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University of Nebraska

Husker finds the meaning of life

By Kirk Noonan

More than 78,000 people were in attendance, but the stadium was eerily quiet. All eyes were on Josh Brown, the 22-year-old placekicker for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Down 32-31 to Colorado with the last seconds of the game ticking off the clock, Brown kicked the football toward the uprights. "I love the thrill of kicking," Brown says, recalling the moment. "I was scared to death with my other kicks that day, but for some reason the pressure of the game riding on me calmed me down. I was totally focused."

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As soon as he kicked the ball, Brown, a communications major from Oklahoma and a member of Xtreme Chi Alpha, knew what the outcome of his 29-yard attempt would be. When the ball sailed easily between the uprights the crowd roared with satisfaction and Brown’s teammates piled on top of him. A few seconds later, the newly crowned hero was carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates. Being a star on one of America’s premier college football teams (Nebraska has won five national championships) does have its perks. But, Brown says, it can also be challenging, especially for Christians.

"As a football player, I feel like I’m expected to be on the party scene and be out every weekend," Brown says. "It’s tough to focus on a spiritual relationship with God when you have temptations and pressures to go out and be among all your friends who are not spiritually set."

To stay spiritually fit, Brown relies on his faith and friends. "I surround myself with other believers and I pray a lot," he says. "I also avoid situations where I’m going to be tempted. I’ve found it’s always easier to do the right thing when I’m around others who want to do the right thing."

Following Jesus has not always been Brown’s priority. Though raised in what he describes as a strict Christian home, Brown drifted from his spiritual moorings when he started college. At first he partied with friends and took advantage of the acclaim and privilege football brought him. But after getting into a well-publicized fight with another student, Brown and others close to him say he made a sharp turn back to his faith.

"It [the fight and the trouble that ensued] was an eye-opener for me and what was going on in my life," he says regretfully. As a result of the altercation Brown was suspended for Nebraska’s opener and charged with a misdemeanor. "For my first couple of years of college the devil made my heart really hard to a lot of feelings and emotions I once knew. Now I’m really passionate about having a one-on-one relationship with Christ."

To help Brown continue to strengthen his walk with God, Tom Barber, pastor of Xtreme Chi Alpha, meets with him at least once a week. The two have an accountability relationship. "God has really got a hold of me, and Tom has played a major part in that," Brown says. "I meet with Tom and another student once a week to discuss what’s going on in our lives and the struggles we have. We also hold each other accountable for goals we have spiritually."

"For our athletes we wanted to do accountability groups because college can be very tough on them with all of the temptations and their status," says the 49-year-old Barber, who is also an adjunct professor and doctoral student. "The accountability forces them to hang tough every week."

Xtreme started in the summer of 1998 as a Sunday school class at Christ’s Place, a local Assemblies of God church. At first only 10 people attended, but in three years the Sunday school class moved to the university and has grown into a ministry with more than 70 students and various weekly meetings and activities. Besides the accountability meetings, small groups of students gather for Bible studies and every Thursday night the entire group gathers for a night of fellowship, worship, games and food.

During the Thursday night meetings, students worship and share their testimonies before Barber shares a short message that is more akin to a fireside chat than a Sunday morning sermon. The whole idea, Barber says, is to be informal yet relevant.

"It’s all based on relationships," says Barber. "Students are not only seeking a relationship with the Lord, they are looking for a relationship with others."

To facilitate that premise, food is served after service and games such as Ping-Pong and pool are played.

As with other Chi Alpha groups, Barber leads his on expeditions. One year members visited a church in revival. The next year they went on a missions trip. During the year students also participate in weekend retreats. Though such activities draw students, Barber says one of the most effective ways to share Christ’s message of love and hope is to simply be where the students are.

"If we are not on campus we are not going to win the lost," Barber says. "Being on campus during the week is crucial because that is the time when the kids are going through tough times. Since we are there we are able to minister to them and that builds credibility. We can’t be salt to this university if we are not on this campus."

This year is Brown’s senior year and he has set many goals. He hopes his play on the field will impress National Football League scouts enough so he will be drafted for the pros. But even more important is his determination to now live a life that reflects his love and passion for Jesus.

"I am finding out who I really am right now," says Brown, who could be speaking for thousands of college students across the United States. "I think God has a wonderful plan for my life. But I’m just going to pray and let Him work it out for me."

Since he has been in college, Brown has discovered that life is more than just a game. Now with a mentor at his side, Christian friends watching his every move and a game plan for eternity, Brown is confident his senior year will be his best year yet.

Kirk Noonan is an associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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