As I stumbled into her apartment, graduate student Katie Garrett flipped a pancake over her stove while she joked with a friend standing alongside her. Tonight, like most Thursday nights, Katie’s apartment opens up to college students for delicious food, a safe environment, and good conversation.
Steadily, college students trickle in and out of her space, exchanging laughs and eating personalized pancakes. While obtaining her undergrad in Social Work at Hope College in Michigan, Katie knew she was passionate about ministry, but she would not have been able to imagine the position she finds herself in today. For this school year, Katie serves in a unique ministry as a graduate resident advisor for Wheaton College’s upperclassmen. Living among college juniors and seniors calls for sacrifices. Both a student and resident advisor, Katie balances her personal life with the lives of her residents. She aspires to receive her Masters in Christian Formation and Ministry and Bible Theology. In addition, she sacrifices her personal time at the expense of being available for the needs of others in her building. Whether it’s simply making pancakes like tonight or listening to someone pour their heart out, Katie is always prepared to listen and be present.
Prior to attending Wheaton, Katie spent most of her formative years at various camps. In her younger years, she attended camps;, throughout her college career, she worked at camps. Between her undergraduate and graduate program, Katie spent a year and a half living and working at a camp. Camping ministry is a large part of her testimony.
“I am passionate about camping ministry. I am passionate about people growing and developing into whom the Lord created them to be. I am passionate about people figuring out more about their story.”
From her camping experiences, Katie discovered, “It helped me live radically in community with people. Camping ministry is very similar to college, honestly. I think that’s why I feel so passionate about both of them.”
At camp, you must let your guard down and be vulnerable to others, which often leads to stronger relationships. In any form of living community, people will come to know one another’s good, bad, and ugly. A person’s true colors will come into the light. People will always be able to break down some of the walls others attempt to put up.
A tightly knit college community, like a positive camp experience, influences the development of individuals. She pours the same methods of a summer camp into her year living in upperclassmen housing. She sees this time as a temporary ministry in this season of life. Her eventual occupation may continue with student development, she may work at a camp, or she may do something she has never even considered before.
A Space for Conversations
For now, Katie is called to focus on the lives of students. Because she is dealing with individuals emerging into adulthood, Katie views everyone as stories that she is entering into at a certain moment. Constantly, every person’s story is unfolding and changing. She loves to hear about each individual’s story.
Highly relational, Katie enjoys inviting people into her space for conversations. She has learned to have good and hard conversations, imparting unconditional grace upon everyone, regardless of what they have done. It is crucial to listen well to someone who is willing to open up to you.
“Sometimes ‘skills’ and ‘being relational’ are pinned against each other,” Katie laments as she feels others see her as less qualified for task-oriented jobs. Yet, her ability to be highly relational is one of her greatest assets. Her job is filled with having conversations with people and offering the support and guidance they crave. While she may not have “as much to show at the end of the day” as Katie words it, she still believes it is a way of success.
Some days are harder than others. All human beings, regardless their love for people, need their time alone. Katie admits the difficulties of not being the top priority, but she also recognizes that putting others before herself is a part of her calling.
When she is having a rough time, Katie uses her positivity to cope with things. “It comes out of a broader framework of understanding the Lord’s role in that and not dismissing hard things and letting sorrow be sorrow and grief be grief.” Yet, she knows the importance of letting sorrow be sorrow and giving her problems to the Lord.
Most people would not willingly live among college students. However, a few are willing to see it as an opportunity for self-growth and aiding the growth of others. Resident advisors for college students must give up their personal time, but they understand the rewards and fruits from the experience.