This past March, sixteen Mars Hill college students traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah over Spring Break to engage in interfaith dialogues with Latter-day Saints (Mormon) college students.
Three years ago we connected with Standing Together, a ministry that coordinates Evangelical and Mormon dialogues. As this relationship has grown, our students have been able to engage Mormon students on the campuses of Brigham Young University (BYU), University of Utah, Utah Valley University, and Weber State University.
This year we began the week on Monday at the LDS Institute of Religion on the campus of the University of Utah where we spent over three hours in dialogues with Mormon students. The dialogues consisted of students breaking into groups of about six (three Evangelicals and three LDS), spending time getting to know each other, and then delving into the similarities and differences of each other’s faith.
Topics discussed included: salvation by grace alone, how good works factor into faith, baptism, heaven and hell, the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and how God speaks to us today. At the end of the dialogues, students were given a chance to share with the group what they had learned.
The one thing that most Mormon students said that they appreciated about the Mars Hill college students was the community that they share and their love for the Word of God and prayer.
On Tuesday we spent most of the day on BYU’s campus engaging in similar dialogues. These dialogues, however, were a bit more structured and less time was allowed. They did go well, and again, the one thing that the Mormon students said they appreciated about Mars’ college students was the same as the day before.
One of the BYU church history professors invited our group over to his home for dinner and dialogues on Wednesday evening. We were able to share a meal with him and his wife, along with a few BYU students.
After dinner, we engaged in our final dialogue for the week. Again, in the wrap up, the Mormon students said the same thing other students had said prior about our group. However, one LDS guy said that he appreciated the transparency that our group has with each other when it comes to confession of sin and praying for each other. Jud, one of our college students, was able to explain to him why we find confession of sin to each other to be an important part of discipleship.
The rest of the week was spent connecting with two church plants in the Salt Lake valley: Ekklesia Church and Redeeming Life Church. On Wednesday afternoon we met with Justin and Britton, two of the pastors at Ekklesia to hear what God has been doing through them to reach the people of Salt Lake City and Lehi, Utah.
We were able to pray with them and encourage them. On Friday we spent a few hours with Brett and Bryan, two pastors at Redeeming Life. They showed us around the community of North Salt Lake, where we prayer walked and prayed over a Buddhist temple, a motel where drugs and prostitution are prevalent, and a neighborhood near the church.
As we walked the neighborhood, we also placed door hangers at houses with information on Redeeming Life. Our college students walked away burdened for the work that is yet to be done by these churches, yet encouraged at what God is doing to redeem parts of the Salt Lake valley.
One of the goals of this trip to SLC each year is for our college students at Mars to begin to solidify why they believe what they believe. Many of them have been taught things about the Christian faith, yet they’ve never questioned them. Engaging in dialogues with Mormon students forces them to be able to defend from Scripture what they believe.
Every one of the students who went this year said during our end of week debrief that they now see the importance of being able to defend their faith with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). They began to see what it means to live on mission everyday, even in their classrooms and dorm rooms.
Throughout the week, we invited many of the Mormon students we met in dialogues to a cookout at the house we had rented in SLC. Not expecting many to show up, surprisingly on Friday night, we had 15 of them come. Words cannot describe how incredible that evening was, as we fed them dinner, played games, talked, and laughed.
It was encouraging for our group to just serve them for the night. In fact, one of our students, Reagan Bell, said, “That Friday night, I cried as I watched our group just be the church to those Mormon students.” Our students made so many connections that week in SLC with Mormon students, many of which are continuing through text messages and phone calls.
Thank you, Mars Hill Church, for supporting our college students to go and spend a week in Salt Lake City to engage the culture there.
I can personally say that our college students came back different: different in the way they defend their faith, different in the way they view daily missions, and different in the way they view discipleship and community.
I watched these college students love the Mormon college students, as well as the people of SLC, well. So much so, that some of them are praying about returning to either intern with Ekklesia and Redeeming Life or to live after graduation, taking the Gospel of Jesus to the people there.
Mars Hill, you can be proud of the college students who are apart of our church. They understand the importance of discipleship and community and fight for it. They love Jesus with all of their beings and seek to serve Him wherever He may call them, even if that is Salt Lake City, Utah.