I’m a big fan of Locality, and by that I mean experiencing things first-hand, exploring things contextually, and observing things up-close rather than from afar. If we think about it, we all have a certain regard for locality, don’t we? Don’t the words “on the ground” lend credibility? “On site” means convenience and relevance. “In person” is always more authentic, while “local flavor” is clearly a happy thing.
Locality is what this trip is about. I could surf web pages, make phone calls, and write emails all from the comfort of a house in Dallas, Texas. Instead, I aim to be “on site” and “in person” to get to know the “local flavor” of collegiate venues and see how ministry plays out “on the ground” all over our country. The “frivolous” points of this trip have their elements of locality, too – and either way, with ministry and with adventures, you’ve got to love Locality.
For instance, I found a generous supply of locality watching The Office in Scranton, at one of the show’s oft-mentioned restaurants. Locality in Baton Rouge, as I’ve mentioned, meant an amazing athletic weekend (which culminates tonight in the National Championship) – so did a month in World Series-bound Boston and a week in Birmingham. At Florida, riding a Vespa was local because it’s what the students do on their huge campus – but the same goes for riding in a van during an Amherst church’s Free Rides for college students during Halloween Weekend. Accents are certainly localized things (and can even create a name change!) – whether they’re Chicagoan, Bostonian, Southern, Cajun, or French. And food means particularly fun locality – from deep-dish pizza to peanut butter hamburgers to gumbo.
Being fully immersed “on campus” is far more interesting than just learning “about” a school, right? When John Piper speaks at Wheaton, as his alma mater it matters even more. But so does a forum held at Virginia Tech 6 months after tragedy, where locality informs us about aspects that news reports never could. When you’re at UNM, you see the surrounding shops that certainly help put the “quirky” in Albuquerque, while MIT’s geometric buildings prove their students’ proud nerdiness. The security guards and cards at NYU fits that uniquely “downtown mega-city” campus, and the security at Harvard (keeping non-students out of the Student Center) teaches about Boston campus paranoia. Spend a bit of the awkward Winter Quarter at a quarter system school, and you’re learning locality there, too.
These are just tips of the locality iceberg I’ve experienced on this trip, to be sure. It has shocking value, I believe – and not only in random adventures, but also in ministry. Because in the world of ministry, locality means contextual, and a love for locality in our individual College Ministries may make a bigger difference than we realize. I’ve certainly seen where outsiders-lacking-locality haven’t always ministered in the most effective ways, in particularly “local” places like Boston and Virginia Tech (and I wrote about it, too). But on this trip I’ve also seen severely localized ministry, and it can have a funny knack for scratching students right where they itch (whether they realize it or not).
Locality! It’s one of the cooler things I’ve experienced So Far.