graduation-clip-art-12Last Sunday evening, Bernice and I hosted a dinner gathering for eight young people. Three were lawyers, two were teachers, one worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one worked for the Ministry of Social and Family Development, and one worked for the Ministry of Defence. They all had one thing in common. They had graduated within the last two years. This was the first of a Friends in Transition group we are hosting. There are three other groups who have had a few meetings already. We were the last group to kick off.

Friends in Transition is the name of a Graceworks ministry aimed at helping Christian graduates make a healthy transition from university life to working life. Every major life transition is fraught with dangers and opportunities for disciples of Jesus Christ. The transition between university life and working life is, in many ways, the most critical. Those of us who have been in ministry for awhile know that Christians who are active in campus ministries do not always fulfil their potential for the Kingdom in later years. Some even walk away from the faith. I am sure there are many reasons why this happens. One key factor is that many of them receive little personal mentoring in their transition from campus to the working world. But if they make this transition well they set a healthy trajectory for their discipleship in the post-campus years.

Friends in Transition had its origin in a ministry called Headstart, which I introduced when I was serving with Graduates Christian Fellowship (GCF), Malaysia. I had the same concerns then, that there was insufficient help given to fresh graduates as they started work. This world is not neutral. It is a fallen world that seeks to mould us into its fallen image (Romans 12:2). We need to intentionally prepare our Christian college and university students for life after campus.

There were existing programmes that tried to do this, mostly conferences and lectures that addressed the issues of faith that young graduates would have to grapple with when they started work. These programmes relied mainly on talks to try to achieve their purpose and the main concern was to give graduating students/fresh graduates the biblical and practical information they needed at this stage of their lives. While these were useful, I believed that listening to talks and sermons would only go so far to help young graduates. Knowing what we should do does not necessarily mean that we have the moral courage and will to actually do what we know we should. We need encouragement and accountability to live out our faith. And we need models. These things can only happen in deep intimate relationships. Therefore they can only be found in community.

In 1997 (if I remember correctly) we launched the Headstart ministry, a small group ministry that sought to help young graduates as they began their working life, to help give them a “head start” in their post-campus life. The coordinator of the group would serve as mentor and model to the group. The group members would serve as peer mentors to each other and indeed help to mentor the coordinator. (The best mentoring is always mutual.) The group would provide a safe place for the group members to process what was going on in their lives as they sought to follow Christ faithfully in their new chapter of life.

We worked through a book, Richard Lamb’s Following Jesus in the “Real World”, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995). The book was written for an American context but some of the spiritual principles brought out by Lamb were universal. Besides, we did not slavishly follow the book. More often than not, the book served more as a catalyst to remind us of the key issues young graduates needed to address. All the group members volunteered ideas on how the spiritual principles could be applied in a local context. The Bible was the final authority that guided our reflection. The group always met over dinner. Indeed, in many ways the book study was secondary. What made Headstart work was the friendship that was forged between the group members. They were friends in transition.

GCF Malaysia continues to run this ministry. When I moved to Singapore in 2007, I felt that there was also a need for a similar ministry here. Since the mission of our present ministry organisation, Graceworks, is “to promote spiritual friendship in church and society”, we wanted the friendship element in our Headstart equivalent ministry here to be clearer so we named this ministry Friends in Transition, a name that conveys clearly what we are about. Members of this small group ministry are friends — firstly friends of Jesus and also friends of each other — choosing to walk together as they make the transition from university to working life. The goal of the group is to help the group members remain spiritually “fit” as they seek to “fit” into working life with their faith intact and vibrant.

This is the fifth cycle of Friends in Transition (FIT) in Singapore. Each cycle takes about a year. The FIT groups meet once a month for about twelve months. Bernice and I ran the first two cycles ourselves. We found ourselves burning out and enlisted the help of FIT “alumni” to help us lead the groups. This is the first time we are running a FIT group again after a break of two cycles.

The overwhelming feeling that Bernice and I have in running FIT groups is one of privilege; that these bright young people allow us to walk with them. Our primary call is to love them, and with the help of God, help them on their journey of fulfilling their potential. We have no doubts that they will bless us and that we will learn from them. Friends grow together.

P.S. Let us know if you want help in starting FIT groups in your church/organisation. And let us know if you want to help sponsor this ministry.