The news circulation at USF begins at 7:00 a.m. when Jeff Spear embarks on his route to deliver the daily issue of The Oracle to the awaiting bins placed around campus.
“I deliver the paper every morning” said Spear. “Monday through Thursday, I follow the same route every time to make sure I don’t miss any bins.”
Online church services, new software, and audio and visual podcast streaming from various ministry websites are becoming a convenient way for people to have their fill of scripture and prayer without leaving their homes.
Podcasts and Bible software are growing in popularity.
According to socialmediaexaminer.com, Logos Research Systems created the Logos Bible Software that has expanded greatly.
“Since opening in 1992,” the website said, “Logos Research Systems, Inc. has grown from a couple of programmers in a basement into the largest developer of Bible software and a worldwide leader in multilingual electronic publishing.”
Margaret Beall, a local resident also embraces the social media approach to modern Christianity.
“I listen to the audio podcasts from the Crossing Church,” Beall, a subscriber, said. “It’s something I have never done before because I usually attend the regular services. I heard about it from my friends. But the podcasts fit with my busy schedule and I keep them right on my iTunes so I can listen to them anytime.”
Beall said the podcasts are fantastic. “Later, I can go back and mark up my Bible if I want. It is nice to be able to go back to the lessons.”
The Crossing Church is in Tampa and holds Sunday services at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m.
Churches and campus ministries are embracing the future by offering technological ways to spread their message of salvation.
“I use the online podcasts and streaming videos all the time,” Allison Hazelbaker, a student and member of Cornerstone Christian Church at USF, said. “There is a pastor I love who preaches from Venice, Fla. and I like to listen to him while I get ready for work and things like that. I also like the podcast because you can download them on your iPod and listen whenever you need a pick-me-up, walking to class or in the car.”
Cornerstone Christian Church is a ministry at USF that holds various Bible studies on and around campus. They also hold Sunday services that are open to the public and students.
Each week they give away copies of the Bible to help spread the word of God. Along with these Bibles, the church offers software to encourage further study.
“I found some helpful online tools on the Cornerstone website,” Hazelbaker said. “They are not podcasts but they really do enhance the services and the passages of scripture we read. I usually spend a significant amount of time online just reviewing the verses. I use the e-Sword program.”
The church offers a PC Study Bible software program and e-Sword Bible software that can be found online. A new version of the PC Study Bible was just released.
“Computer software has changed the way we can study the word of God,” Rick Meyers, creator of e-Sword, said on the company’s website.
Meyers said that since January 2011 there have been “over 3.5 million downloads of e-Sword, for a grand total of over 15 million downloads. And e-Sword has been downloaded in 225 countries around the world.”
For Shelby Creemers, a junior pre-veterinary major, Homecoming week is a time for preparation as she manages her responsibilities as a member of Dance Marathon and Campus Crusade for Christ.
“There are so many things going on right now,” said Creemers. “Dance Marathon has its promotions week all of next week, and we have a lot of advertisement and special events going on that I’m helping with. Homecoming is this weekend too, so there is so much work to be done.”
Although Creemers is flooded with tasks, she finds strength in the Lord and continues to grow in her faith through Campus Crusade for Christ.
“Cru has definitely helped me feel more secure in my faith,” said Creemers. “With all of the crazy things going on in the world… , I know that I can always count on God. I know I can count on family and friends too, but they may not always be able to be there. God always will be.”
In July 2011, the ministry announced that their name would change from Campus Crusade for Christ to Cru beginning in 2012. The change was controversial because “Christ” was removed from the name of the organization.
“When the whole name change happened with them, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that,” said Creemers. “I almost didn’t do Cru this year. A couple of my friends were heading up a community group though, so checked it out and loved it. I finally felt like I was really connected. The people who I was just acquaintances with before, I actually consider true friends now.”
Balancing Cru and Dance Marathon keeps Creemers on her toes, but she is not a stranger to a busy schedule paired with a passion for God. Creemers also has a history with dance which began when she was 5 years old, and she started competing when she was 8.
