How to Find a Christian in a Haystack

  • by Ross McCall

Viorica Manole had a puzzle to solve. She had just arrived in Oradea, Romania and had a month to find 2 Christian students willing to start a spiritual movement.

Viorica is part of an Expedition Team, a group of missionaries committed to visiting multiple locations in different countries within a year, in the hope of seeing Cru movements launched on campuses where there currently are none. Viorica’s group, Team Echo, arrived in Romania straight from helping launch a movement in Belize.

The Expedition Team’s methods were simple. Connect with churches in each location who might give them a platform to meet local students, and spend every day burning their shoe leather on campus, sometimes talking to 1,000 students in a month. Most importantly they had to believe that God was already working in students in each location before they arrived.

Yet in Oradea, the team discovered that most students were either in exams or on vacation when they arrived in the city. The campus was largely deserted. The clock was ticking. They needed to find a different way to surface the students they could challenge to be leaders.

Searching for 2 students may not sound like a stretch, but when no one in a city knows you, few people are likely to trust you. In Oradea, some local churches were suspicious of Viorica and her team. The Christian students they found tended to be too busy to make time for outreach.

“The mentality is that if you’re doing lots of things within the church, even singing in the choir, that this is the way that you serve God,” says Viorica. “We had to adapt. In Romania we chose to add Facebook to our methods.”

Missionaries have always been drawn to where people gather; town squares, market places, universities. When Viorica’s team couldn’t find students on campus or through local churches, Facebook was the logical next place to search.

“On campus we would say ‘We are searching for students who would like to be part of a community where they can talk openly about Christianity and help them share their faith,’” says Viorica. So she and her teammates spent hours sitting in her apartment, or cafes near the campus, searching Facebook for the students to send that message to. Using search terms like “Students in Oradea who like Chris Tomlin, Jesus, the Bible or Hillsong,” they gradually narrowed the pool of people to those they wanted to meet with. Then they waited.

Of the 158 students she messaged, 23 replied and Team Echo met with 14 personally. The first student to reply was Jessica. Jessica had been praying God would bring someone like Viorica into her life.

A meeting that was meant to last 45 minutes ran closer to 3 hours as Viorica challenged Jessica to be what they call a key volunteer, taking responsibility for starting something in her city. But Jessica had a problem. She didn’t believe anyone on her campus would want to talk about Jesus.

“I don’t think anyone will listen to us,” she said.

“Well let’s go and find out,” said Viorica.

That day they started conversations with 5 Romanian students, and 4 of them heard the gospel for the first time. Jessica became one of Oradea’s key volunteers, part of a team of 7 students now being coached a Cru staff member in Romania.  

After their month in Romania, Team Echo moved on to another city, in another country, to begin their search again.

In each location they don’t know if the student they’re looking for will be found on campus, in a café, or in the world of social media. They adapt to the circumstances and adopt new methods as they go.

Do you or your church want to help launch spiritual movements where you are? Do you feel at home in the world of social media?

Here’s some ideas for ways to go from here:

Will you pass this story on to someone you think needs to hear it?