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North Central University, Minneapolis, Minn.

Scholars, saints and servants

By Ken Horn

Lunchtime on a drizzly Friday afternoon in downtown Minneapolis, Minn., on the campus of North Central University. Most classes are over for the week. This is the time one would expect the liberated students to be charging to the cafeteria, or rushing to collect their things to go off campus for the weekend. Yet, halfway through the noon hour, hundreds of students are praying in the university’s chapel — clearly in no hurry to do anything except spend time with God.

Daily chapel services are characterized by exuberant worship and straightforward preaching of God’s Word.

Chapel services are an every weekday occurrence here, reflecting the intent of the leadership to incorporate quality academics with spiritual fervency.

In order to keep from sacrificing the classroom for the spiritual, chapel services were moved from 9:15 to 11 a.m. Now if students linger around the altar at the close of a service, they must be serious enough to sacrifice their own lunchtime. Twice a week — on Tuesdays and Fridays — prayer and fasting are emphasized following the services.

Today’s chapel service finds a standing-room-only crowd — most of the 1,141 registered students — jammed into the auditorium. Though the dress and feel of the campus are casual, there is nothing casual about the student body’s passion for God.

Flanked by stage props, here because of "drama days," worship is led by One Accord, one of the traveling groups for the school. A sense of God’s presence descends. The clatter and chatter students have brought with them from the hallways soon dissolve into praise.

As they sing, "Lord, I give You my heart, I give You my soul, I live for You alone," it is clear the lyrics are more than words. Hands go up throughout the chapel and soon, unbidden, the whole student body is on its feet in worship.

President Gordon Anderson makes his way to the platform from the front row, where he has been sitting next to his wife, who frequently joins him here. Coffee mug in hand, he says, "Sing it again." Soon the singing is mingled with prayer and praise.

Sending leaders
Since May 1995, when his predecessor, Don Argue, departed to become president of the National Association of Evangelicals, this affable former pastor and professor has been at the helm, encouraging students and faculty to "jump in" — to participate in revival. "There’s a sense of the immediacy of the Spirit working around here," he tells me later in his study. "These students need to leave here not with a memory but with a walk."

North Central University has a rich heritage. Founded in 1930 as North Central Bible Institute, the school has counted numerous distinguished alumni, faculty and presidents, including G. Raymond Carlson (1961-69) who later became general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

Landlocked in the heart of downtown Minneapolis — thus making growth difficult — the school has recently acquired some significant adjacent properties, expanding the campus dramatically.

Reflective of the surrounding system of skyways that connect much of downtown Minneapolis, the campus is connected by two such skyways, both meeting at the ends of the chapel.

Students come here from diverse backgrounds and, because of its more than 20 majors, they prepare for a variety of callings. Practical involvement in ministry is an integral part of each major.

Senior Lynn Fredrickson grew up in the Assemblies of God and followed a call to ministry to North Central when she was 17. After graduation last June, she was due to join an inner-city ministry that plants churches and focuses on evangelism. Active in the school’s ministries, Lynn says, "I have seen a lot of people get saved on the streets of Minneapolis."

Laura Huisinga and her husband were drawn to the school by the passion and hunger for God they saw. "NCU stresses the importance of being involved in ministry right now," she says. "It’s helped me realize God’s call on my life."

Josh Payne, a 20-year-old sophomore, is active in outreach to the homeless, a keen need in this inner city.

Eighteen-year-old freshman Debbie Clark is here studying deaf culture ministries. "Last night we were turned away from a people-feeding ministry," she says. "They had overbooked volunteers." That alone speaks volumes.

Graduates spread across the United States and the globe. They become pastors, missionaries and unofficial ministers in the private sector. Some take their NCU training to Assemblies of God national headquarters, like alumni David and Mary Boyd, who now coordinate the National Children’s Ministries Agency. Current general superintendent Thomas E. Trask is a 1956 graduate.

Vice President of Academic Affairs Carolyn Tennant, an ordained minister, encourages women to be involved in ministry. "Women can find many places to minister — working with children, youth, urban ministry and home or foreign missions. … What is critical is to step out and not let anything hinder the call."

1998 NCU graduate Julie Dop is a pastor at Freedom Church in inner-city North Omaha, Neb. Her urban ministry major and children’s ministry minor have served her well. Tracy Johnson, also a 1998 graduate, followed her mass communication major to a position with the company that produces the popular Christian children’s video series, VeggieTales.

Melissa Ollendieck followed her 1993 graduation with a stint at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, then became a chaplain with the Air National Guard.

Transforming lives
Sampling classes, I find Greek language students taking a quiz. In a class on apologetics, a professor is leading 16 students in a discussion of worldview. One student raises the problem of dealing with family members with conflicting views. "My grandmother says, ‘You don’t need Jesus; you just have to be good.’ " The prof stresses the importance of a Christian worldview and being unwilling "to accommodate in order to avoid conflict."

In a conducting class, music department chair Larry Bach sits in a chorale with nine students giving practical direction to the student whose turn it is to lead. Trumpets can be heard practicing in the background. Later in this same location, I find the 50 voices of the Concert Chorale practicing the Hallelujah Chorus in preparation for a ministry assignment.

Later, as I speak with Bach, students begin filtering in. These are students from the Life of Prayer class. A different group prays here each day during chapel.

To President Anderson, the students seem more to be parishioners and the faculty associate pastors. He has strived for constancy in spirituality, "not alternating mountain peaks and valleys." To achieve this, ample opportunity has been made for devotion and spiritual growth, including the twice weekly prayer and fasting. The faculty are involved in this and other aspects of the students’ spiritual lives. Anderson is adamant that these young people can leave the college as prayer warriors — men and women intimate with God.

Anderson is passionate when he discusses the thrust of the school. "We have a holistic model of education that incorporates the whole person. Our whole structure is designed not just to inform, but to transform. We have high expectations of our students. They are to be leaders. We talk about the scholar, saint, servant. Scholar — head, saint — heart, servant — hand." Faculty members here adhere to a carefully crafted vision statement that articulates this philosophy. "They are there in the classroom, in chapel, in student lives. We’ve got a great faculty. I want to be able to say to students, ‘Watch him, watch her, do exactly as they do. A professor is an example of what we want you to be.’ "

Pentecost: alive and well
In chapel today, Anderson is speaking from James 1. He tells the students, "Process is painful; product is joyful. Getting a degree is joy; taking finals is ‘count it joy’ " (v.2).

The service ends promptly at 11:50. Students are invited to the altar or dismissed if they must leave. A trickle of students begins to the front, some kneeling, some sitting, a few stretched prostrate, facedown on the carpet. Though many leave, I am staggered by the overwhelming majority who stay and pour out passionate prayer. This is not a student body at ease in Zion.

The floor at the front is clogged with intercessors now; tears and cries are abundant. This is a revival atmosphere, heavy with the presence of the Holy Spirit. I don’t mind missing lunch. I think, I can eat anytime, but I seldom get to fast and pray with young people voluntarily giving up lunch to seek God on a college campus.

Students filter out gradually, but deep into the noon hour there are still hundreds here. Groups of faculty and students pray in circles. When I leave at 1 p.m., there are still numbers in prayer.

I leave the campus with a warmth in my soul. I feel that I have been to a place where God is no stranger. I rejoice that the Assemblies of God has places like this to train the leaders of the future. If North Central University is an indicator, the Fellowship may rest assured: Pentecostal fire is alive and well in our institutions of higher learning.

Ken Horn is managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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