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Christian Union
May 28, 2014

Columbia Lecture Attracts Christians, Non-Christians

By Luke Foster, Columbia '14

Thursday nights at Columbia University tend to be quiet. Few students have classes on Fridays, so almost everyone prepares for the weekend and tries to recover from the hectic week. The Christian ministries on campus use Thursday evenings as times to worship and reflect.

But Thursday, February 20 was a little different.

For a week, posters and Facebook posts had been proclaiming an exciting event for that evening. Compass Christian Koinonia and Apologetics Café co-hosted a lecture with Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, a Ravi Zacharias International Ministries speaker. Several campus organizations helped publicize the event. Approximately 150 people of all faiths and no faith crowded into a small auditorium to engage with the ideas of Dr. Qureshi.

Dr. Qureshi, who titled his talk after his new book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, challenged students to pursue truth above beauty, and to be willing to submit to the most compelling view of the world, no matter the cost.  He asserted that the Gospel accounts are historically reliable and thus raise the problem of Jesus' identity for anyone who reads them. If Jesus really did claim to be the Son of God, and He really did die on a cross, and He really did rise from the dead, then we have to accept His claim.

But an abstract argument that we ought to believe a proposition rarely compels anyone. So Dr. Qureshi focused on his own conversion story. Raised in an Islamic context, he was a devout Muslim when he arrived at Eastern Virginia Medical School. There he met intelligent and articulate Christians and began to research their claims about Jesus in order to refute them. But the more he looked into the historical backing for Christianity's claims, the more he was intrigued. He then examined Islam's historical roots and found its portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad and its assertion of the Qu'ran as God's revelation unconvincing. The weight of the evidence led him to the radical step of becoming a Christian.

Chelsea Lo, a senior at Barnard College and president of Compass Christian Koinonia (www.columbia.edu/cu/cck/), reflected enthusiastically on the event's success. "After Dr. Qureshi finished speaking, several Muslim audience members questioned him about his story," she said. "The exchange was thoughtful and respectful, with a real sense of trust."

For Lo, hosting "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus" was an act of service to Columbia's student body: "Having an opportunity for intellectual, but also emotional engagement with a respected scholar is something we thought that people would be interested in." She sees a "thirst" for spiritual truth in Columbians that isn't always adequately met.

Lo's involvement with Compass Christian Koinonia (CCK) has helped her process her own doubts and empathize with skeptics. "CCK is one of the smaller ministries on campus, with about a dozen people," she said. "We dig deeply into God's Word and welcome anyone who is asking questions." At points, almost half of CCK's membership has been composed of spiritual seekers.

The enthusiasm for February's event with Dr. Qureshi reflects the ability of ministries like CCK to meet specific needs at Columbia. It is also part of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries' growing work on Ivy League campuses: Dr. Zacharias himself spoke at Princeton, Penn, and Dartmouth this academic year, and the ministry is working with the Augustine Collective to resource journals of Christian thought at these universities.