Reclaiming a Lost Art

Editor’s Note: What follows is the third in a five-part series looking at the ministry of Young Life College at campuses across the United States and abroad.

“Hospiltality is a lost art.” While many would agree with Tami Ostlund’s assessment on the health of hospitality, not many would go to the lengths she has to reclaim this art.

Ostlund serves as the Young Life College director at the University of Minnesota (U of M). Ostlund and her husband,  Bill, live in St. Paul, one half of the Twin Cities, where Young Life College enjoys a solid presence on the campuses of the U of M, Bethel University, the University of St. Thomas, and Northwestern College.

The health of Young Life College at these schools is not an accident. In fact, the Ostlunds’ emphasis of welcoming college students into their lives is what attracts so many from the four different schools.

The Ostlunds have made it a point to embody a passage near and dear to their hearts, Romans 12:9-13 (NIV): “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.”

“When it says practice hospitality,” Ostlund said, “we’ve taken that very seriously.” So seriously, in fact, that the Ostlunds considered the purchase of a home a significant decision in helping to create a welcoming community. “We knew when we began ministry with college students that one of the ways we could most effectively build relationships with them was by inviting them into our home,” Ostlund said.

The renovated home, originally built as a school in 1914 by an Episcopal church, offers the Ostlunds an ideal refuge to care creatively for the many students involved in Young Life College. Not only do they host club there every week, but they regularly serve dinner beforehand to the more than 100 students who come out. While it’s open for large groups coming in for club and other events, their home is also used as a daily sanctuary for weary students to come by and get refreshed. Centrally located in the community, one block away from the U of M and a 10-minute ride from the other area schools, the house also includes an apartment on the third floor, which the Ostlunds often rent out to local college students.

Having so many different facets of Young Life College in their home has fostered a family atmosphere. Students often drop in between classes to study, to nap, even share a meal. “To be in someone’s house with a home-cooked meal,” Ostlund said, “really gives them a picture of Christian community ... especially if they’re homesick. They miss their families. It’s an awesome way to break down walls and build relationships when we’re all sitting at the kitchen table with a big bowl of popcorn.”

Coming home

One grateful recipient of such warmth and generosity is Lauren Johnsen. Johnsen grew up in Bloomington, Minn., and when it came time to apply to college, she wanted to stay near her family. The U of M kept her close to home, and upon arriving on campus, she was excited to begin a new chapter of her life.

However, the growing workload and pressures of living on her own made her anxious and lonely. She lost sleep along with her appetite. “Things quickly took a different turn that I wasn’t ready for,” she said.

While adjusting to Johnsen’s new surroundings, new roommates, and the energy and pressure of college life, Johnsen learned her grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer. The news only pressed Johnsen into deeper sadness. “I didn’t really know where to turn,” she said.

On a particularly low day, a friend invited Johnsen to have lunch with her and some friends she had made at Young Life College. Johnsen remembered friends in high school who had been involved in Young Life, but she had never really had any interest in it. “I didn’t want to hear about how I was sinning, or how I was living a bad life without God,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone telling me I was living my life wrong, because I was living life the way I wanted to.” High school, she remembered, was fraught with cliques and judgmental peers. “I assumed any place I came to would be like [high school],” she said.

What she found instead was a room full of open arms and warm hearts. “It’s incredible how uplifting walking into a room of kind people can be,” she said. One of the first people Johnsen met was Ostlund. “She seemed ready for something else in her life,” Ostlund remembered about Johnsen. “She was feeling pretty lost.”

As the school year progressed, Johnsen’s grandmother’s health continued to deteriorate. Although Johnsen harbored many negative feelings about Christianity, her grandmother was a woman of devout belief. “It was perplexing to me why she was so OK with dying,” Johnsen said.

Johnsen took her questions to club and started emailing Ostlund about issues of faith. “Lauren is a girl who, during the club talk, would actually take notes,” said Ostlund. “She would ask the toughest questions.”

As Johnsen continued to attend Young Life College, she found something in the talk each week she could relate to. “I can’t explain how it happened, but something clicked. It just felt right to me,” she said. 

The following February, six months after first attending Young Life College, Johnsen’s grandmother passed away. The day after, Johnsen found herself in her grandmother’s bedroom and realized her grandmother’s devotion to Christ was something she wanted for herself. Ostlund received the news over a simple email from Johnsen: “I started a relationship with Jesus.”

Today, Johnsen continues to thrive in the environment of love and acceptance she found in Young Life College. “Lauren has the heart of a person who knows grace, knows the Lord, knows forgiveness and is filled with joy,” said Ostlund. “She invites friends to club and events and she’s a huge encourager.”

In the year since giving her life to Christ, Johnsen has deepened her relationship with Jesus and her new family through her involvement with her Wednesday night small group and volunteering for work crew on several weekend trips at Castaway Club, Young Life’s camp in Minnesota.

“I can’t imagine being in school without Young Life College,” Johnsen said. “I’ve made such good friends. I know that whenever I need anybody — to share excitement with, to share sadness with — those people are there for me.”
Open house … open homes

Not content to have the generosity just begin and end with her, Ostlund works hard to instill the vision and practice of hospitality in the students who meet at her house every week for small group. “They are all there, every single week, and they love each other like crazy.” 

One day these students, who “love each other like crazy” in the warmth of the Ostlunds’ home, might have homes of their own. It will come as no surprise if these become sanctuaries open to others, as former Young Life College students continue in their own way to reclaim a beautiful lost art.​