People are worth everything
Sandals, sideburns and surfboards
are the fashion fundamentals here at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa,
Calif., where students are on a quest for spiritual growth and academic
excellence. On a morning where the weather is so perfect that it seems
a crime to leave it outdoors, students are streaming into the chapel
for a service.
The sanctuary is full and a student-led
worship band begins singing.
"Come, now is the time to worship,"
they sing. A young lady harmonizes, the drums pound, the guitarist catches
the mood with his strumming. "Come just as you are to worship
A subdued passion begins to build.
Some students lift their hands. By the end of the worship time everyone
is fully engaged.
"And I love You for the Cross,"
the band sings, and more hands are raised. "Im overwhelmed
by the mystery. I will seek You in the morning, and learn to walk in
A school administrator takes the
platform and gives a brief devotional, then leads the group in receiving
Communion. He calls forward anyone who feels sick and wants prayer.
Two dozen students respond and senior class members pray and anoint
them with oil.
The service dismisses and students
hurry to class, some riding skateboards.
Vanguards location could not
be more lovely. The beach is four miles away and sea breezes blow gently
through. The campus is full of pine, palm and fir trees, spacious green
lawns and flowers in a kaleidoscope of colors. The setting is certainly
a draw for prospective students.
But Vanguard also boasts a challenging
academic environment. Two professors were recently awarded a major grant
for the study of HIV/AIDS, and this year the 105-voice Vanguard University
Choir was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall.
In a morning sociology class taught
by Dr. Elizabeth Leonard, students are busy stapling and turning in
their homework. Todays discussion topic: how religious beliefs
affect social and political attitudes. Several students note how the
church sometimes drags its feet on matters of social justice, but at
other times leads, as it did in the slavery abolition movement in the
early to mid-1800s.
"The professors are amazingly
helpful and love the Lord," says Rachel Manville, 19, who came
here from a small town in Oregon and is a sophomore studying psychology.
"When I visited I could tell that the spiritual atmosphere was
different than at other colleges."
Briklyn Wuich, 22, from nearby Orange,
agrees. "When I walked on campus there was a really sweet presence,"
he says. "People are seeking God here. This school makes you want
to give back to it."
For Ben Schoening, 22, the difference
has been the professors personal touch. "Its easy to
get involved because the school is small enough," he says. "You
get personal attention from your professors. Not a day goes by when
I dont see a professor praying with a student. They are willing
to get involved in our lives."
Many students say the opportunities
for ministry have shaped their core beliefs. David Lyke, 22, from Colorado
Springs, Colo., spent summer and spring breaks on ministry trips to
Mexico and the western United States. The trips helped him understand
what God wanted him to do with his life, he says.
Ryan Geesey, 21, from central California,
says being a resident advisor in the dorms changed his idea of what
"You see incoming freshmen
grow from believing, Christianity is right because the Bible and
my dad told me so, to looking to the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit
to guide them and teach them things only He can teach them," he
Being an RA has been the most rewarding
experience of his life, he adds.
Heather Rachels, 21, is a junior
studying communications and public address. "The Lords presence
is all over this place," she says. "Coming here my freshman
year was amazing. The faculty invests in your life academically and
spiritually. It has stretched me to be more than I thought I could be."
In their rooms or in computer labs
students are tapping away at homework. Only the whir of printers breaks
Outside on a cork board, flyers
are posted for a bowling league and ministry positions available at
local churches; a home-made advertisement touts "very cheap custom
Dorms bustle with activity and music.
In the mens dorm, dry-erase boards hang at every door to catch
messages from friends who dropped by. "Hey, Craig. Have a good
night!" reads one. Rooms display the interests of those who bunk
there: acoustic guitars, books by 20th-century theologians, snowboarding
and basketball posters, skateboards leaning against the wall and MP3
music files playing over speakers hooked up to laptop computers.
Outside where the sun tinges the
breeze with mild warmth, the sound of choir practice drifts through
a window at the music building. Inside the practice rooms other students
are practicing alone, separately tuning a violin, playing the cello
and singing the Lords Prayer to a taped accompaniment.
The chemistry lab, too, is busy,
and smells like formaldehyde. Tubes, beakers and bottles of chemicals
dominate the tables. In another room, this one dark, students are looking
through microscopes and studying cells.
Many of the buildings are newly
built or refurbished to accommodate the growing student body and faculty.
Recent enrollment was 1,654, and in the last several years the school
has grown rapidly.
Vanguard President Murray Dempster
has a distinctive mane of white hair and a beard to match, and wears
small rimless glasses and leather sandals that match his business suit.
On his desk is a metal bust of Martin Luther King Jr.
"Our vision is to be a leading
Christian university that is deeply influenced by our Pentecostal heritage,"
he says. "Here, youre taught by people with Ph.D.s, and you
have the intimacy of small class size. Our faculty members are authentically
Christian and totally competent."
Dempster embraces the early Pentecostal
movements emphasis on multi-culturalism and the prominence of
women in leadership. He is ambitious in promoting racial diversity among
the students and faculty and including women in positions of authority.
Twenty percent of Vanguards student body are non-white.
He also knows that the college experience
is about having the right feeling on campus.
"College is about living in
the dorms, eating in the dining commons, going to the bookstore or the
computer lab, and not having to go off campus if you dont want
to," he says. "That creates the family atmosphere that makes
For students like Abi Kennedy, 21,
that has made all the difference. A sociology major from Springfield,
Mo., Kennedy was "afraid to go so far from home, but I fell in
love with it," she says, "the whole atmosphere. And everyone
I came into contact with was interested in me. I immediately formed
friendships with people on my floor and they have really impacted my
Kennedy has had such a good experience
being a resident advisor that she wants to make a career working with
college students, giving others what she received at Vanguard.
In the waning afternoon, seven or
eight students are sitting at easels at one end of a lawn, painting
portraits of the library building. Praise music blasts from a sound
system near one of the dorms, and the large gymnasium is full of the
squeak of shoes as the basketball team plays a vigorous game of five
"People come here and encounter
Christ," says Rick Hardy, vice president for enrollment management
and advancement. "They wrestle with what their walk with Christ
means. Some students experience God for the first time here on their
own. We integrate faith with the curriculum and challenge students to
Talitha Cleveland, 22, a youth leadership
major, is living proof.
"I knew I always wanted to
go to a small Christian school to get a spiritual education," she
says. "And since coming here Ive watched myself grow spiritually
and mentally. The people here are worth everything."
lives in Los Angeles, Calif.