Commentary: College years are time when students make decisions impacting the rest of their lives


“What do you find attractive about Jesus?” When Von Rogers, the associate campus missionary at the University of North Georgia, originally asked me this question, I told her that I did not know. I was a junior in college who had grown up in the church but who was tired of nuance-less rules and older Christians constantly seeming to have pat answers.

I knew Jesus would always be my Savior, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be part of church anymore. I confessed this to a few friends on campus who invited me to visit the Baptist Collegiate Ministries. I thought, “I can give this three weeks.”

When I responded to Von’s question with uncertainty, Von asked if we could read the book of John together and highlight things we found attractive about Jesus, adding that I could ask any questions I wanted. I immediately assumed this was a trap, because I hadn’t known many adults who were open to questions. At the same time, I was curious, so I agreed.

That first week I read the first chapter of John and brought Von one little question. I don’t even remember what the question was, but I do remember how Von taught me how to open my Bible and find the answer for myself! That lit a spark in me that would lead to Von and I reading the New Testament together that year and Old Testament together my senior year.

Words cannot express how valuable this time in the Word was for me, learning to walk in a relationship with Jesus through delighting in the Word He’s given us. I ended up not walking away from the church that year. Through Von and others at the BCM, Jesus was true to the promise of Psalm 121:7: “He will keep your soul.”

My senior year, I began feeling a stirring in my soul toward staying an extra year at the BCM as an intern. God opened the doors, and I had the most wonderful year serving with and learning from Ken Jones, James Forrester, and Von Rogers. Over the course of that year, God used my time with North Georgia BCM to call me into vocational ministry.

I’ll never forget one of the girls I was discipling, who was a baby believer, asking me, “Who are the fancy-dressed men in the manger scene?” I realized she had never heard the Christmas story in its entirety in order to know who the wise men were. That realization broke me, and I remember sitting on the floor in Von‘s office crying and processing, deeply disturbed that there were college students who had never heard the Christmas story and all that story means to the world. 

All throughout my year as an intern at the BCM, I had been having dreams of a place. I would wake up from those dreams knowing that the people in my dream were real people who God wanted me to pray for and that the place that I was praying for was a real place where I had never been. Also during this time, I kept sensing God telling me to go west.

There are a lot of things west of Georgia so Joe Graham sent my résumé to the states west of the Mississippi River. I ended up interviewing with the state director in Oregon. He told me that I could have a job at Portland State University but that I would need to fundraise my salary and that I would need to commit to serve on staff for a minimum of two years.

I was nervous about this, but finally decided to tell Von about my dreams.  When we looked at Portland State together on Google maps, we found the buildings exactly as I described them to her. In fact, they matched the campus map that I had drawn over the course of the months of dreams.

I think that this was enough confirmation to send me straight away to Oregon, but I tend to be a little bit stubborn. I resisted the Lord for a few days. Yet that weekend I was serving at SendMeNow’s Discovery Weekend, helping place college students on their summer mission trips. We were singing “I Will Follow.” The song lyrics say “where You move, I’ll move.” The Lord spoke to me and said, “You are not singing this in truth, and how do you expect to help college students find My will for their summer if you’re not even listening to Me?”  And so right there, surrounded by summer missionaries, I told the Lord I would move to Oregon. The date was February 15, 2013.

Every February 15 I celebrate “Where You Move, I’ll Move” Day commemorating the start of my Portland journey. This past February I celebrated ten years since I said yes to following Jesus to this city. I can’t imagine living anywhere else! Portland’s college students have completely captured me, and I long to see Jesus build His kingdom here as it is in heaven.

God has done thousands of amazing things in the last decade, but since this article is too short to hold them all, I will share two short stories of celebration from this past month. The first is about a young woman named Hannah. Hannah grew up in the church and got involved with our college ministry as a Freshman.

Hannah knew Jesus but had not claimed her faith as her own. Over the four years I had the joy of discipling her, she involved herself in many fleeting, pseudo-joys, searching for depth of relationship and yet running from the only One Who can satisfy our souls. There were many times I wasn’t sure if she even wanted to follow Christ at all, but Spirit told me to keep holding on to discipling her through the storm.

As Hannah‘s campus minister, I had the joy of walking alongside her through the ups and downs, the mountain tops and the pits, and see the Holy Spirit pursue her in His sweet way. Last month, Hannah, who is an alumni now, returned from a three-month-long mission trip in Iraq, where she got to serve refugee women and share the Hope that she has. As Hannah shared her stories, I sat in awe of the faithfulness of God in her heart. She is thriving, having experienced much inner healing and instruction from Spirit. I love that I get to walk alongside many young women like Hannah every year. 

My second celebration is about a student named Alondra. Over the past six months. Alondra has been exploring her questions about Jesus within our community. She knew one of our members from high school band and wanted to know if the peace she saw in this friend was what she had long been looking for. 

Alondra had sought peace from tarot cards, religion, and friendships but was still coming up empty. But God!  (My favorite two words in all of scripture.) But God called Alondra and brought her to Himself over spring break! We took a girl’s trip to the coast, and while we were there, Alondra decided to put her faith in Jesus!

We found a cupcake shop in town, and Alondra picked out a cupcake for her spiritual birthday that was topped with a hatching duckling to represent new life. Even in just a few months, Alondra has already begun walking with multiple friends toward faith in Christ, boldly sharing what she is learning in the Bible and the joy of having the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Two of her friends have joined our community and are exploring whether they will choose a relationship with Jesus. God is on the move in Portland, Oregon, and among GenZ all around the world! I can often be caught saying that I’m quite literally living the Oregon dream. 

I am immeasurably grateful for Georgia Baptists and your generosity toward collegiate ministry. In my opinion, this is the most vital evangelism work you can do as a state, because college is a time when students will make decisions that impact their entire adult lives. Collegiates are also the most sendable in terms of willingness to go where people have not yet heard, whether that be their classmate, a young mom struggling to make ends meet in New York, or unreached peoples on remote plateaus of Kazakhstan.

The decisions you make concerning your investment in collegiate evangelism, discipleship, and missions will change eternity. Your generosity provided all that was needed a decade ago for a 20-year-old to not walk away from her faith but instead to find God‘s word rich. Your generosity allowed a young woman to find her calling to college students. Your generosity resulted in me moving to Portland and having the privilege to walk with students toward Jesus, just like Ken, James, and Von walked with me.

Georgia Baptists, you have fruit to your account in Portland, Oregon! I’m so grateful that is so. May you seek to faithfully see Georgia college students find their way from light to darkness and student missionaries be sent all over the world. I can’t wait to celebrate the fruit with you all around the throne of the Lamb.


Miriam Rainwater serves as director of Northwest Collegiate Ministries at Portland State University. Reach her at or on Instagram at @livingtheoregondream.