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Southeastern College, Lakeland, Fla.

Preparing to answer God’s call

By Kirk Noonan

Spanish moss clings to sprawling oaks that shade much of Southeastern College’s campus in Lakeland, Fla. Today the air is mild, humidity is low, but the sun is glaring. On the baseball field, players throw the ball around the horn. In the chapel, a jazz band is practicing. Other than the music escaping through an open chapel door, the campus is peaceful and quiet — most students are in class, the library or their dorm rooms.

It is here that more than 1,100 students are preparing to answer God’s call on their lives.

President Mark Rutland challenges students to discover God’s will for their lives.

"This school offers so much," says Brent Beesley, a junior transfer from Canada, who is standing outside the chapel. "We are pushing forward with high quality majors and professionalism. I came from a secular conservatory and didn’t have any godly influences besides church. Now, Christian friends and time in chapel strengthen my spiritual growth."

In the college’s television studio students are wrapping up a production. Wade Mumm, a member of the language and communications arts faculty, stands back while the students go about their duties. He believes in letting students take ownership of their projects.

"We are fully set up for broadcast. We tape live chapel services, classes, basketball and baseball games. We even write, direct and produce various live shows," he says, as he points to a control desk full of dials, buttons and mini-television screens. "Our focus is hands-on experience."

Honey McLaughlin, a senior, hopes to produce Christian videos and drama productions. Since being here she has worked with several international ministry production teams and with secular production companies. After graduation she wants to land a job nearby.

"I’ve gained so much experience here," she says. "Because it [Southeastern] is smaller than public universities, we get more attention from our professors and we get our hands on so much more."

In the cafeteria students move quickly from a bountiful buffet to tables. En route to the dessert counter, Cody Miller, a junior who plays centerfield on the baseball team, says coming to Southeastern is preparing him for a career in music ministry and Christian education.

"God sent me to exactly the place I need to be," he says. "God has really blessed me here as well as fulfilling a dream of mine to play college baseball."

After dinner, in the foyer of Bauer Hall for men, a group of 20 gather for an organized debate. Chairs are set in a large circle. A guest speaker delivers a speech on a controversial topic before students debate whether or not his points are valid.

Upstairs things are more relaxed. Students are studying, others are taking naps or listening to music and playing video games. A student named Jeff Hunt offers a tour of his room.

"Dorm life is really good," he says. "We don’t have to worry about people stealing stuff. People drop by and talk, and that’s cool."

The walk through the dorm is eventful. One student says he plans to be an elementary school teacher; another, Gago Bray, says he came here after seeing Mark Rutland, president of Southeastern, on the Trinity Broadcasting Network talk about the school.

"The Holy Spirit quickened me and I knew Southeastern was the school I was going to," he says, his eyes gleaming. "I didn’t even know where Lakeland was. This is an awesome school. If you don’t want to go higher in God, this is the wrong place."

It’s almost 7 p.m., and the common areas begin to fill with students rushing to evening classes, the gym or to the chapel.

At center court in the gym players from both teams hold hands and pray for good sportsmanship and safety before the game begins. As they play, high fives and words of encouragement abound.

In the chapel the house lights are dimmed. On stage a band plays praise music for the 50 or so gathered. In the darkness of the sanctuary many find solitude. Some worship with arms outstretched; others kneel in the pews praying. No faculty or staff are present. When the music ends, student Tara Gentry preaches. She is articulate and quickly gains the audience’s attention.

The next morning, the chapel is nearly filled to capacity with students and faculty worshiping side by side. There is an air of expectancy. President Rutland challenges the students to not miss God’s will for their lives.

After chapel, the students move quickly along the walkways. At the Gygax Student Center many race to their mailboxes in search of letters or packages. In the cafe, students drink bottled water, sodas and mochas as they chat over open textbooks. Others grab a quick snack then rush off to morning classes.

Working at the cafe’s register is Zack Stoutimore, a transfer student from the University of Florida. He says not everyone is entirely happy with his decision to leave the university to study for the ministry at Southeastern.

"I definitely would not be here if I didn’t feel this is where God wanted me to be," he says. "I want to help change people’s lives and reach them for Christ. I was going to be a doctor, but I was called into the ministry."

In the admissions office, Matthew Wengerd, a prospective student from Ohio, is filling out paperwork. After only a short visit he is certain God wants him to attend Southeastern.

"The buzz in Ohio is that this is the school to attend," he says. "So far everything about this place tells me this is exactly where I need to be."

With a backpack slung over one shoulder, a notebook in one hand and bottled water in the other, Gentry, the student who preached the night before in chapel, talks about the spiritual climate of Southeastern on her way to class.

"Students here want to be in the presence of the Lord," she says. "The most important thing here is that other believers are pouring into you. They are interested in you as a spiritual being, not just in your future profession."

Kirk Noonan is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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