InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has a summer program to bring evangelical college students to Provo for a month.
The Fellowship puts on a variety of summer programs and studies abroad, including the Student Connexion program based in Provo. Student Connexion aims to provide students with meaningful and spiritual conversations with those of other faiths and help them learn more about the culture, theology and faith of Latter-day Saints, according to the program description.
Utah resident Brad Bertelsen directs the program and the InterVarsity chapter for BYU. He wanted to give InterVarsity students across the country an opportunity to learn more about Latter-day Saints and start creating connections.
“Most evangelical young people, or adults for that matter, don’t have LDS friends. And most Latter-day Saints I know don’t have evangelical friends,” Bertelsen said.
The students in the program dive into the Provo community and attend Church meetings, ward prayer, family home evening, institute and experience life with BYU students. The evangelical students in turn share their experiences and faith with their BYU counterparts.
“Hopefully, that encourages everyone in their pursuit of Jesus because it’s all about knowing and following Jesus,” Bertelsen said.
InterVarsity is an interdenominational campus organization with chapters across the country. While it is an evangelical Christian movement, it is open to students of any religious belief or tradition. Students interested in the Summer Connexion program filled out an application and upon acceptance raised their own funds for the trip, as did the staff members, according to Bertelsen.
This is the second year of the program. The 11 students came from different universities in California, Arizona, Colorado and Montana, according to Bertelsen.
Some students, such as Paul Allen and Audra Welsh, were interested in joining Summer Connexion after their own experiences meeting Latter-day Saint missionaries or knowing members of the Church. They wanted to learn more about the Church and build relationships with others.
Others, like University of Northern Colorado student Chloe Allen, did not have much experience with the Church. Allen met a few Latter-day Saints in passing on her college campus, which made her curious. She said she hopes to bring this experience back to her campus so when she meets members of the Church she can understand their perspective and culture and be able to form good friendships.
In addition to attending events with their YSA ward, the InterVarsity group held an interfaith dialogue in connection with the BYU Interfaith Student Association. They have also put on weekly events and invited BYU students to join them to experience some of their faith traditions or have fun spending time together. These events included a game night, worship music at a park and Bible study at the Provo City Library.
The InterVarsity students have also been able to explore the mountains and other parts of Utah and attend a local evangelical church on Sundays, according to Bertelsen.
Paul Allen, who attends California State University San Bernardino, said he has enjoyed their events and particularly the worship night in the park. He was happy to see so many people come — somewhere around 100, Allen said.
“It was … really cool to see that and to see like, the trust and the relationships we’ve built and just to enjoy that together,” Allen said.
Welsh, a student from Colorado Christian University, said one of her favorite parts of the trip has been attending family home evenings with the YSA ward. She said it has been cool to experience the way Latter-day Saints create community.
Chloe Allen agreed and said at her college, it is hard to get people together while in Provo it is a regular thing to hang out together. She loves how FHE is a part of life and has enjoyed meeting individual people and connecting with them.
Paul Allen said he has really enjoyed the welcome they received from everyone in the community. At their first sacrament meeting, he said the people they met were very welcoming. One even let Allen and some group members use his phone to follow along with the hymns.
Bertelsen said while they may have expected BYU students to be welcoming, they have been surprised by the welcome received from bishops, stake presidents and faculty members.
Olivia Longshore, a member of the YSA ward the InterVarsity students have been attending, enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences between their respective religions. She said the experience has been a beautiful way to understand another group of God’s children, and see their love for God and His love for them.
Common beliefs in Christ helped bring the two groups of young people together. Longshore said it helped her see there are still people all over the world striving to follow Christ. She wishes BYU and other colleges would have experiences like this more often.
“I’ve just felt God’s love the entire time and just understood how important it is to come together as His children, not as different groups,” Longshore said.
Looking forward, students want to continue developing relationships at their respective universities. Paul Allen said he loved the community here, getting to know people and learning about Jesus together.
“I think community is done really well here. So I’m really gonna miss that. But that doesn’t mean that can’t happen on my campus,” Paul Allen said.
There is a YSA ward about twenty minutes from Welsh’s house. She said she looks forward to building relationships and talking about faith, family and culture with those outside her Christian school upon finishing the trip.
“I’m really excited to go home and continue having interfaith dialogues with friends,” Welsh said.
Chloe Allen expressed her gratitude for the InterVarsity program and said she is glad this is how she is spending her summer.
“I’m just so impressed with how when we treat people with kindness and respect, how just great things happen,” Bertelsen said.
InterVarsity for BYU also holds Bible study every week during fall and winter semesters, led by Bertelsen. Anyone is welcome to join.