STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (BRN) — Penn State University is made up of 24 different campuses across the state of Pennsylvania, with the addition of an exclusive online campus. Collectively, these campuses are home to a whopping 76,000 students each year. According to Penn State’s online domain, the university’s main campus, University Park located in State College, Pennsylvania, accounts for more than 40,000 undergrad students. Of those 40,000 students, 42% are out of state and 58% are in state, with nearly nine percent representing international students on each campus.

Among those staggering statistics is a community of students seeking much more than just a degree. New Life Student Fellowship is a group committed to reaching and equipping students for a lifetime relationship with Jesus Christ.

New Life students at Penn State University
New Life students at Penn State University

“This year with our New Life students, they have really been grasping the concept that we are blessed to be a blessing,” said Kayla Smith, Newlife Campus Minister.

She continued: “They’re [students] excited about their faith now, as they’re seeing it be freed form the confines of Sunday morning church. They’re taking their faith to the streets, the fields, the sidewalks, and other terrains…but really, they are just taking their faith into real life.”

Smith has been a campus minister at University Park since she, herself, graduated from Penn State back in 2017.

“I ended up becoming a Christian halfway through college and got involved with New Life as a student my junior year. [I] was heavily involved my junior and senior year, and my senior year the director approached me about coming on staff after I graduated and becoming a collegiate missionary.”

Prior to her time at Penn State, Smith did not identify as a Christian, nor was she actively pursuing a relationship with God.

“By the time I was in middle school, I would say I was an atheist. I didn’t really put much thought towards it – it wasn’t like I was going around being like, ‘God’s not real,’” confesses Smith.

She continued: “Most of my friends were not very spiritual or religious…there just wasn’t a culture of Christianity and religion among my friend group, so it just faded.”

Although she did not yet have a passion for Christ, she did have an enthusiasm for comedy and entertainment.

“I did a lot of sketch comedy and different videos and stuff when I was in high school, and that kind of translated to college at Penn State.”

Continuing, Smith stated, “My freshman year of college, about halfway through, I just needed a hobby. So, I thought, ‘Okay, well, I’m going to start doing creative stuff,’ and so my best friend and I made a YouTube channel.”

Kayla Smith
Kayla Smith

Smith and her friend would film, edit, and post weekly videos as a way of expressing their creative minds. The young girls never anticipated their videos reaching viewers continents away.

“What ended up happening, was that through mutual friends sharing our videos a missionary in Africa ended up seeing my videos,” said Smith.

“It was fun to read a message from someone who was living in Africa. I was like, ‘No way! Someone over there is watching these videos?’ It was just mind blowing because I was just making these videos for fun.”

The missionary eventually reached out and began a conversation that God would use to change Smith’s life.

“She [the missionary] ended up [being] a Christian…we got talking and a faith conversation just kind of developed out of that. I ended up kind of just taking it as an opportunity to ask like every question you could ask a Christian, and it was the first time in my life that I was hearing answers that were logical.”

Smith continued: “This missionary ended up being Autumn [Miller], who I work with [now]… Autumn  was there for a year in Africa, and ended up coming back home to Pennsylvania. We ended up meeting up and she gave me a Bible.”

Through patient conversations, answered questions, and time well-spent in God’s Word, Smith felt her views of God shifting, and her love for Christ growing.

“Through reading the Bible and just wrestling with the things in it, I think God just changed my heart. It was all I could think about…Jesus. As I started to get to know his whole character, that he was much more than a cop who didn’t just want me to stop having fun, I started to fall in love with who He was.”

She quickly realized just how monumental this heart change was and what it would mean for her life.

“I knew this was a really big deal and that nothing in my life would be the same if I chose to believe this and follow Jesus,” said Smith.

Fast forward a few years, and now, Smith remains a follower of Christ and a frequenter of University Park, sharing the same Truth with students that changed her life when she was once one of them.

“Part of our role, as campus ministers, is to help them [students] see the interconnection between their faith and God’s heart on these matters, and how they can make a difference as citizens of the Kingdom of God,” said Smith.

“It’s just been so cool to see the student’s desire to do that, to be bold and share their faith with others. To desire to sacrifice their quote-on-quote free time [for] serving and blessing others.”

Listen to the Podcast Interview:

The “50 Stories of Transformation” series, told in honor of the Baptist Resource Network’s 50th anniversary, highlights the many ways God has moved throughout Pennsylvania, South Jersey and beyond. Your generous support of the Cooperative Program makes this ministry possible and fuels evangelism and outreach in our local churches and all over the world! Thank you!