For the leadership at Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), the need for minority voices is critical because of the ministry’s unique opportunity to show young people how the gospel brings together people of many races. That vision for reconciliation can then move through the PCA.
“As I survey the denomination and the agencies, it seems that RUF has one of the most profound influences on the denomination,” said Russ Whitfield, RUF’s director of cross-cultural advancement. “There are so many pastors, ruling elders, and deacons, as well as church members, who have RUF in their story. If through RUF you can advance a commitment to cross-cultural ministry and community building, you can have a big impact.”
Whitfield’s mission is to help RUF embrace a commitment to cross-cultural ministry as gospel ministry.
Whitfield sees what is at stake if RUF ministries do not work intentionally to represent the wider student populations. If college campuses are ethnically diverse, but the RUF ministries on those same campuses attract only white students, there is a ministry disconnect.
Whitfield’s mission is to help RUF embrace a commitment to cross-cultural ministry as gospel ministry. Most of his work focuses on equipping campus ministers cross-culturally, recruiting and retaining people of color for the ministry, and consulting with senior leadership in RUF on matters of cross-cultural awareness and hospitality in the ministry at large.
Though he has yet to complete a demographic study of each RUF ministry (there are more than 150 campus ministries), he knows RUF ministries tend to be overwhelmingly white even if their campuses are much less so.
For years Whitfield informally pursued minority students and interns in RUF. When they felt called to serve as RUF campus ministers, Whitfield helped them raise funds. This kind of intentional welcome is not about affirmative action, he said, as much as applying the gospel in a way that makes campus ministry reflect Scripture.
Forging Partnerships in a Divided City
A key part of being intentional is campus ministers thinking strategically about implementing these big concepts in their specific ministries.
The RUF ministry at the University of Alabama meets just feet away from where Gov. George Wallace blocked a doorway in 1963 in an attempt to prevent black students from attending the university. So when Stewart Swain became the RUF campus minister at Alabama in 2015, he asked Whitfield to help him think through how the RUF ministry at Alabama could reflect the whole kingdom of God.
Swain invited Whitfield to speak to his students about God’s vision for the church and the world, and what that vision could look like at Alabama.
“[Whitfield] helped me see that we don’t need to abandon Reformed theology but dig deeper into it,” Swain said.
With Whitfield’s encouragement, Swain has forged partnerships with Plum Grove Baptist Church, an African-American congregation in the racially divided city of Tuscaloosa. Swain even brought on a Plum Grove pastor to work part-time with RUF.
“Russ has been there all the way to encourage us and partner with us rather than dictating to us. He wants to be part of the healing,” Swain said.
Just as higher education prepares students for the future job market, RUF can prepare students for faithfulness to God’s mission and a broader vision for Christ’s Kingdom now and in the future.