Heart of the house
by Joyell Nevins
Published - 12/22/19 - 08:00 AM | 3615 views | 1 1 comments | 66 66 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Pastor Darin Johnson heads the Agape House on the SDSU campus that provides help for students in need. (Courtesy photo)
Pastor Darin Johnson heads the Agape House on the SDSU campus that provides help for students in need. (Courtesy photo)

Radical welcome

Rooted in faith

Justice and mercy

Growth in community


Those are the core values of the Agape House, located in the heart of the San Diego State University campus. They stem out of the last value, a need for community. Agape House wants its students to have a place where they are loved and seen, despite the large campus population overall.

“It’s easy to become anonymous in the sea of faces,” said Campus Pastor Darin Johnson, who coordinates Agape House. “We want to help the students feel connected, [to know] they aren’t alone.” 

Agape House does this through relationship building via weekly dinners, art and music get-togethers, study spaces, and a community garden. The building itself isn’t huge, but Johnson and his team employ all of their resources to meet the students’ emotional, spiritual, and physical needs.

“The student is a whole person,” he points out, noting that many services or departments only work with one particular facet of a student’s life. Agape House tries to look at them as a complete entity.

As such, although the house was founded by Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry in 1962 and continues to work with churches in the area, Johnson emphasizes that their goal is not to push the students toward a certain denomination.

“We have respect for who they are. We are not out to convert the student, but to support them,” he explained. “God’s spirit is moving amongst all people — it’s not about us getting them to where we think they should be.”

It is about, however, providing a safe space and a community for students that may slip through the cracks. Sometimes that takes the form of a homework group or a Bible study, and sometimes that takes the form of “Food Fridays,” a workshop teaching how to cook on a budget that culminates in a meal.

“Food is at the heart of community,” Johnson said.

It’s also one of the basic necessities, hence the Agape House food pantry. Although not on as large of a scale as the Associated Students Food Pantry, Agape House has a literal pantry full of canned goods and plenty of microwave ramen. The pantry also holds basic hygiene items. It is a resource for any student who needs a little extra. 

Agape House also has a community garden out back, where they grow produce such as chard, lettuce, peas, and strawberries. The backyard has avocado, loquat, and guava trees as well. Not only do these provide food for students and Agape’s weekly dinners, the garden offers a green space in a very urban campus. Students are welcome to help in the garden and get their hands (literally) dirty.

“It’s a forgiving thing to do,” Johnson said of the gardening. “There’s a spiritual practice of being connected to the earth and life.”

The garden and pantry also help meet the ongoing need of food insecurity. Johnson has been a part of the Agape House for 10 years and has seen this need rise. He noted the campus culture has shifted from primarily commuter students to primarily residential. While that may seem like a way to bring students together, housing costs and competitive admission increase complications and stress. 

“The dominant pressure is economic,” he said.

Johnson and his staff have met students dealing with extreme homelessness, like the parent who was sleeping in their car, taking their kids to school, and then going to class themselves, to those who just don’t have a steady place to live. 

While Agape House continues to advocate to authority on housing and economic issues, they have also developed a blueprint to offer permanent housing themselves. Once plans are approved and permits are given by the city, the current building will be demolished. 

In its place, Agape House will build a five-story mixed-use facility with a ministry center, vendor and office space, and housing for up to 50 students. Keep an eye out in the College Times Courier for more news as this project comes into fruition.


Get involved

Now, Agape House welcomes any community member who shares their values and wants to work side-by-side in their mission. They are seeking volunteers to help garden and help cook the weekly Wednesday meals. 

If you have a life skill that could be shared, they would love to coordinate that as well. In the past, chefs have led cooking workshops, and experts in the finance sector have taught students how to budget. 

Finally, Agape House is continually accepting donations for their pantry. The biggest need currently is in women’s hygiene items and easy-to-fix foods, like ramen noodles or mac n’ cheese. 

Be prepared, though: once you get involved, these college students can both tug your heartstrings and make you laugh. 

“It’s a vulnerable time of life, but also a precious time with meaning and possibilities,” Johnson said, saying of working with the students: “It’s a blast!”

Agape House is located at 5863 Hardy Ave. and is open Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit agapehousesdsu.org or call 619-583-3972.


—Freelance writer Joyell Nevins can be reached at [email protected]. You can also follow her blog Small World, Big God at swbgblog.wordpress.com.


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