Asbury University students have big dreams for the revival of the Christian faith on college campuses worldwide and hope young adults will be unafraid to spread their love of God.
Inside Hughes Auditorium sits a whiteboard filled with the names of colleges people had come from to experience the revival. The school names etched across its surface eventually expanded to the back of the board. Students and staff brought in several other whiteboards as the list grew. The school says over 200 colleges have visited their campus in the last two weeks.
Like many other young adults, Asbury students asked themselves big questions. Who am I? Who do I want to be? What am I destined for?
Asbury senior Isaiah Friedeman said the revival has helped many recognize the hope in the Christian life. People are experiencing the love of community and the love of God, and they feel seen. This love will naturally lead others to wonder what a Christian life could be like for them, he suggested.
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"They're seeing joyful people, they're seeing fulfilled people and they're going, I don't know what they have, but I'm interested in that," Friedeman said, submitting Christianity to young adults to resolve the "longings of the soul" unfulfilled by earthly pursuits.
Friedeman has plans to go into ministry and church planning after graduation. Over the first couple of days at the revival, he said he experienced a "softening of the heart." He forgot that people around him were struggling in their own unique ways. He believes depression, anxiety and self-harm are prevalent in society because young people search for fulfillment in the wrong places.
"Something that everything can agree on whether you're a Christian or not is that the world is messed up. We look around; we see brokenness and poverty. We see hurt and pain. So, the question is, what is the remedy to that?" Friedeman said. "I think we're starting to see that politics isn't the remedy to that. There aren't human leaders that can be the remedy to that. Every time we put our faith in those things, they fall down."
Asbury University Student Body President Alison Perfater said that while social media can be great, as was the case in spreading the message of the revival, it can also be challenging for her age group. She said the constant comparison and distraction are "huge elements "of young people's lives and produce a lot of anxiety. Many of the conversations on campus over the last several weeks have tackled those difficult questions, such as how to be free through faith in Christ from painful things.
"The amount of people that are in Hughes who I know that hated each other for decisions they made are now praying together, worshiping together, and laughing together. However, I can, in little human words, express the opposite of pain; that's what it is," she said.
Graduate assistant Mia Lush echoed the sentiment of her classmates.
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"It's not social media, it's not sports, it's not academics, it's not self-identity, it's Jesus," she said. "We're in this place where we don't know what's happening to the world, and it's hard being a Christian today. I think it's something we've needed so bad, and I don't even think we know we needed it."
Nathan Koropatwa, a student missionary to the Middle East, has embarked on a journey from Canada to Christian college campuses across the United States. He said he wants to travel where the Gospel is least found and spread the word of Christ. He believes that what happened at Asbury and what is happening across the country is a manifestation of God uniting people for the struggles of the modern world.
"There's a spiritual battle for the young people and their souls," Koropatwa said. "It's a time when God is stirring up the Church once again and young people to make their decisions and choose wisely."
Karopatwa said he was concerned by leaders' decisions to change laws that keep people safe and the growing darkness exemplified by world-changing events such as the coronavirus pandemic and the Syria-Turkey earthquake.
While these events could cause anxiety and sadness in young Christians, Karopatwa urged them not to look to themselves or their dreams for solace, but to look to God.
Friedeman also urged fellow students to avoid the fleeting, chasing answers many of the pillars of society offer. These pillars often appeal to the "deep cries of our hearts," but he said the only thing that can truly fulfill that is God and his community.
Instead, Friedeman said the revival offered up two other pillars he would carry for the rest of his life: The idea of "radical humility" and engaging in a Christ-centric life.
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According to Friedeman, God has given his authority to the people to enact His will on earth. These pillars call on others to be humble, take the lowest spot at the table, and do powerful things with him as their guiding light. The ideals helped him be more intentional in loving and accepting others as a leader.
"Since this revival started on February 8, I've learned a lot about how leadership and servitude are very much the same thing and how so many times leaders get elevated to be above the people they are leading," Perfater said.
She credited her success as a student leader, in part, to University President Dr. Kevin Brown, who told her that the closer you put yourself to the people, the better you lead.
Perfater has always been interested in leadership and government but was homeschooled until 2020. After just a few short weeks at Asbury, COVID-19 hit, and she found herself back with her family.
Flash-forward to today and Perfater is heading to D.C. this summer to work in politics. She is also the first art major to become student body president.
She said that the revival acted as the antithesis of the pandemic. From an earthly perspective, students find themselves now unable to stay apart. It's the opposite of isolation. Spiritually, when God fills the room in Hughes Auditorium, it's more than a connection with another person. It's like a "supernatural community" forming, Perfater said.
She was in Hughes Auditorium 24 hours a day for the first several days. She and her cabinet of seven students frequently brought food to the safety team and used their budget to buy dinner for students who spent long hours in prayer and worship.
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"It's a lot. It's not anything any one person can do," Perfater said. "I feel like everyone has stepped up as student body president and I really mean that. I feel like we just all have grown so much in just asking, what can I do for you. I think that's counter-cultural to offer up yourself for somebody else."
Asbury's university became a church and a global mission field in two weeks. Eventually, Asbury will have to get back to being a university. But the impact of the revival has built relationships across the campus that will linger long after the message spreads out into the greater world.
Karopatwa said that although Asbury may have seemed like a small, seemingly insignificant place, what has transpired on the campus is the spiritual response to a community of people that have faithfully prayed.
"Hope is not gone for North America or for churches on Christian campuses," he said.
Lush's hope and the hope of many on the Asbury campus is that people who've come to town will fill their buckets and bring them out into the world. The goal is not for it to just stay in Wilmore, Kentucky.
But in bringing their faith to other corners of the world, Lush said it is unnecessary to get into people's faces about Christianity or tell others they must trust in God and convert. Instead, acting as God's witness and living that out daily is an acceptable way to share their message with others.
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As a freshman trying to forge new relationships, Caleb Cleveland found himself so much more devoted to God and in turn, devoted to the people around him during the revival. He had a newfound energy to be more aligned with his true self and the identity God had given him.
"I would say to them a lot of those feelings they have of being lost and not knowing their identity comes from the lack of God in their life," Cleveland said, urging others to come to their story with an open heart and mind.
First-year students Eva Green and Scott Stephenson said they hope the revival spreads to secular campuses, noting that they have many friends who don't believe. They said these individuals have experienced various levels of Church hurt and do not feel accepted.
Studies suggests the number of Christians in the U.S. is diminishing quickly and being replaced by those who do not identify with any religion.
"Someone once told me it's not God that's hurt you. It's people that have hurt you," Stephenson said. "And yes, Church is the body of Christ, but also everyone is a sinner and at one point that will be part of the Church. But it's awesome that Jesus still works through the Church despite our flaws and our sins."
"People in the church should be exemplifying the way God is, but they are also just humans, so they are flawed. There is going to be some hurt sometimes," Green said. "For the recipients of that, it's very easy to say God hurt me because this person hurt me."
Even though it's a Christian community with Christian roots, there are still people who are afraid to show their faith and their belief in God, Cleveland said. Some felt they would be ostracized or judged for how they chose to put their trust in Christ.
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"This outpouring has shown so many of us that it's not bad to be a Christian. It's not shameful to be a Christian. Be who you are," Cleveland said. "Through this weekend, I believe one of the ways God's moved is showing us that it's cool to be a Christian sometimes."