It’s a real pleasure when you’re talking to someone who does not know you, who then proceeds to compliment you on something you created. You know for certain that they are not just being nice, because they have no idea who you are. This has happened to me a number of times as I have heard people talk about Rez Week, not knowing that I helped plan the last 20 Rez Weeks at UT.
What Three People Have Said About Rez Week
Just last night I was sitting on the couch with a not-yet-believer at our missional community gathering who graduated in 2012. I mentioned something about Rez Week and she began talking about how she loved it! She said she came out every year that she was a student simply because she loved the people and the conversations about faith. She then said that there was a spirit about the event that drew her in each year.
About ten years ago, we were doing a spiritual mapping campaign at UT. I was assigned to go to a bar to interview students about their experiences with Christians at UT. I asked if they had any negative experiences with Christians, and they had a short list of things to share. I then asked if they had any positive experiences with Christians, and they said, “Yes. What’s that Jesus tent thing that happens every year? We love that!”
Three years ago I was at Rez Week and saw a guy looking at some of the murals that were being painted. I approached him and did what we train students to do – to walk up and say, “What do you think?” He said, “I love this. I’m an atheist, but I love this event each year. There is something about it. It is my senior year and I realized this was my last chance to be here so I skipped class to come by one last time.”
There have been many other encounters similar to these over the years by myself and hundreds more by other students and pastors. It makes me ask the question: “What is it about Rez Week that creates such a spiritually open climate on campus?
What Is It About Rez Week?
It’s all God of course, but here are some things I believe have made the atmosphere of Rez Week so uniquely powerful.
Hospitality, Food, and Drinks
In a word, Rez Week is hospitable. We lead with hospitality. We have a 24-hour coffee house with free coffee, tea, and cocoa. We have $1 lunches, dinners, and desserts. In the middle of campus, we create a hang out where students simply eat, drink, and be merry.
Visual and Performance Art
There is something disarming about the arts. Students are more apt to listen to faith expressed through art than just through preaching and teaching. Few students have actually seen faith expressed this way, so it surprises them. The murals, art gallery, and performing artists that surround Rez Week make people willing to listen.
Free-Speech Boards and Conversational Evangelism
We have giant free-speech boards throughout the outdoor plaza where Rez Week is held. They ask some provocative and some humorous questions. People write answers on the board, both serious and silly. Others just stop to read, reflect, or laugh. Meanwhile, we have students committed to walk around asking, “What do you think?” That’s it, and countless conversations take place 24 hours a day.
It can’t hurt to have students praying 24 hours a day while Rez Week takes place. Prayer is what’s most important! When students are interceding for Rez Week around the clock, God simply answers prayers. The spiritual climate is shifted.
The Presence of God in Worship
This year at Rez Week, a student shared about how last year he was walking by Rez Week at night during the corporate worship when all of a sudden he was convicted. He stopped walking, sat down, repented, and began following Jesus. There is something profoundly powerful about a large gathering of students worshipping outdoors in the middle of campus. God convicts students. They see and feel what they are missing.
Unity of the Body
One of the questions people always ask when they see Rez Week for the first time is “Who puts this on?” It’s amazingly disarming to say, “No one. It is the whole Christian community, all denominations and groups working together.” It messes with people’s paradigms. They are much more willing to listen when it is not one group trying to present their version of the truth.
Justin Christopher is the National Campus Director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.