Responding to a friend’s invitation, Deep Sethi, an Indian-American student at the University of California-Davis, attended a Chi Alpha Campus Ministries service at the ministry house located just off campus. Then, the next week, the entire world shut down as COVID-19 took center stage.
But that one meeting was enough for Sethi, now 21, to realize that Chi Alpha at UC-Davis was a community that he wanted to join. Even though subsequent gatherings and small groups happened entirely online, Sethi didn’t miss any.
UC-Davis is a highly ranked public university, with nearly 40,000 students. University administration took the novel coronavirus seriously, working to protect the health of staff and students with detailed plans and protocols. After going online for most of the spring semester in response, Chi Alpha became the only student club or organization — out of more than 800 that call UC-Davis home — to be able to resume weekly in-person gatherings later in the summer. While gathering on campus continued to be restricted, Chi Alpha could use its property next door to gather with students in safe ways.
“There is a high value for in-person, human connection, and we saw a great need for that as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted daily life,” says 41-year-old Will A. Klier, an Assemblies of God U.S. missionary, ordained minister, and Chi Alpha director at UC-Davis. “Even with masks on, being able to be in person, worshipping, laughing, and just being together made all the difference for our students.”
Adjacent to a busy street with cars, bikes, and pedestrians, Klier, other Chi Alpha staff, and student leaders invited students to participate in outdoor worship services with masks required. That opened the door for people like Sethi to experience the authentic love of Jesus.
At the age of 3, Sethi says he began having vivid, memorable guiding dreams, even before he understood the dreams came from God. The son of immigrant, Hindu parents, Sethi participated in religious rituals and customs while growing up. He always desired to seek God and believed that if something is worth worshipping, it is worth imitating. However, as he grew and learned more about Hindu gods, he discovered many stumbling blocks that prevented him from imitating, worshiping, or feeling connected to these gods.
At one point, a hurtful and traumatic family situation led him to turn away from seeking God. Then, the vivid dreams became terrible nightmares. The first good dream he had after this period came after looking over the Book of Proverbs and included a voice speaking the words: I am your Father. I am back. I am here.
After connecting with Chi Alpha in the spring of 2020, the good dreams returned again. Sethi realized that through these dreams he had been experiencing the living God since early childhood.
What started for him as a technology-based journey to accepting Christ culminated in a decision to give his life to Jesus in August 2020. Now, Sethi plans to find ways to incorporate his Indian cultural traditions into biblical tools to bring others to know Jesus, like celebrating Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, with a Christian party later this year. He also hopes to create a new platform for Bible engagement where preferred learning styles are incorporated, providing audible, visual, and tactical ways of engaging with Scripture.
“God gives us certain tools, like technology, language, or culture, but we get to choose what we do with those tools,” says Sethi. “Whether we are going to use technology for connection or disruption or use language for worshipping God or cursing God, He’s provided opportunities for us. It’s the heart that matters, not the medium.”
This year, the Chi Alpha ministry house at UC-Davis is nearly paid off and more than 50 alumni have participated in the Chi Alpha Campus Missionary-in-Training, dedicating up to 12 months to missionary service in the U.S. or abroad.
Chi Alpha at UC-Davis currently has more than 100 students involved in weekly ministry and has a diverse student body. Sethi is now a small group Bible study leader.
Photo: Will Klier (right) befriended Deep Sethi on the UC-Davis campus.