Man on a mission

CIRCLE OF PRAYER: Members of InterVaristy at Ferris State University bow their heads in prayer at the end of their meeting Tuesday, when the group celebrated being approved as an official Registered Student Organization. (Herald Review photo/Lauren Fitch)
CIRCLE OF PRAYER: Members of InterVaristy at Ferris State University bow their heads in prayer at the end of their meeting Tuesday, when the group celebrated being approved as an official Registered Student Organization. (Herald Review photo/Lauren Fitch)

Group leader David Banta left background in photography, truck driving to follow God’s lead

BIG RAPIDS – David Banta isn’t trying to convert anyone. He just wants to be part of the discussion when college students are ready to talk about their faith. “(College) is the first time students are away from their parents’ influence,” said Banta, a Reed City resident. “I think (students question their faith) just to exert their new influence on their lives. That’s good, but I would like to be in the mix of influences. ... We’re not looking to convert people. We’re looking for the students who God is already working on their hearts; we’re part of that process.” As the leader of Ferris State University’s chapter of InterVarsity, which was approved as a Registered Student Organization on Tuesday, Banta wants to impact students’ lives and the campus by “sharing Jesus’ love with every group on the campus.” InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a national evangelical campus mission with a vision to “see students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed and world changers developed,” according to the group’s website. Ferris hosts 15 faith-based RSOs, ranging from the Christian Pharmacists Fellowship to the Muslim Student Organization to the Pagan Alliance. At Ferris, InterVarsity is starting small. In its second year since the previous chapter went in a new direction, five to 10 students attend the weekly meetings and participate in campus outreach events. Banta described the 2012-13 academic year as a “gathering year” for InterVarsity, where he plans to focus on recruiting more students to join the group. “About 17 percent of students coming to Ferris call themselves Christians. Of that, about half leave the faith by the time they graduate,” Banta said. “That’s why we’re there – to help encourage those who are Christians to deepen their faith, and to bring people who don’t know Christ at all into a better understanding of who he is.” Meghan Hatler, a senior who was a part of the previous InterVarsity chapter and still is active in the current group, benefited from the encouragement. “I instantly saw where I clicked,” said the Jackson native. “I loved the family aspect. I was really active in my home church, and I wanted to be active on campus.” InterVarsity students have the chance to attend several conferences throughout the school year, and they also host events for their peers on campus. The group meets weekly for a time of prayer and Bible study. One main form of outreach is InterVarsity’s “red cup exhibit.” Students set up a display in the campus quad with stacks of red Solo cups – something college students typically associate with drinking and beer pong. As students stop by to see what the exhibit is about, the main question InterVarsity students pose is “Are you thirsty?” “Then (we ask), ‘What do you do to quench your thirst?’” Banta explained. Students are asked to think about the question on a deeper level, as in what keeps them satisfied in day-to-day life. “They put stickers on the red cups describing what their thirst-quencher is. We ask them, ‘Have you ever considered allowing God to quench your thirst?’ The idea is to start a spiritual discussion,” Banta said. “Most students have made themselves so busy that they don’t have time to think about the spiritual aspect of their lives. We’re giving them a moment in time to stop and think about it. We’re not there to intrude so much as to raise questions.” Banta is no stranger to questioning God. After walking away from his faith in college, he became a Christian at age 36. Living in Grand Rapids, Banta spent most of his professional career – 18 years – as a photographer for a newspaper, a hospital and for his independent business. After racking up debt in that endeavor, he turned to truck driving for 12 years. In 2009, Banta was laid off from driving and began searching for what do with his life next. “I suddenly found myself asking God ‘What do you want me to do?’” he said. “I had pursued the things I thought I should pursue. I asked the Lord to open up one door so I would know which way to go.” For the next nine months, Banta applied for any job he could find – from truck driving to carnival set up. He never got an interview. In October of 2009, he attended a men’s retreat with other people from his church in Evart. At the retreat, he and a friend were struck by Eric Ludy’s words in his book “Bravehearted Gospel.” Inspired to share the gospel, the two decided to try street evangelism in Evart and Reed City. “It was in October so it was cold, and there weren’t too many people on the street,” Banta said. “So we went to Ferris, essentially for higher traffic, and in three one-hour visits, four students decided to follow Christ, which is pretty amazing. It was really an indicator to me of the need for spiritual fulfillment on the campus.” From there, Banta spoke to the on-campus minister, who encouraged him to apply for the position leading InterVarsity. He started the job in February 2010. “The door was opened that I was looking for,” Banta said. “This was the first (job) opportunity that I had from March until October (in 2009).” InterVarsity is funded through donations from churches and individuals. Banta’s chapter operates on a $50,000 annual budget, which covers his salary, travel expenses to conferences for students and leaders and supplies for on-campus events. Currently, Banta has raised about 56 percent of the money he needs. Until he reaches the full amount, his time is spent fundraising rather than hosting on-campus events as he would like to. Senior Remina Reed was one of the students Banta approached on campus two years ago. She took a “leap of faith” and decided to join InterVarsity. “I was in a really bad stage and God was telling me to get back with him,” Reed said. “It seemed like I could impact other people’s lives the same way David impacted my life.” Reed is optimistic to see more members join in the next school year. “InterVarsity as a whole is already a movement, so I want to keep that movement going at Ferris,” she said. Ferris students will have the chance to attend various statewide and national conferences throughout the year, with 800 to 18,000 college students participating. “One of the advantages of InterVarsity is that by going to these regional events, ... (students) get a bigger picture of God,” Banta said. “They see this is a movement of young followers of Jesus on campuses across the country. ... It makes them feel like they’re a part of something bigger.” For more information on InterVarsity, how to join or to donate, contact Banta at (231) 797-5575 or davidrbanta@earthlink.net.