Training leaders for church & society
Nestled on verdant hills eight minutes
from Santa Cruz, a coastal city in northern California, is Bethany College.
Today, cool mist pervades the air as low-slung clouds crawl over surrounding
hills and mountains. Swaying redwoods that stand like sentries around
the campus seem to be the only things stirring. But in the chapel students
dole out high fives and hugs to one another before shedding their rain
gear and backpacks. The din suddenly fades as chords on an electric
guitar are struck.
All eyes shift to the stage where
the lead vocalist of a student-led band opens the service with a quick
prayer. Moments later, alternative praise music fills the sanctuary
and the intensity of the students is revealed.
Hands are raised. Tears course down
faces. One student stands in the aisle signing praises to God. Though
it is cold and damp outside, the students unabashed zeal for God
seems to warm this place. Besides the intense worship, Ill also
learn that sharing the message of Christ and serving others are all
cornerstones at Bethany a place where spiritual growth is as
important, if not more important, as making the grade.
"We want students to leave
here with a solid educational experience," says David Willis, college
relations director. "But we also want them to leave with a sense
of servanthood, and a passion to reach others for Christ no matter
what ministry or occupation they go into."
One way Bethany ensures that happens
is by requiring students to participate in ministries that allow them
to share their faith. Yesterday, students held a community outreach
akin to an evangelistic outreach and carnival in nearby Scotts Valley.
Students sang, acted, played instruments and organized games for the
residents. Each semester, students also participate in ministries such
as tutoring at a nearby high school, cleaning city streets, interacting
with inmates at the countys juvenile hall and building friendships
with residents at a retirement home and Teen Challenge center.
"We have a sense that the world
is our parish," says Everett Wilson, president of Bethany, which
was founded in 1919. Bethany is the oldest accredited Assemblies of
God college. "We realize God gives everyone gifts, and our goal
is to help students develop those gifts. At Bethany we believe God is
the center of all learning and that learning occurs inside and outside
After chapel I attend a class where
students are studying world missions. During a break the professor allows
me to hold an informal roundtable discussion with the students. Michael
Basil, a freshman, tells me since being here other students have impacted
his life. "People here have encouraged, challenged and even rebuked
me," he says. "All of them help keep me on track."
As I venture around the hilly campus
I take in the lush scenery and fresh air before stopping in the cafeteria.
Inside, the atmosphere is almost festive as laughter and chatter compete
with one another. At several tables professors visit with students;
such interactions are not uncommon says one student. Through conversation
and observation I discover that everyone has a place at this school.
But even more striking is how determined these young people are to answer
Gods call on their lives.
"God used me supernaturally
through the Holy Spirit in ways that I had never been used before,"
says Donnie Murillo, a junior, recalling last summer when he ministered
in youth camps with a team from Bethany. "I was broken at the altar
with the youth. During that time God gave me a vision for what I was
to do while at Bethany in preparation for the rest of my life."
Murillo plans to return to the inner
city of Los Angeles, where he grew up, to be a youth pastor. He laughs
as he describes what its like for an inner-city kid to come to
a college in an upscale community known for surfing and coffeehouses.
"God sent me to the forest to get trained so I could return to
L.A. to minister," he says. "Bethany is a safe haven for anyone
from any walk of life. Since being here Ive learned that spirituality
isnt based on how I worship, but how I live out my life."
Beyond the walls of the cafeteria
many students are busy with their work. The melodic voice of a female
student drifts from a room where she is receiving voice lessons. In
the choir room more than 50 students sing as the choir director leads.
In the gymnasium a couple of students are playing basketball; others
are working out in the weight room.
I climb the hill from the gymnasium
to the Stowell Center and enter one of the colleges computer labs.
There I meet Arsene Michel and Franklin Nuñez, both international
students. Though far from their homelands Michel is from Haiti
and Nuñez is from El Salvador both say they have found
a home away from home at Bethany. "When I came here I could feel
the Spirit around the school," says Michel, as he puts the finishing
touches on a term paper. "I feel like everyone is a brother or
sister. I simply love the people here."
Nuñez says he came to Bethany
to be challenged in his faith and ministry. Because of encouragement
he received at Bethany he has decided to pursue a graduate degree and
maybe even a doctorate. But attending Bethany has also opened his eyes
culturally. "Being here has helped me understand and appreciate
the diversity of others," he says. "Its been a big change,
but this is exactly the place I need to be."
What can students expect if they
come to Bethany?
"Be ready to be broken by God,"
says Nuñez. "If you come here it will be difficult, but
when you finish it will be the most exciting experience of your life."
is an associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.