By ANDREW HANSEN
EDWARDSVILLE — When Kayla Bridick, a student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), took a class called Biblical Studies, the senior from Granite City said it was one of her favorite classes, but it opened her eyes to how little she knew about Scripture. For Joshua Coleman, a graduate student at SIUE, he was simply “coasting” through his faith life. Both of these students were in different places of their life spiritually, but they both recognized they desired something more. Little did they know that hunger would be filled through a Bible study, organized by FOCUS, a team of young adult missionaries serving on campus.
“I have been able to shape my understanding of the Bible through the Catechism, Catholic social teaching and doctrine, and at the same time, I have been invited to pray with Scripture and make connections with what the Lord is trying to say to me personally in my own life,” Bridick said. “This year, I have been lucky enough to take on the role of being a leader of my own Bible study group. Because I had witnessed such incredible transformations in my own relationship with God through Bible studies, I knew I wanted to help invite other women to do the same. I expected the Lord to provide everything I needed, but in His usual fashion, He has provided even more than I could ever have imagined.”
“I have enjoyed not only the amazing community and friendships that I have formed, but the deeper understanding I have begun to develop about the Gospel,” Coleman, an Edwardsville resident, said. “Through that deeper understanding, I have been able to continue to grow in depths of my relationship with Christ that I never thought I would enter.”
These weekly Bible studies started in 2020 when FOCUS came to campus. This year, there are 11 different groups (men and women groups), with about 70 students as regular participants and at least 100 students have joined at least once.
Some of the Bible studies are led by FOCUS missionaries, while others are student led. They begin with a prayer and then the flow normally goes: Scripture, questions, discuss, and repeat. Fellowship usually follows afterward.
“I love to watch God’s grace move by seeing people grow in their relationship with Christ over time,” said Willie Jansen, the leader of the FOCUS team. “If someone is faithful to showing up and taking the next step Christ is inviting them into, He leads them on an incredible journey, and it has been fun to watch students walk this path. This highlights a key part of these Bible studies — they are deeply and intrinsically relational. So, while so much happens in the 60 to 90 minutes of Bible study, a lot happens in the time spent and conversations we have outside of that time.”
Jansen has seen firsthand the impact these Bible studies are having on students.
“One of the many graces from Bible studies this year comes from a male, student led study,” Jansen said. “Early in the fall, Luke invited one of his classmates named Josh to join his Bible study. Josh accepted the invitation and has been loving it. He was not raised in any faith tradition, so he is taking a lot in. Josh has been joining for Mass, community events, and service with the Missionaries of Charity. This is a great example of what we hope for these Bible studies — these two men are not just in a Bible study together. They have an authentic friendship that is orienting their lives in the direction of Christ and His Church. It all started with a simple invitation, and it continues through real friendship, both with the other and with Christ.”
Bridick can relate. Her group consists of four women who meet once a week to pray with Scripture, share in joys and sorrows of the week, and just be with each other.
“My favorite thing about the study is that we are able to just be honest, vulnerable, and real with one another,” Bridick said. “On college campuses, it can be hard to find a safe space to connect with like-minded people especially on the topic of faith. I’ve been told many times by all of the women in my study that being a part of this group has changed their life — both spiritually and personally — and that it is the best part of their week.”
For Coleman, he says the Bible studies have helped him better understand the deeper levels of our faith.
“There have been more ‘Now I get it!’ moments than I can count, but I think my favorite ones have been going through the Salvation history and growing in my understandings of Christ,” Coleman said.
While these weekly Bible studies are part of the SIUE Newman Catholic Community, they happen in places such as dorm rooms, apartments, and other places.
“When people hear the words ‘Bible study,’ I think many people think of a Theology class or they assume they must perform and have a lot of previous knowledge,” Jansen said. “While I do hope the students are learning so much about who God is, who they are and what His plan is for their life, ultimately, I hope Bible studies lead students to deep covenantal relationship with Christ and His Church for a lifetime. I hope Bible studies lead them to a deeper receptivity to Christ in His sacraments. I hope it leads them into more receptive and consistent daily prayer lives. And I hope it leads them to an unshakable faithfulness to the Church’s teachings.”
“As a Bible study leader, I have been hearing the voice of God and learning about my relationship with the Father in a whole new way,” Bridick said. “In order to lead my group of women well, I have to constantly be in relationship with and relying on the Father to provide everything we need.
“I can’t imagine where I would be in my faith journey without the community that the Lord has placed around me, whether it be as simple as a friend sitting next to me at Mass when I’m feeling alone or something larger, such as being pushed to spend my summer in another state with other students focused solely on growing in our faith,” Coleman said. “Each moment every day with this amazing community plays a pivotal role in pushing me closer to Christ.”