The epicenter of the drugged out culture was on the West Coast, where many godless gurus gathered to celebrate the merits of a “If it feels good, do it” society. Atheism ran rampant in these parts, where students spat on spiritual tradition and despised the staid religious beliefs of their parents.
The San Francisco Bay area, specifically the University of California at Berkeley, became a magnet for the movers and shakers of the selfish culture, and while Berkeley has mellowed with age, it still attracts its share of ultra-liberal thinkers.
But it also is attracting a small band of young Christian believers who are turning the common concept of missions on its ear.
Instead of heading off to Africa or South America to share the Gospel, Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason’s student impact program (SIP) has for several years taken mostly high school students from churches to Berkeley to share their faith. A second trip, June 22-29, will take students and some adults to Salt Lake City, Utah to learn how to defend their beliefs and also evangelize while visiting the main seat of Mormonism.
“Our goal is twofold,” said Kunkle, who partners with churches to customize the “counter” culture trips. “One, we want to plant seeds. You can’t have one conversation and expect to convert, but maybe we’ll meet a Mormon who already has had five or six conversations (with Christians)... and as we like to say we can put another stone in someone’s shoe.”
Ex-Mormons have told Kunkle’s youth groups to keep evangelizing, even when the listener does not seem receptive, because the truth is getting through.
The second goal, actually more of a byproduct, is to change the lives of the mission trip takers themselves, Kunkle said.
“It takes people out of their comfort zone and shows them how apathetic we have become about our faith,” he said. “It exposes Christians to how little they know about their faith and creates an internal motivation to study and go deep into the knowledge of God.
“I could hand out a theology book and 1 out of 100 kids and adults would be interested, but put them in front of a Mormon who rips their faith apart using their own Bible and it becomes, ‘Gosh, I need to know this stuff.’ In America, it’s easy to be lazy. We’ve taken the view that we want to create intellectual discomfort.”
Kunkle explained that anyone who thinks the foundations of Christianity are true should not be afraid to be exposed to other beliefs.
“Our view is that Christianity is true and therefore any argument against it is flawed in some way. So it’s a matter of figuring out how to point out those flaws,” he said. “We’re confident we can answer all challenges.”
Whether from Mormonism or atheism.
The annual trip to Berkeley – the last one took place in February – focuses on apologetics while the Utah trips concentrate more on theology. Kunkle organizes meetings with atheists – example: a Q & A with atheist David Fitzgerald – in Berkeley, but the outreach also includes random discussions with students walking across campus.
“There is no shortage of atheists in that area,” Kunkle said. “Some (Cal) students are responsive. Some are not. Sometimes we go door-to-door. We’ll talk to people on the street.” The visitors seek out challenging dialog wherever they can find it.
It’s not enough, however, to know what to say to atheists or Mormons or anyone who is resistant to Christianity (Kunkle currently is trying to plan a U.S. trip that focuses on Islam). It’s just as important to know how and when to say it.
“You may be very intelligent, but if you don’t have the wisdom of when to say things, or the character, it won’t work,” Kunkle said, adding that the reverse is true as well. “You may be full of Godly character, but you don’t know anything.”
To that end, Kunkle requires that students be trained before they head out to California and Utah.
“We have two-hour lectures where we get deep into theology, but in eight weeks of training they’re not going to learn everything they need to know,” he said. “But that’s the value of the trips. They make you uncomfortable. Basically, we want to raise the bar of what we expect from young people. And they step up.”
The Student Impact Program didn’t have to look far to find a role model for its programs. Kunkle said one need only open the Bible to Acts 17 to see how Paul proselytized by interspersing God’s word with the philosophy of the day.
“Part of what Paul does is go into synagogues with people ... he goes to Athens and meets with philosophers,” Kunkle explained. “He not only knows what he believes but what others believe.”
One of the tenets of the SIP is never to be afraid of questions.
“Sometimes our students will bring up doubts that they’re having. We want to address those things, especially in a high school kid,” Kunkle said. “Our confidence comes from knowing we have the truth.”
Original publication date June 4, 2007