Dear Friends, Family, and all of my Supporters!

         As the fellowship has grown together one of the particular items that keeps coming up again and again, especially in our study of the Acts of the Apostles, is our relationship to ‘The People.’ ‘The People’ throughout Acts are always distinguished from the elites, and always seem to be in and around the apostles but have not quite joined the community. In a similar way our fellowship at Concordia is constantly in the midst of ‘The People’ whether other students, international students, students of other faiths, and others in and around the university pursuing community and careers. One of the major shifts that has happened within the past semester is that our English Corner for international students in now entirely in the hands of student leadership as they continue to provide that program and are now intentionally trying to build a relationship with the International Student Office at Concordia. With this change in leadership then, another student of ours Hailey and I have begun to pursue a new ministry project by the fellowship for the wellbeing of our campus- volunteer teams at The People’s Potatoe!

         The People’s Potato is a vegan soup kitchen run all five weekdays providing a free lunch for any and all who come at Concordia University. that is partially funded by Concordia student fees. As one Macleans article describes it,

“The People’s Potato has decided to take a different approach to the standard model of the university cafeteria. Really different. The place, which bills itself as a vegan soup kitchen, is run by happy student revolutionaries, and is dedicated to such goals as “worker empowerment,” “creating a non-hierarchical, supportive work place” and “building alternatives to corporate-dominated capitalist methods of doing business.” All that, and hey, they also know how to cook. Really well. Communism might still be around if these people had been in the kitchen.”

As I have written in past updates, Concordia has a largely ‘liberal’ or even ‘radical’ presence on our campus, and I for one- love it, as I believe Jesus may have been the most revolutionary figure history has ever seen. Hailey is one of our executive fellowship student leaders who feels the same. She is passionate about the environment and other social justice issues. It has been a supreme joy of mine to share with her Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, as it was such a key work in my walk with Jesus in learning just how central justice is to the Kingdom of God. Both Hailey and myself have seen an incredible opportunity at Concordia to engage on issues that are so important to our campus, and are found on every page of the Gospels themselves. Part of this volunteer recruiting from our fellowship includes prayer and scripture time so that both Hailey and myself not only bring people into serving our campus with us but realize just how important and vital it is to the disciple’s walk to serve our communities and reach out to ‘The People.’ Already we have built friendship with other volunteers in the kitchen, and have brought out a few of them to our Bible studies and other events!

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         As we reach out to ‘The People’ however we recognize that the vital questions of how we relate to one another- whether in romantic relationships, friendships, or family- are often warped, misunderstood, or downright awful and sinful. In response to this our staff leader for Concordia, Charis, suggested that we led a series on relationships for the students where we would use scripture, culture, and particular the viewpoint of Jonathan Grant’s work Divine Sex, to teach our students how as disciples in our context should navigate these waters. Questions of gender roles, desire, our economy, authority, and so much more have been explored and I in particular have had the joy of illustrating to our students through an episode of the hit sitcom Communitythe particular assumptions that our culture has about relationships that we ourselves do not even recognize, that greatly damage our souls!

         In addition to navigating our culture, we’ve also been learning about navigating through others’ cultures. Thanks to the kindness of one of Charis’ close Italian friends, we as a fellowship hosted a pizza making night during which we played games and all made specialized pizzas together. Part of the reason we hosted this evening was so that we could learn more about other culture’s food and hospitality practices. As a fellowship, one of our key ‘strategic priorities’ has been to create a community of hospitality and of sharing life together- as in Acts, when “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (2:46-47). However what we are learning is that North American culture hardly has a monopoly or even expertise on how to welcome people. One of our other executive team student leaders, Kenika Martinez-Deane, shared at this event her experience of her mother’s hospitality to a Japanese student and just how important that experience was for this student. Ten years later this same student offers a place to Kenika on her trip to Japan- this is sharing all things in common! We then got into a discussion about how each person that comes to the table can be an unexpected gift, such as the angels we may be hospitable to unawares (Heb. 13:2).

         Lastly, this semester we have also had to learn how to relate to ‘The People’ during times of trouble and confusion. As I’m sure many of you saw on the news, Concordia University’s Muslim student population during Islamic Awareness Week was recently the target of a bomb threat by the Canadian chapter of a white nationalist group known as the Council of Conservative Citizens of Canada. The environment created was one of fear and trepidation, and while we are thankful that no one in particular came to physical harm, we have now an acute awareness that the cultural and racial tensions more obviously present among our neighbours to the south, are just as prevalent amongst us, just under the surface. Many in our fellowship have Muslim friends, and we in particular have had a great relationship with many new international graduate Islamic students who are only more than happy to spend time with us, learn about Christianity, and have a good time. As we reflected upon this threat we used the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis, and one line in particular stuck out, “O Master, let me not seek as much…to be understood as to understand.” In our current context our Christian students and ourselves are often having to explain the actions and choices of other Christians throughout history or even in the recent election of Donald Trump, and continually we say ‘We just wish people really understood Jesus, and did not look at us through the lives of others who carry our name.’ As we reflected on this we realized that Muslims the world over have the same cry in their hearts about their faith- may we seek to understand them.

         As always, there is so much more that could be written about such as our past Christmas camp, and the future of our household but what you can be praying about for our fellowship is MARKeast (!!!!) MARKeast is a week long intensive 40 hour Bible study through the Gospel of Mark at camp! So it’s a wonderful time for students to get away after exams (hopefully after exams!) and work to spend more bonding time with one another, learning about scripture very interactively and creatively, as well as growing closer to Jesus and learning to follow him all the more. We at Concordia want to bring as many non-Christians to this camp as possible, and we could absolutely use your prayers in this endeavour! What a better source for a seeker than the Gospel itself? What a better Christian community than your peers away from life’s pressures? As we continue to outreach in a variety of ways to ‘The People’ at our campus we pray that the Lord will continually add to our number (Acts 2:47).

Thank you fellow saints for your support, with love and gratitude,

Caleb Upton

 

 

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