The young woman was unsure which was worse: harboring the secret of her lost virginity or confessing that moral failure before an audience of college peers, faculty, and administrators.
Years of masking the truth had resulted in self-imposed walls that left her isolated from others, and she was weary of the bondage. Stepping up to the microphone in her college chapel, she became one of hundreds of students at colleges, universities, state schools, and seminaries to experience spiritual renewal through public confession and prayer.
"I have never felt such freedom!" she now says. "I know that it's all right, that they accept me for who I am. People tell me that they're glad to find out I'm not this perfect person."
What before may have seemed impossible has become the norm for many Christian students. Confession, acceptance, release, and joy all have been components of a historic renewal moving across the nation. A growing number of schools have reported impromptu meetings where students have openly confessed sins, cried, and prayed for one another while discarding items such as pornographic magazines, illegal drugs, compact disks, tobacco, romance novels, and credit cards.
AUTHENTIC RENEWAL: So far, meetings exhibit no signs of orchestration or planning. Milo Lundell, executive vice president at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, reports that the activity there was not a display of "emotional exuberance or sensational demonstration, but the reverent, quiet moving of God's Spirit."
Some renewal meetings have been significant in size and scope. Attendance numbered 900 at Wheaton College's initial March 19 gathering, which lasted more than 12 hours. Students conducted nightly meetings for the next four days, culminating in an audience of 1,500. "I've studied revivals and awakening for 15 years," says Tim Beougher, Wheaton professor of evangelism. "This bears all the marks of being a deep and genuine work of God."
The testimony of Howard Payne University senior Chris Robeson at Coggin Avenue Baptist Church in Brownwood, Texas, is considered a catalyst in this national campus awakening. During a January service, Robeson tearfully entreated the church to pray for Howard Payne and one another, which led to an outbreak of prayer, confession, and weeping in the church.
Several days later, Howard Payne students experienced a taste of renewal at a student-led worship meeting, which served as the precursor to a more significant spiritual outbreak during their annual spring services. Howard Payne students then began testifying at other schools and churches about the spiritual renewal on their campus, a pattern that has been replicated by other schools touched by revival.
Evangelical leaders are optimistic that the cycle will continue, and they liken current activities to those of campus revivals in 1950 and 1970. David Howard, senior vice president of Cook Communications in Elgin, Illinois, and former director of InterVarsity's Urbana missions conventions, says the present wave exhibits the same common denominators of prayer, a commitment to the Bible, and a concern for the world. Howard says, "As students get renewed, they have a new vision for the world and awaken the church."
At Wheaton, about 250 students dedicated themselves to full-time Christian service during the last evening meeting. "It was said that some in the group would be persecuted because of their faith," recalls junior Elizabeth Simpson. "I was able to say, 'God, if I'm one of those, so be it.' "
The results of such dedication may come sooner for some, as significant numbers of seminary students prepare to enter ministry. "We graduate 500 people per class," says Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where renewal meetings also occurred. "If the students who experienced an authentic touch of God take that into the local churches, the results could be amazing."
COPING WITH brokenness: While awakening reports have been exciting, they also have borne the sobering marks of present-day realities. "People who were students in 1950 would be very surprised at the level of hurt and frustration, brokenness and dysfunction [today]," says Stephen Kellough, Wheaton College chaplain.
Students all over the country testified to struggles they were having with sexual immorality, low self-esteem, pride, dishonesty, and hatred. Many working on these campuses acknowledge that the depth and breadth of this generation's pain has been greater. "I was amazed that so many students could get out of bed with the baggage they were carrying," Beougher says.
A common theme emerged as students nationwide took the opportunity provided by the renewal meetings to acknowledge personal wrongdoing. "Wheaton is a place where people live behind facades. There's lots of hurt, and no place for that hurt to come out," says senior James Yaegashi. "The revival gave people the chance to say, 'This is who I am.' "
At Southwestern, a Southern Baptist school and the country's largest Protestant seminary, men and women on the brink of ministerial roles showed they were not exempt from the accumulated effects of unconfessed sin. "We've seen inner healing at this revival, breaking habits that have dominated for years," says evangelism professor Roy Fish. "It's messy. But we're messy. And it's time to get the mess out."
One reason that students have a hard time sharing their struggles may be the result of overindividualized faith. Lyle Dorsett, Wheaton College professor of evangelism and educational ministries, notes that some Christian students do not attend church regularly, or never stay long enough to become part of the fellowship. "They need to be in churches and small groups where they can confess sins."
Campus communities are now pursuing various means to implement follow-up plans, primarily encouraging accountability. Jim Brockinton, vice president of student development at Asbury College, says, "One of the big lies of Satan is to make us believe we're alone. We have been encouraging students to find one other person to share their heart with."
REVIVAL FOR ALL AGES? As in past revivals, while students have been the main participants, faculty and administration have played various supporting roles. But Trinity International University professor Ray Ortlund, Jr., urges evangelical leaders to be open to the Lord's call for renewal.
"Sometimes, adults have greater difficulty responding openly to a visitation of God because they feel they may jeopardize their appearance of spirituality," says Ortlund, who was present at Trinity's recent renewal meetings.
Wheaton president A. Duane Litfin believes that adults are open, but merely respond in different ways. "We're just dealing with very different dynamics," he says. "The very students who have been involved here-give them 30 years, and when they face spiritual renewal again, it will look different."
Despite generational differences, some adult leaders think they have much to learn from the vulnerability of students. For future generations to continue the present eagerness for openness and accountability, Fish hopes many Christian leaders are willing to say, "I'm weak. I need help. I want you to pray for me."
Robert Coleman, director of the Institute of Evangelism at the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, acknowledges that it may be easier for the younger generation to shed their masks. "Older people have developed more of an ability to cover insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. We've been hurt enough not to be so open," he says. "But we need to stop protecting our reputations at the expense of the Lord's reputation and be fools for Christ."
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