By Scott Harrup
Snug in the hills of northwest Arkansas, Harrison is a rapidly growing
town, thanks in large part to the tourists who travel through on their
way to Branson, Mo., just a half-hour drive north on Highway 65. Harrison
is the largest community in Boone County with an estimated 12,000
of the countys 32,000 residents.
Signs of growth are everywhere. A drive through town on Highway 65
takes one past shopping centers, hotels, banks, car lots and a host
of restaurants. Toward the southern end of the drive is the old town
square, a stately gathering of shops and businesses surrounding the
At dusk on a Saturday night, young people begin to congregate at
the standard social spots of small-town America: fast-food restaurants,
a movie theater, video arcades, a skating rink, a bowling alley, a
Sean* is sitting at Taco Bell with his uncle.
Hes soft-spoken, almost inaudible. If the subject is God or
church, he really doesnt have much to say. "I dont
go to church right now. My parents dont go, so I dont."
When asked how he would describe God, he says, "I dont
Jared, Rick and Tyler are walking with their skateboards from a grocery
store to a connected movie theater. Jared and Tyler say they attend
church regularly, but Rick admits he hasnt been in a while.
Why? "I honestly dont know. I really should go."
His ambivalence is echoed by Michael and Jacqui, who are waiting
in a video arcade for a movie to start. They are Hispanic, belong
to a mainline church, and friendly. But they really cant offer
much of an explanation about God.
"The kids I know can either take or leave God," Jacqui
says. The biggest priority for her and her friends? "Having fun."
Responses are offered politely. Harrison is a polite place where
total strangers casually wave when passing each other on narrow county
Its cold outside the theater entrance, but five friends are
wearing the universal sign of masculine endurance thin T-shirts
with no coats. They shiver as they smoke their cigarettes before going
in to be seated.
Pat, at 16, looks older. He gives some thought to any question asked.
He attends a church, but he says God is a mystery. "There are
no words to describe Him," he says. "Hes unknowable."
His friends have little else to offer. As for the most important
things in life? Fun
girls. Kevin, Pete, Gaylon
and Don agree with that list.
When the subject of girls is brought up, the guys concede that maturity
and compassion have to be in the mix if a marriage is going to last.
Of the five, only one lives in the family into which he was born.
Divorce and separation have hit the other four homes.
Harrison Junior Highs parking lot is a few blocks from the
town square courthouse, its proximity a little ironic in light of
the crowd that gathers there. In the dark, pickup trucks and cars
sidle up near each other, the occupants exchanging small talk and,
it is rumored, drugs and cash. Its a rougher crowd, but what
they have to say reveals a spiritual hunger beneath their bluster.
Kevin and Sean are best friends. At 19, theyre built like lumberjacks
slabs of smooth muscle as opposed to the rippled physique of
a city-dwelling gym jockey.
"Can we use profanity?" Kevin asks with a laugh after colorfully
describing his priorities. The article will be edited, hes told.
Basically, his life is focused on "raising Cain." "Got
any beer?" he asks as the interview moves on.
They recently spent an evening setting up an informal drag race at
the local airport. The police arrived before the runway sprint could
"I didnt get a ticket," Sean says. "If I get
one more ticket, Ill lose my license for 5 years."
"Just got my license back after 6 months," Kevin adds.
As the subject shifts to church, the young men offer disdain. But
its mixed with clearly perceptible hurt.
"I was raised in church all my life," Kevin admits. "Havent
been since because Im getting tired of all the hypocrites going
around trash-talking you. Me, Id go to church, and Ive
had people turn around and say, Thats Kevin. You know
what he did? "
"Church around here is all about who youre related to
and who you know," Sean agrees. "If you dont know
anybody, or arent related to anybody, you just as well not be
The twos friendship thrives on beer, wild driving and the excitement
of an occasional brush with the law.
At the bowling alley across town, the crash of pins is periodically
interrupted by the managers voice over the P.A. system. Amid
the din, a couple of young bowlers are willing to answer questions
between taking their turns at the lane.
Jason says he is a regular church attendee. He describes God as "loving,
caring, our all-powerful Creator," and says his goals for a future
family include finding a good church for them to attend.
Nate describes God as a big part of his life. "I look to God
every day and try to live my life the right way. I do the best I can."
But hes stopped attending church. "I have no reasons not
to go," he admits.
The noise at the nearby skating rink is also deafening. Awash in
music and light, the crowd circles the perimeter of the wooden floor,
some in traditional skates, others on in-line rollers. Here, another
set of friends describe their faith.
Cal attends church and has lived in Harrison most of his life. When
asked how his generation relates to God, he answers, "I believe
they believe in Him but dont know how to follow Him."
Steve is not currently going to church, but says God is important
to him. "Most of the friends Im with, theyre not
into God," he says. "They prefer not to talk about it. Id
talk to them, but they prefer not to listen."
"They prefer not to listen
" Within a 10-mile radius,
more than 100 churches proclaim the gospel. Spiritual light and darkness
are at war in this quiet town, and the battle wages as fiercely as
on any far-flung mission field. Multiplied opportunities to hear the
gospel coexist with a generation apathetic to the truth so abundantly
Stacys life is a final case in point. She grew up in church
and in a loving, supportive Christian family. But she strained against
the boundaries established for her, became addicted to methamphetamines
and robbed a convenience store. Recently receiving a 27-year prison
sentence finally awakened Stacy to her spiritual need. She accepted
Christ as her Savior and has already led nine other prisoners to the
Lord. Having been brought back from the brink, she would tell you
her prayer is that her friends can be salvaged before they pay a price
as great or greater than her own.
Scott Harrup is general editor of the Pentecostal
*Names have been changed.