“I went to a small, private Christian school my whole life and my family is Christian, so I’ve always been in that kind of environment and didn’t know anything different from it,” said Creemers. “I was saved when I was around 6 or 7. My faith flourished through my dancing and continued to grow throughout high school.”
Julia Kefauver, who has known Creemers since middle school, points out how faith and dance have shaped the way Creemers impacts those around her.
“I have known Shelby for a long time,” said Kefauver. “She has always been a [role] model for me in her faith. I look up to her and I know she is a strong Christian girl. I am not surprised she’s so overwhelmed with Dance Marathon and Homecoming Week. She’s been involved with dance since she could walk and she always says God has been her biggest cheerleader.”
Creemers’ devotion to her talents and her faith has presented her with challenges along the way.
“It is hard sometimes because not everyone shares my beliefs,” said Creemers. “That can lead to confrontations. I try to use that as a challenge for myself though. When it gets like that I try to approach the different situations by using my faith and witness to others. I don’t try and act all high and mighty or anything, but I guess I try to think about how I would handle the situation in a way God can be proud of.”
Mitchell Carr, a friend of Creemers’, believes that she will always remain steadfast in her Christianity and be successful in dancing.
“Shelby is part of the dance department at USF and she goes to Bible study,” said Carr. “Those are two things she loves. I know for a fact that nothing can test your faith like a college campus, [but] she will be fine because she knows who she is and what she stands for.”
Creemers strives to maintain a grasp on reality and understand that her faith can help her to grow in all aspects of her life.
“Being a Christian has actually made me realized how messed up the world is and it’s made me realize how much I can trust God,” said Creemers. “Having that assurance makes me feel so good. But when I feel like I have so much going on and can’t handle it, then I turn to God. I feel at peace. Yes, my life is hectic and crazy but when I turn to Him, the things that felt impossible at first don’t seem like that anymore. He makes me feel complete, so even in my darkest of times I know I won’t be there for long.”
Aaron Wheaton is probably like a lot of other USF students who feel excluded by modern Christianity on campus.
“I am not a Christian, but I feel like there’s an unspoken rule among Christianity to take an avoiding stance towards people that are perceived as sinful,” said Wheaton, an engineering major. “That is completely opposite to how the Bible portrays Jesus conducting himself during his life. Jesus never made anyone feel excluded because of what they have done or how they behaved.”
Opinions like Wheaton’s have not gone unnoticed by members of the ten different Christian organizations at USF.
“There is a false reputation out there about Christians,” said Ashley Acosta, a member of Reformed University Fellowship. “People think that we, as Christians, are close-minded and immediately reject any lifestyle different than our own. They think we feel as though we are superior to other people that are not Christians and it’s simply not true.”
Christian ministries at the University of South Florida are faced with stereotypes and misconceptions about the Christian lifestyle that they aim to overcome through new evangelical approaches.
Acosta argues that the college-age group is one of the most difficult target audiences.
“The problem with people our age is that they want to live their life whatever way they want,” said Acosta. “They don’t want to follow Christianity’s rules.”
In order to show the student body that the “rules” are not impossible to live by, some campus ministries rely on the students themselves to go out and do the recruiting.
“We continue to conduct voluntary student surveys which help us identify students who may be interested in our ministry,” said Pete Saucedo, an associate pastor at Cornerstone Christian Church. “We have been using this since we have been at USF. Because we ask thousands of students around campus, it does not discriminate against non-Christians. We also find that having students lead some of the Bible studies is also effective in reaching the college students.”
Cornerstone Christian Church meets every Sunday at 11:15 a.m. in the Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater at USF.
Other ministries have taken a different approach.
Along with a Facebook group, new T-shirts and flyers around campus, Reformed University Fellowship has updated its website to make it clear that any and all kinds of people are welcome.
