The Confessions of a College Kid’s Atheist Experience
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The Confessions of a College Kid’s Atheist Experience

Mission trips typically bring to mind international travel, new cultures, and teaching little kids. An 18-hour road trip to a capital city of the Bible Belt? Not so much.

I was surprised to learn a few months ago that Austin, Texas is a hotspot of the atheist worldview when my campus minister, Dean Meadows, proposed a spring break “Immersion Week” there. Although I typically envisioned my first mission trip to entail a new passport stamp, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of having a safe space to talk with members of the Atheist Community of Austin about their worldviews. In the fall semester, I quickly signed up and volunteered my spring break to growing my apologetics skills.

At the end of the fall semester, Dean passed out Christian Apologetics, a 700-something page comprehensive guide to defending the Christian faith. As I perused it over winter break, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Was I ready for uncomfortable topics that may come up during Immersion Week? Would I come back to campus with more questions than confidence? As the first months of the spring semester passed, Dean helped students prepare to talk with atheists. I admit, I was slightly jealous of my friends discussing their plans to visit Florida during break, but I continued to trust that God would bless me as I dedicated my break to Him in Austin.

In Austin

After a long road trip from Blacksburg, VA to Austin, TX, we arrived safely at our hotel. Sunday was our first night there, and we ate dinner with two atheist YouTubers. While some students on the trip had known atheists before, this interaction was a first experience for others. The tacos were delicious, but the conversation was awkward: do we address the elephant in the room of why we are brought together? Hearing their stories, I immediately recognized (and became alarmed by) similarities between their stories and my own upbringing. Raised in a Christian household? Check. Genuine about their faith in college? Check. So, was I on track to become just like them? Perhaps most frightening to me was this fact: these people had not been trying to lose their faith or looking for an excuse to “get out”, as I had always assumed.

The sessions had not even started, and I was already hoping I would return to college with my faith intact.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were dedicated to semi-structured conversations with atheists. For two hours in the morning, they would discuss their belief surrounding a certain topic, and students could practice their listening and question development skills. For two hours in the afternoon, there was a question-and-answer session in which students asked questions based on what they heard. As a self-proclaimed hater of confrontation, I squirmed watching questions rattled back-and-forth between believer and atheist. I grew frustrated when I worked up the courage to ask a question, only for it to be talked around in the response. Most importantly, I grew comfortable with these uncomfortable feelings talking about faith and wrestling with heavy subjects.

Sessions were undeniably heavy. Topics that felt above my level or easy-to-avoid as a 20-year-old now stared me in the face, begging me to answer them.

Why do I think we have free will? Why would the God, who I leaned on throughout my life, allow evil atrocities in the world? Did he really choose an inherently subjective form of communication with mankind, and what if it has led me to do wrong? Why should I trust the Gospel writings if we don’t know who wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

While I was overall pleased with how I was able to ask questions, the conversations often left my head reeling.

At the conclusion of each session, I eagerly awaited debrief: a time in the evening when Dean would walk us through things we heard. Instead of us asking atheists questions, it was now Dean asking us questions to challenge us to think our way through the dialogue. It was a safe space for us to wrestle and think critically together, and it was my favorite time during the trip.


I heard new challenges to my faith, like the problem of interpretation. I began to wrestle with and work through challenges I previously tried to ignore, like the problem of evil. I entered the world of apologetics headfirst in Austin, and I was forced to confront uncomfortable challenges to Christianity rather than run from them or tell myself that ignorance is bliss. Not only did my time in Austin allow me to grow closer to God and my Christian family, but it facilitated the start of a lifelong process of comfortably asking questions of my faith and seeking answers. Before Austin, I told myself that hard topics were a study for another day. Now, I am beginning to feel comfortable saying “I don’t know” and diving into topics that scare me.

At a public state university with over 30,000 students, there are constant distractions and temptations to draw students away from their relationship with the Lord. My time in Austin renewed my hunger to draw nearer to God and glorify Him in my life. I have seen that I can navigate conversations about daunting challenges to God’s existence or the Bible. While conversations on campus may not be structured as neatly or safely as those during Immersion Week, I have begun to see their possibility.

College students—and any other member of a congregation—will face questions surrounding their Christian faith. Congregations have two options in responding to this fact: embrace questions, or ignore them. It is crucial that young people learn that it is OK to explore questions asked by ourselves and the world. When we are not greeted with that mentality in the church, it is far more tempting to accept the supposed answers provided by culture. By giving students opportunities like Immersion Week, churches can allow students to leave their apologetics comfort zone to ultimately become better equipped as disciples of Christ.

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