by Augusta Mennell
What is the most popular religion in the world? It may be “the legend of the Nazarene.” Wherever I go I find it alive and prospering. Certainly, it is my biggest challenge in campus ministry at All Saints Lutheran Church and Student Center.
The man I call “the Pepper Man” used this phrase about the Nazarene. He sells peppers at the farm market. All summer I’ve purchased his peppers to give to SRU students who like to cook. The students know the peppers are from ASLC with love. I mentioned to the Pepper Man that he was welcome to visit All Saints any time, but he emphatically stated that he believed that all religions were true and that if I wanted to believe in the “legend of the Nazarene” that was fine, but that I should not even try to tell him there is only one way. He referred to God as “it” and is hopeful “it” will accept him.
The Pepper Man is, in fact, a very kind man. Years ago, he rescued our family when our old car broke down in the middle of nowhere at night. He came by and courageously stopped to pick us up.
The Pepper Man’s beliefs permeate the SRU campus. Even some Christian students maintain that while Jesus is the way for them, God must have other ways for people of different faiths. Basically, the campus is not hostile to Jesus but most just believe that being a “good” person works for them and that many roads to heaven makes more sense than only one way.
All Saints takes every opportunity to share the truth, that there is only one way, as John 3:16 says. Why? Because Jesus has asked us to do so. We are convinced that it is worth the effort. What follows are a few stories of students God has put in our way to befriend and with whom we’ve shared the story of Jesus’ love.
Tenzing from Nepal came to the Lutheran Center with two international friends. We talked about what is going on in America, their aspirations and their early education. Ten told how his Buddhist parents had sent him to a Protestant boarding school from the time he was a little boy. They sent him because the quality of education is excellent in the Christian schools in Asia. He attended with students who were Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. He recalls hearing the matron read Bible stories to him before bed. He remembers that the Bible was read during the school day. He recalls lots of details from the Bible stories, but he did not learn who Jesus really is. No one ever spoke about Baptism, which he believes was a forbidden topic. When I asked, Tenzing said he’d like to study the Bible to find out if Jesus is one of many ways or is the only way. Tenzing has made time to study a small book we are using called Who Is Jesus? The Gospel According to Matthew. This booklet is published by Lutheran Hour Ministries. Who Is Jesus? is the most important question we could study in today’s campus environment.
Mandy (not her real name) is an American SRU student who comes to All Saints for movie nights, special meals and worship. She’s struggling with her faith because some of her family members are Lutherans and some are Jewish, so she’s conflicted. She says she’s inclined to believe this is no problem, that both can be believed. We gave her Disowned: a 20th Century Jew and His Experience with Jesus by Steve Cohen, who is now an LCMS pastor. Pastor Cohen’s favorite question to ask people is, “So, what do you think about Jesus?” Because a Lutheran friend helped Steve Cohen to become a baptized Lutheran, we pray Mandy finds out for sure that Jesus is more than a legend.
Years ago, a Christian from India married a man who worships Sai Baba. Her family is Christian and opposed the marriage. Against her family’s wishes, she entered into this marriage, believing she would be able to worship Jesus while her husband worshiped Sai Baba. Sai Bab’s followers believe he is the “Christ of our day.” Instead, she had to go to the temple. Her three children now worship Sai Baba.
Her youngest, who is now at SRU, has told me he comes by to say “hello” to Jesus before he goes downstairs to study. He even came to Sunday morning worship a week ago. He came late, but he came. I was so excited! I thought that since he’d come with a Christian friend that he had become convinced that Jesus is the truth.
Later in the week, we had time to talk about what he believes. He told me in the kindest words that he could find that he believes all religions have value. He believes the answer is being good enough. Since he is a “good” person from a “good” family, he does not see why he needs Jesus. He trusts me and we are able to talk rather frankly, so he listened comfortably as I quickly explained the Gospel. He didn’t cringe, and he was not hostile, but he seemed baffled. The Gospel didn’t make sense to him; it wasn’t nearly as sensible as the idea that all religions are valid. Although I was disappointed, I trust the power of God’s Word. He has heard what the Bible teaches. As he comes for movies, meals and friendship, prayerfully the Holy Spirit will open his heart.
The world tells students that whatever they believe is fine, but the Bible clearly tells students Jesus is the only way. It’s a great challenge and a great joy to share the Gospel. We pray that students receive faith in Jesus. And they do! Chama’s faith started growing as she watched Christian cartoons on TV at home in Sri Lanka. She’s now baptized and desires to be a missionary to Japan. David from the Congo comes every week to church and Bible classes no matter how tired he is. He wants to grow spiritually. No matter how insistent the world is that the one way is only a legend, God’s Word wins. Students continue to believe in Jesus as their Savior. What a blessing!
About the Author: Augusta Mennell is a member of All Saints Lutheran Church and Student Center, Slippery Rock, Pa.