Shrinking Violet Becomes Daring Leader

  • by Heather Fletcher

Shannan Winkel had been a church-goer since she was 8. Throughout high school, she had continued with church and youth group, attending numerous Bible studies. It never occurred to her that she could lead a Bible study herself.

Then she came to the Mt Gravatt campus of Griffith University to study Education. In her first year, she reeled from the direct attacks on her faith from lecturers.

"I was struggling with my subjects because it's such a secular environment," Shannan says. "I needed Christian support, which I had gotten used to in high school. But now I was doing subjects that were actually opposed to religion and Christianity."

Feeling scared and alone, Shannan found herself shrinking back in class as lecturers touted the mistakes of the church throughout history and promoted science over God.

"It was really hard," she relates, "I thought, I need to find some Christians, others who understand what I'm going through. I thought God wanted me to be in this classroom, but I didn't have the tools to understand what to do when I was challenged."

But nagging fears and misconceptions about Christian groups on campus stopped Shannan connecting with other Christians until a non-Christian friend, Amy, introduced her to some Student Life missionaries. "You'll love them," Amy enthused, "They're Christians too." 

Shannan was unconvinced, but went along to meet them. They invited her to a camp where she met other Christians studying at Griffith uni, and more campus missionaries.

"At this camp, I decided, yes they're not too weird, I'll be involved. I felt quite moved that I needed to do more on campus, needed to be more involved, make a stand with God and act on it." Shannan even started to get ideas and a vision for campus ministry. "I got passionate about it! This is the opportunity I've been waiting for. Take the plunge!"

When she got back onto campus, Shannan found herself assailed again by old fears, doubts and insecurities. "I'm not a leader!" she said to herself.

But this time, she had a Christian community around her to give her love, encouragement and support. Rachel Larson, a Student Life worker took her under her wing. Shannan blossomed under Rachel's discipleship.

Shannan explained, "Rachel wants to be there for me, she wants to help me grow, she wants me to do what God wants me to do. It's mind-boggling that someone would take so much time and effort to pour out her love for me. I feel so loved."

So Shannan started co-leading a campus Bible study group so she could in turn invest her love and energy into other Christians, as Rachel has done for her. Shannan plans to continue leading Bible studies and is even initiating evangelistic conversations with students she doesn't know on her campus. Quiet Shannan has become excited about building Christians to be Christlike.

"It's something I'm quite passionate about," she explains. "I want to build skills and find time to be a discipler myself. I want to do evangelism, I want to see people come to Christ, but the BUILD part is something that's close to me, on my heart - the idea of supporting other Christians and helping them grow and develop because I have people who have done that for me."

Back in her Education classes, the second year Education major is still bombarded by attacks on her faith. But instead of reeling, she now finds the courage to speak up. Shannan reports that she recently told a tutorial group about the impact of Christianity on her career choice.

"Before," Shannon says, "I might not have told them about that. I now feel like I'm getting the support and love that I need, that I have the tools and people to step out in my faith."