Thursday Night Live, the weekly worship meeting held by UAA student club Campus Crusade for Christ, was about to commence, and sophomore Dara Michelle Fieles was in a bit of a panic.
“Help me think of a funny song! Or some kind of icebreaker!” she said to the man standing next to her. “I need it in the next five minutes!”
By the time the worship meeting started, more than 30 people had shown up, and Fieles, the bubbly master of ceremonies with Preston Queja, had chosen her icebreaker: musical chairs with a twist.
“If you’re the one left standing, you have to tell everybody the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you,” Fieles said.
“Life on this earth is temporary,” said Justin Schneider, president of UAA’s Campus Crusade for Christ. “And heaven is eternal. So when I go there, I want as many friends as possible.”
Schneider, who has been president of the nondenominational Christian club for almost two years, views college as a time when young people are often challenged in their faith by newfound independence, exposure to drugs and alcohol, and loneliness. As an antidote, Campus Crusade has offered a variety of social activities including bonfires, ice cream socials and weekend prayer retreats.
“One aspect of religion is that it can keep you balanced,” said Steven Halcomb, club advisor for the Latter-day Saints Student Association. “When you’re constantly hammered by homework, you feel stressed. Religion encourages a positive attitude so you don’t feel overburdened.”
Halcomb, a UAA employee who also takes engineering classes, stressed that, while LDSSA meetings are primarily attended by Mormons, anyone is welcome.
“Even if people just want to check it out, they’re always welcome to come in and say ‘hi.'”
One important role of the club is to dispel common misconceptions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“We don’t practice polygamy,” Halcomb said. “The church abandoned that well over a hundred years ago. Also, a lot of people have questions about whether or not we’re Christians. We believe ‘yes,’ because we follow the word of Christ and refer to it often. One article we pay attention to is the Admonition of Paul, where it says to seek all things and hope all things. Anything beautiful, we try to seek after it.”
Baptist Collegiate Ministry, also called Breakaway, is another religious student club at UAA. Austin Curtis is the worship leader for the ministry.
“I think that what glorifies God most is passionate worship, and that’s what the devil hates most,” Curtis said. “I love seeing people break down and cry because they can feel the spirit of God moving onto them. In Scripture it says David danced till his clothes fell off. That’s what happens to my heart whenever I worship. It dances.”
As worship leader, Curtis frequently writes and performs songs drawn from spiritual themes encountered in his own life. Assaulted at age eighteen, Curtis spent six months trying to “substitute the pain” with alcohol. During this time he never stopped praying. Eventually, he found strength in a dream where a white-haired man appeared as a reflection in a glass doorway and offered him protection from an angry mob.
“Faith offers you something different from the world,” Curtis said, “something inner.”
According to Khaled Zayed, the struggle between the distractions of this world and the comforts of the sacred is also a major theme in Islam. Zayed was the founder and president of the now-defunct Muslim Student Association at UAA. Zayed is currently pursuing a Masters in business administration outside UAA but hopes to return and restart the club.
“Life is short, and people should be able to do the right things,” Zayed said. “I see a lot of materialism here. You have a car and you want an SUV. You have one SUV and you want two SUVs. You have a big house and you want a bigger house. There are also places in the Muslim world where people do that. But our prophet lived a very simple life. He ate bread and oil.”
During the holy month of Ramadan, which begins next week, Muslims commemorate the month in which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
“During this time, we fast from dawn to sunset,” Zayed said. “Fasting is not just abstaining from food. You also abstain from water, you don’t have gum in your mouth, you don’t smoke, and husbands and wives refrain from sexual intercourse. We pray a lot and do more charities and good work, reach out to others.”
Reaching out and extending the benefits of faith is another common theme in many of the religions represented at UAA. Steven Halcomb is grateful that the Mormon church offers the opportunity to “do service for the dead” by performing baptism ceremonies by proxy for dead relatives who were never part of the church. Recently, Steven’s older brother took part in such a ceremony, standing in for his deceased grandfather as a way of offering salvation.
“I believe Jesus loves all his children no matter what they do,” said Curtis. “Baptism is just how I was raised. I respect everyone’s opinion because life is just a temporary assignment.”
Madison Alger, a freshman student who attended Campus Crusade for Christ for her first time Sept. 21, was, like many new UAA students, beginning a new period of increased independence with many opportunities to reflect. She said she didn’t know what to expect from the prayer meeting but that she wanted faith to be a part of her life as a student.
“Faith is having something greater than yourself,” Alger said. “Knowing you can’t do all things in your own power. It’s relying on someone else.”