Ohio State
Beyond tailgate religion

 by Ann Floyd

America?s biggest tailgate party is in full swing prior to the Ohio State University-University of Wisconsin football game in Columbus, Ohio, the first weekend in October. Drink of choice: beer by the 24-ounce can and keg.

More students, ?alums? and townsfolk than can be counted got up on this beautiful fall morning, fought game-day traffic and then walked miles just to stand in parking lots to eat, drink and watch their Buckeyes either on a giant screen or in the stadium

?Unique to Columbus,? writes T.R. Massey in The Other Paper, a news and entertainment weekly. ?A quarter mile from Ohio Stadium (seating 95,000), the largest celebration of public drinking in the state of Ohio takes place.?

Without a ticket to the game (many partyers don?t have one either), I move among all the scarlet-and-gray clothing and memorabilia. Though heavyhearted at seeing the drinking by fans of all ages, I recall my previous two days on campus and feel strangely warmed. There were divine appointments and opportunities to see that God is at work at Ohio State University.

Thursday afternoon during my first look at the tree-rimmed Oval, the hub of the 3,000-acre campus, I meet Asher Hecht, 17, a rabbinical student an ?observing Jew,? he says. He?s from Michigan and is here to meet Jewish students. ?We are here to remind the people of the holiday of Sukkoth ?to do a little blessing with them,? he says. ?Though they are not so familiar with the holidays, inside they have that desire to become connected with God. Our job is to rekindle it and to spark it and reveal it.?

I soon discover there are also sparks of Christianity flaming on this 50,000-student campus.

OSU began in 1873 with 24 students on a farm far enough from Columbus so ?studious habits could not be interfered with by contact with city life,? the OSU directory says. In nearby Hopkins Hall tonight, 24 Chi Alphans, led by campus pastor Jeff Alexander, are meeting and praying and fellowshipping

Jeff, 30, a fun-loving extrovert, is serious about his assignment: ?God is calling our group to have a presence on campus, so people will know who Jesus is. We must be very open, very much in the forefront, but also we must train and develop the students to share their faith.?

Senior Jaime Walter, 22, a member of the 1997 NCAA championship synchronized swimming team, looks back over four years and says, ?God has always had His special protection over me.? Being connected with a local church, Capital City Assembly of God, and having Christian friends (in Chi Alpha) gave Jaime strength to share Christ with her teammates. She faced a crisis at the end of her sophomore year when she was told by leaders on the swim team that the way she was living (as a Christian) was not acceptable. She eventually left the team. At a SALT (Student Activist Leadership Training) conference in 1997 she received the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Friday morning on my way to an all-campus prayer meeting in front of Brickner Hall, I meet local Bible College students who are performing dramas and witnessing to students one-on-one. They pray for me that I get my story.

Among OSU?s 20-plus colleges ? arts, biological sciences, business, dentistry, engineering, etc. ? missionaries are also being prepared. I meet two ? Michael and Heidi Kluding, who lead the prayer meeting.

?Students like Michael and Heidi prioritize their whole lives around Jesus,? Jeff says. ?That sets the field for great things to happen on campus.?

Michael, 18, of Korean-Chinese descent from Columbus, Shares 2 Corinthians 5:20 as the crowd gathers: ?The United States sends out ambassadors with the power of the U.S. behind them. How much greater to be an ambassador for the kingdom of God. We have His power behind us.?

?Amen, amen,? some respond.

In summer 1994 on a trip with his Korean church to the Dominican Republic, Michael says, ?God called me to be with Him, to be His worker.? His full-ride scholarship will help him reach his dream to practice medicine on the border of North Korea and China.

? God called me to be a resident adviser (this year) because He wants to use me in ministry now,? Michael says. ?He gave me a vision of my hall being a hall of prayer and praise.?

Heidi came to Christ on December 29, 1996. When she came to OSU, she heard about a Pentecostal group. ?It was what I was looking for,? she says. ?Hanging out with my brothers and sisters and keeping in the Word and prayer? have kept her focused on her goal of missionary work. ?I had to break free from a lot of religion that was hindering me. Now (my relationship with Jesus) is awesome.?

More than 25 students and university staff pray for OSU President William E. Kirwin, faculty, staff and students. Freshmen are targeted for prayer, because of the critical decisions being made in these first weeks of the semester. The prayer meeting lasts an hour. Students walking by see hands raised and voices calling out to God for a move of the Spirit on the campus.

As the students form small groups to pray, Barbara Pyle, dean?s assistant in the College of Optometry for 14 years, tells me of Faculty Christian Fellowship on campus led by Howard Van Cleave. He?s been at OSU for nine years with Campus Crusade for Christ and the faculty division of Christian Leadership Ministries. FCF provides on-campus conferences on Christian scholarship and gives Christian faculty opportunities to reach their colleagues and students.

Van Cleave says, ?Too long universities have been neglected as a mission field by both the Christian faculty and by the church.?

A conversation with student Albert H., 19, confirms that this is a mission field. ?There?s a lot of kids searching for spiritual life,? Albert says, ?and I know a lot of people who are joining Christian groups. But I also know a lot who?ve decided not to worry about it. I?m religious; but when I ?m here, I don?t worry about it. I?m just trying to get through school. I know a lot of people like that.?

His immediate focus is ?getting the keg for our party tonight,? he says, his pierced tongue catching the sunlight. ?I?m a weekend warrior. You can?t drink during the week because of classes. When the weekend comes, it?s time to drink.?

When asked about life after death, Albert says, ?If God looks into my heart, He?ll know I?m a good person ? He can see that I?ve never hurt anyone on purpose. On that basis I figure that everyone makes mistakes; but if you?re not out to hurt anybody, you should be allowed up there.?

Student Shawn R. from Long Island, New York, says he isn?t on a spiritual trek. ?Yeah, I had a relationship with God when I was younger,? he says. ?I remember praying and stuff. I?m an agnostic. If there is a God and a heaven, I?ll tell Him, ?Hey, let me be in there.? If He doesn?t, all right, fine, I?m dirt.?

Jeff says, ?The greater the contrast between the world and Jesus? followers, the brighter the light shines. When these kids come to Christ and know what they?ve been delivered from, the potential for God to use them is so great because they?re not going back.?

For those looking for a reason to celebrate, here?s one: The light of the gospel is shining at Ohio State University through God?s servants ? on faculty and staff and among the students.

?Reprinted from December 12, 1999 Pentecostal Evangel by permission?.