According to www.usf.ruf.org, “Regardless of your beliefs or doubts, RUF is a place for you to explore Christianity and grow in your understanding of who Jesus is and what it means to follow him in community with others at USF.”
Trying to evangelize a large population of doubters leaves the ministry with a challenge, critics such as Aaron Wheaton say.
“I feel like they tend to have empathy issues,” said Wheaton. “While ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ is quoted a lot, I rarely see it in action. I’ve known a lot of Christians in my life. I even graduated from a Christian high school, but I’ve only ever seen a handful who went the extra mile to connect with others regardless of their background.”
Nicole Smothers, a junior at USF, is the leader of the new member small group with Reformed University Fellowship. This group caters to the needs of new members in the ministry. It meets weekly to study the Bible, reflect on devotions and present prayer requests.
Smothers admits that reaching people can be a difficult task.
“We really want new members of any background to feel like RUF is a safe place for them to come,” said Smothers. “We are always trying to think of new ways to market ourselves so people know who we are and that they are welcome here.”
Reformed University Fellowship meets at the Marshall Student Center in room 3711 every Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. and welcomes new members. Smothers said that there has been continuous growth in membership. There are 70 members in the ministry.
“Every week I come to the RUF meeting I see new faces,” said Smothers. “It’s great to see new growth and it is so encouraging to know that little by little, our name is getting out there.”
Although efforts are being made by the ministry, it is essentially up to the individual to be open to the idea of attending a meeting.
“I will probably never go to a meeting for any of USF’s campus ministries, but it is somehow comforting to know that they offer some form of support for others,” said Wheaton. “I am set in my beliefs, but for someone who is doubtful about religion, just being supportive to the students would be an excellent starting point for the ministries.”
Rapper Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., known as “Common,” challenged University of South Florida students on Monday to find greatness within themselves and promoted self-respect during his speech at the Marshall Student Center.
In addition to his hip-hop music, Common is an actor, motivational speaker and founder of the Common Ground Foundation that encourages children to give back to society and become leaders in the world.
Common caught the attention of the audience with a freestyle rap about life on campus and around the Tampa Bay area. He then revealed that he had received divine guidance before his appearance at USF’s University Lecture Series.
“This morning when I woke up, I knew I would be talking to you all,” Common said. “I prayed that God would give me something you needed to hear. He told me: greatness.”
The rapper told students that greatness is not to be kept inside and should be released to inspire others.
“You all are greatness in motion,” said Common. “All you need to do is find your path, believe in your path, and live your path. Then you will achieve greatness. The trick is to turn obstacles into ‘possibles.’”
Mariah Sanders, an international business student, said Common’s speech was inspiring but down-to-earth.
“Common was really inspiring and funny,” Sanders said. “He seems like a cool guy and he helped me to realize that even though I struggle sometimes I can still get through my challenges.”
Common’s desires to motivate others came at a young age. He revealed that, at age 14, a story of an African-American boy who was beaten to death inspired him to focus his talents on helping others. He said that believing in himself led him to greatness.
“When you start to believe in yourself it resonates from within you and begins to seep through your pores,” Common said. “Belief is contagious. When you believe confidently those around you will feel your greatness.”
Students responded to Common with enthusiasm, laughter and applause, and one student presented him with a handmade painting. Some students were moved to tears when Common quoted Nelson Mandela, Frederick Douglass and various passages from the Bible.
“He had a potent message that pertains to our age group and encouraged us to stay motivated and believe in our potential,” said Raquel Bernal, an advertising major.
Another student, history major Stephanie Himmler, agreed that Common shared a great message.
“The message was very influential,” said Himmler. “His opinion means a lot to this audience. He is so talented and I respect him as an artist and a person. In the hip-hop world that kind of man is hard to come by.”
Common encouraged students to embrace their own greatness and challenged them to shine without dimming their lights for others. He stated that all people should do their best because they are “God’s children” and were given talent and beauty.
The speech was followed by a short question and answer session with the artist.