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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Chi Alpha: Reaching Ethnic Students

By John W. Kennedy
June 29, 2014

A quarter-century ago, Steve and Charlene Michaels prepared to interview to become Assemblies of God world missionaries. But just before they planned to leave for the trip, their physician prescribed complete bed rest for the pregnant Charlene.

Son Matt is now a 25-year-old graduate student at Florida State University in Tallahassee. But with the near crisis during the pregnancy, Steve and Charlene altered their ministry plans. They have been Chi Alpha ministry leaders at the University of Florida in Gainesville since 1991.

Although the couple never made it to the foreign field, students from many nations have consistently come to them.

Steve and Charlene met at Penn State University, where Charlene earned a master’s in math and Steve served as Chi Alpha campus pastor. Steve earlier accepted Jesus as his Savior after graduating from Georgetown University and serving three years in the U.S. Army.

Charlene felt a missionary calling growing up in an Assemblies of God church, and had a vision she would be a pastor’s wife. Both Steve and Charlene have AG ministerial credentials.

Steve initially became involved with another campus ministry at Penn State. When prevented from joining the staff because he spoke in tongues, he went on to help found the Chi Alpha chapter at the school in University Park, Pa.

When Michaels later arrived at the University of Florida, the Chi Alpha group had 15 students. He became the first full-time Chi Alpha leader in the Sunshine State.

For years, ethnic diversity has been the hallmark of the Chi Alpha group in Gainesville. The chapter has had students from South America, Central America, China, India, Africa and Caribbean islands.

“Friends invited friends, and we ended up with a lot of diversity,” Michaels says. “Everybody feels comfortable because we don’t separate people by their ethnicity. We’ve developed an atmosphere free of prejudice, which is attributable to the Holy Spirit.”

A number of Haitian students came into the group eight years ago, prompting annual missions trips to the poor Hispaniola nation. For the past five years, Chi Alpha students and graduates working with Haitian churches have focused on street evangelism, medical outreaches, children’s ministry, and construction projects.

The University of Florida has nearly 50,000 students. The school has more than 1,260 international baccalaureate students enrolled, a higher number than any other university in the U.S.

“Some of the foreign students enrolled are from countries that restrict access to the Bible,” Michaels says. “We can reach out to them while they are here.”

The Gainesville group meets regularly on Friday night because most Chi Alpha students stay around for the weekend.

“I just preach the Bible,” Michaels says. “The principles of the Word don’t change.”

After Bible teaching, a social event is held, such as dodgeball, a bonfire or a game night. The community bonding time may last until midnight, which isn’t a problem since there aren’t any classes on Saturday.

Students also meet weekly in cell groups of five to 15 members. The 90-minute gatherings — held in dormitories, classrooms, and the student union — involve Bible study, share time and prayer.

Separate from the Friday collective meetings, Michaels teaches classes on topics such as student leadership, Bible prophecy, comparative religions, and evangelism training. He and Charlene also are available to counsel students.

In addition, Michaels refers some students to his close friend Mike Patz, pastor of The Greenhouse Church, an AG congregation where the Michaelses are two of about 2,800 attendees. Many Chi Alpha students attend church there, and so do students from a variety of other campus ministry organizations.

For numerous students who don’t have a dad in their lives, Michaels has become a father figure.

“We just encourage everyone to live for God by the power of the Holy Spirit,” Michaels says. “We keep raising up student leaders year after year.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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