When we start discipling students who come from a ritualistic background, most of us immediately think of making sure they give up these rituals. We have students who grew up thinking that Holy Week is the most religious week in the year, or students who can’t miss an Ash Wednesday without getting the sign of the cross marked on their forehead. True, there are theological reasons why we have to let go of some of the religious rituals we grew up with, but is there something in this ritualistic culture that we can tap on to aid us in effectively making disciples?

The answer is yes! In fact, in our context, we have been calling it ‘celebrating milestones.’

What are milestones and rituals?

Milestones are events or activities that mark a significant progress or change in one’s life. Rituals are a series of sequential activities done by a group of people involving various elements like objects, words, and even gestures. In a way, it represents progress to another stage. These two are very similar concepts.

There are different rituals per religion and nations. They serve a certain purpose in culture.

Dr. Scott Moreau, professor of Intercultural Communication in Wheaton College, believes it has a variety of purposes in religions

“They establish or affirm the social and historic identity of the participants, reminding them of who they are and how they relate to others in the culture. They help people move from one social status to another. They serve as cultural drama libraries in which the history, values, and beliefs of the people are symbolized and reenacted.” (Scott Moreau, 2005)

In the Philippines, rituals are so important especially among students because we grew up experiencing so many of it. Every year, school administration and staff prepare for a Recognition Day where students who did well in their grades receive awards. A Recognition Day is different from a Graduation Day. Moreover, students in the Philippines graduate at least thrice in their student life– elementary, highschool, and college graduation.

Rituals are all around us. As campus missionaries and leaders, we can tap on this aspect of our culture.

In the book Effective Intercultural Communication: A Christian Perspective, Moreau, Campbell and Greener say that evangelicals tend to be reluctant to utilize rituals as means of discipleship. They wrote that, “wise cross-cultural workers, however, will become students of the rituals found in the society they serve.”

So to us, how can we utilize this part of our culture as we disciple students in the campuses?

We Celebrate Milestones

We usually celebrate every important milestone that a student passes through, whether in the form of a joyful greeting via phone call or a specially-organized hangout for that particular progress.

An example is having a celebration after water baptism. We usually gather the leaders, and go out even just for a short time to celebrate the public declaration of their allegiance to God.

What does it mean for you as a leader?

  • We need to identify what are the milestones we ought to celebrate with the students we are leading to Christ.
  • We need to create an environment that is appropriate for their culture.
  • We need to fight to make time to celebrate milestones.
  • For introverts like me, we need to break free from our personal preferences of not liking to be with a big crowd.
  • We need to make sure their progress is celebrated, and that other leaders would see the value of celebrating milestones.

In the next article of this series, we will look into the three types of rituals that lead us to encounters with Jesus and how these are critical in discipleship.

To end, let me say this: let’s keep celebrating milestones with our students who come from such a background. And let’s have fun doing it!