, their communities, their families, and their jobs; both now and when they move on from college life.
In what is certainly the highlight of the year, the CCO hold a huge conference called Jubilee at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh each February. Well over a thousand students come together for a weekend that includes not only worship, but also doens of challenging speakers and sessions that examine a wide variety of disciplines and that challenge students to walk humbly, love justice, and live faithfully. Most attend as part of a campus group, but if you know of a student who’d be interested in coming on his/her own, he or she would be more than welcome. Actually, if this appeals to you personally but you’ve moved past your collegiate years, there is an afternoon at the conference known as Jubilee Professional where people of all ages come together to discuss what it looks like to work faithfully in their particular vocations.
I really hope that my true affection for the people affiliated with the CCO comes through in this blog post. The people I have known have challenged and encouraged me. They have pushed me to grow in the way that I think about God and the way that I care more about other people. I really can’t recommend the transformative work that they do more highly. If you know of a college student on a campus where the CCO is present, encourage them to take a look. And if you are in a position to help support this work financially, know that you would be giving to a group that seeks to be good stewards of all that they are given. CCO staff fund-raise individually, much like a missionary would, for at least part of their salaries. In doing this they not only keep costs down for the organization, but they also allow friends and supporters the opportunity to partner in the valuable work being done.