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
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
?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
?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
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
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.?
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
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?.