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April 13, 2021

CU Caritas Students and Alumni Unite Online

By Kelly Parks, Staff Writer

For recently graduated college students, this year has proven an increasingly difficult time for establishing the rhythms of adulthood. The lack of job security and limitations on social gatherings have caused anxiety for many young adults as they struggle to navigate post-graduate life in isolation.

CU Caritas at Nexus 2019CU Caritas at Nexus 2019. Recently, some current Caritas students and alumni formed an online community.

Recognizing the importance of community, several current and former Stanford students from Christian Union Caritas have committed to meeting together weekly for encouragement, prayer, and the study of God’s Word. CU Caritas is Christian Union’s ministry to Stanford students.

Blake Pagon ’20, who is currently finishing his master’s degree in Computer Science, explains that the group primarily started because all the members were  good friends. “All of us would regularly meet on campus and were in the same Bible course. When COVID hit, we thought, ‘Why don’t we just keep doing this?’ We didn’t let the virtual nature of our meetings stop us.”

Not only has this group served as a great source of community, but it has also been a means of spiritual edification and encouragement for everyone involved. Dillon Franke ’20, who is currently working on a master’s in Computer and Network Security, said the meetings with his friends from Christian Union have taught him “so much about the character of God - especially his faithfulness.” Franke continued, “I've also learned how important it is to surround yourself with a community that will help you grow in faith. Unlike a marathon, the Christian race is not one that can be run alone.”

While Franke is no longer living on Stanford’s campus, he continually reaps the benefits of the weekly virtual gatherings. Ryan Foulke, Stanford ’20, a recent alumnus and member of Christian Union, shared, “One key takeaway in talking about the Bible with other people  is that each of us fits a different role when talking about spiritual topics. For example, one guy in our group is good at asking tough questions, while Ministry Fellow Justin Woyak has a Bible verse for any topic, which is super invaluable.”

Foulke said that in the absence of a spiritual community like this one, navigating roadblocks in one’s faith can be difficult. However, having fellow Christians nearby can aid in overcoming those roadblocks as they offer their unique perspectives on life and faith. Pagon re-emphasized this point, saying, “Fellowship is important, as it allows you to see other people struggling through the same things and asking the same questions as you are. In fellowship, we can work through those struggles together. There is no such thing as a self-made person, and I’ve very much relied on a lot of people throughout my life. I think it’s important to let others know how much they mean to you.”

Woyak, Senior Ministry Fellow of CU Caritas at Stanford, is encouraged by this group of students and alumni: “They are committed to each other and they are sustaining each other. On the call, they read Scripture, discuss Scripture, talk about what is going on in each other’s lives, and pray. This group is kicking on all cylinders. I am encouraged by what God is doing with these guys and with their growth over the last four years.”

Not surprisingly, these individuals are mutually encouraged by Woyak, as he is largely responsible for bringing them together. Both Foulke and Franke joined CU Caritas after Woyak had reached out to them as freshmen, while Pagon joined later in his junior year. “I didn't grow up as Christian,” said Foulke, “so having an older Christian mentor is incredibly helpful because he gives such good advice.”

As the group continues to grow together during this season, questions about how to pursue God in the post-graduate world have been a common point of discussion. Franke, who is currently working as a cybersecurity consultant while in graduate school, stated that integrating his faith with his work is something for which he is actively pursuing God’s guidance. 

In Franke’s words, “I love what I do, and I'm hoping that through interacting with clients and my teammates, the Holy Spirit would work through me... I know God can use me in any circumstance - I just have to be keen to listen to his guidance.”

Although work and school remain primarily remote, it has not stopped the group from discussing ways to share Christ in their interactions with others. According to Pagon, the main question to consider when sharing Christ with others is, “How can I serve others regardless of what job I'm pursuing? I want people in the communities where I work and live to ask themselves why I carry myself the way I do,” ultimately pointing them towards Christ.

While the pandemic has brought countless challenges and social isolation, the replicable models of online fellowship that have come out of this season could be a great resource for many in years to come. Though - Lord willing - the pandemic will not last much longer, online fellowship for recently graduated seniors could be a great means of staying connected and pressing into their faith as they establish themselves in new jobs, cities, and churches. Groups, such as these, could continue to be a blessing to many post-grads as they make the transition from college life to adulthood.

To learn more about Christian Union's ministry at some of the nation's most influential universities, please click here.


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