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Radical Christians to Campus Radicals

(The seventies was a time of unrest on college campuses and along with that were a lot of questions and searching. I was part of an evangelistic movement which involved holiness churches. The organization was called Overcomers and we promoted several rallies on university campuses. The following occurred in 1970-71 at Penn State University in the Ballroom of the HUB.)

At the end of his message, S. D. Herron gave an invitation. Standing at the back was an older student named James who was involved with the Black Power advocates. He had an afro hairdo, was wearing the red, green and black colors of the movement and had a necklace of claws and firearms earplugs hanging around his neck. One of his favorite lines was to say that there were no real Christians anymore. When the invitation was given, James slowly and deliberately walked to the front. By this time Bro. Herron had taken a seat in the front row. He motioned to the chair beside him and invited the radical student to sit down.
With disdain, James answered, “Sit down? I will not stoop to your level! You’re trying to force your western European values on me. Do you know who I am?”
“Tell me, who are you?” asked Brother Herron.
“I’m Jesus Christ! See this hair?” he motioned to his afro. “It is like lamb’s wool.” He said a few more things calculated to shock those who heard him and then left the room.

That first series of rallies seemed to be successful enough to try it again, so we scheduled another several months later. We invited H.E. Schmul to be the speaker. He consented and we began again to plan for the event. A few weeks before the rally, Bro. Schmul called me with a question.
“You know the student that told Bro. Herron he was Jesus Christ? I’d like to
meet him.”

I answered something to the effect that I was not his booking agent, but I would see what I could do. The first night of the rally, I was outside of the ballroom greeting students and others who were arriving, when who should show up but James, the Black Power radical. I talked with him for a while, and he started to condemn religious people.
“There are no real Christians anywhere,” he declared.

I decided that this was a good opportunity for me to introduce him to Bro. Schmul.
“You want to see a real Christian?” I asked. “There is one inside.
“There’s a real Christian here?” asked James. “I want to meet him.”
“I’ll go get him,” I said. “You wait right here and I’ll introduce you to a real Christian.”
Hurrying inside the ballroom, I found Bro. Schmul.
“Remember the fellow Bro. Herron had an encounter with? He’s here and he wants to meet you.”
We went to the foyer, and approached James.
“I want you to meet Harold Schmul,” I said.
“Glad to meet you sir.” Bro. Schmul stuck out his hand.
“Sir?” said James withholding his hand. “I’ll not stoop to your western European culture. I’m not sir!”
“Well who are you, then,” asked Bro. Schmul.
“I’m Jesus Christ,” said James.
Before he could react, Brother Schmul grabbed James’ hand and shook it vigorously.
“I’m glad to meet you, Jesus Christ!” he said warmly, and James stepped back. Brother Schmul took a step forward, and pointed his index finger directly at James.
“You know, you’re not as tough as you think you are!” James stepped back and again Bro. Schmul stepped towards him.
“You’re not as mean as you think you are!” Again, James stepped back and Bro. Schmul stepped his way.
“And you’re not as wicked as you think you are!” Brother Schmul told me later that when you have the devil on the run you don’t stop, but keep pressing the attack.
It was time for the rally to start, so Bro. Schmul went to the front. I stayed in the foyer and continued talking with James. By this time a crowd of students had gathered around us. As much for them as for James, I asked him why he thought we were interested in him.
“Why are you interested in me?”
“James,” I said, “Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. We have found that if we trust Him, He forgives us and changes us. He takes our past away and gives us a new start. We are debtors to you because of what happened. What He did for us is what we want to see Him do for you.”
James really didn’t have much to say at that point, but I noticed that several of the students who had crowded around us turned and went into the ballroom to attend the rally.
That was only one of several occasions that James crossed paths with our campus fellowship. On one occasion we were having a Bible study in a rather small meeting room when I heard footsteps in the hallway. The door was opened and James saw who we were, so he walked in and began to start his usual rant against Christians and how there were really no real Christians anymore. I said, “James, we are in the middle of a Bible study. If you sit down and wait, when we finish, then I’ll give you the opportunity to speak to us.”
He sat down and listened quietly while we finished the Bible study. Then we gave him the floor. He offered some of his radical commentary on life, on religion, and on other things. When he finished, we thanked him for coming. He walked out of the room and we heard his footsteps retreating down the tiled hallway. Then we heard them stop. In a moment, they approached again and stopped at the door. James stuck his head through the doorway, and we were quiet. He said, “I wish all Christians were like you.” Then he did leave.
It was some time after that – perhaps a couple of years later, and I had been invited to speak at a church in the Harrisburg area, close to ninety miles from Penn State. I was traveling home after a service and stopped at a fast food restaurant. While waiting in line, I perceived that someone had come in behind me. When I turned around, there was James! I greeted him, we shook hands, and then he asked me, “Are you still a Christian?” When I said I was, he smiled. I wondered why he asked. I think he was hoping to find a real Christian and I trust that maybe that radical student, who by then had left the campus, had seen and felt enough of the concern and love of Christ that he believed Christianity may actually be true.

Evangelism on university campuses is challenging. Yet the possibilities of reaching students who will be leaders is great. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the great harvest field of our nation’s universities. It does no real good to mourn the degradation of culture. Our hope is in the Lord and in His power to change anyone who comes to Him. (Rom. 1:14-16)

Comment(1)

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    Penny Austin says

    Thank the Lord for Bro. Schmul and you. Enjoyed this.

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