Stranger Things: On Welcoming College Students

Updated: Oct 24

I wonder if you can feel it. I wonder if the seismic waves coming from campus as UC Davis starts again can be felt in your corner of the county.

Of course, the campus is the epicenter; but even if you never set foot on campus, it’s tough to miss. There’s the aroma of academia as coffee shops fill with studious students, there’s the return of bike bunches at the most popular intersections, and the bedtime for Downtown Davis goes up an hour or two.

These are the charming rhythms of life in a college town – every Fall your life and zip code get bombarded with 10,000 new strangers.

It turns out our God has a thing or two to say about strangers. It was a fundamental command in the law of God’s people – not simply because it’s nice to be hospitable, but because it is a direct response to the way God cared for Israel when they were strangers in Egypt (Deut. 10:19, Lev. 19:34). Do this because I did this for you, and I want you to look like me in the world.

When Jesus separates the sheep from the goat in a teaching that has caused many sleepless nights, Jesus shares a defining characteristic of the sheep: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25:43-44)

Let’s not forget the stunning statement from the writer of Hebrews: “do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:1-3).

Like many imperatives in Scripture, it can be easy to get caught in the questions of paralysis: How? What counts as a stranger? Am I doing enough?

I invite you to lean into the simplicity of the Fall. Every year 10,000 strangers come into your town. 10,000 people who might be away from home for the first time, who don’t know how to get to Trader Joe’s yet, who are asking fundamental questions of worth, belongingness, and value.

This week College Life has been on campus welcoming these strangers – telling them a story of their loveliness and their value while simultaneously throwing our arms open and saying, you can belong here. We’ve been doing that with flowers and conversations. They might not know it, but every flower is a gentle nudge toward God’s wisdom to an anxious generation: “do not be anxious… consider the lilies” (Matt. 6:25-28).

But Jesus doesn’t just tell the college ministries to welcome the stranger – that’s the job of the people of God. That’s the job of the church.

So to you, church, I ask you: there might be a new face or two walking past the fountain, up the steps, into the sanctuary this Sunday. What can we do – what can you do – to welcome that stranger? And as you ponder that, let me implore you to never underestimate the power of a smile and a “hello!”.

May this new crop of students say of FBC, “when I was a stranger, you welcomed me.”

Peter Nittler

College Pastor


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