There is a popular book called Colleges That Change Lives. Somehow the college that changed my life — The University of Tennessee Martin — is not in the book.
UTM was 50 miles away from my home and the only college I applied to. Little did I know when I started there in the Fall of 1969 that before the end of that first school year, my life would be changed forever by something with a corny name — Dorm Devotion.
One night a week a group of strange people met in the lobby of my dorm, Ellington Hall. Everybody called them Jesus Freaks. I was determined to stay away from them and succeeded until the Spring of my first year there.
Then, for some reason, I stopped in the lobby and listened to one of their meetings. And Jesus got hold of me. Almost overnight I was hooked on Bible reading. I began to hang out with those Jesus Freaks and they became some of the best friends of my life.
We were like family. We prayed together, laughed and cried together, encouraged and supported one another, and shared with each other how God was working in our lives.
We had no official leader. We were all equal. Our Dorm Devotion consisted of singing praises to God and enthusiastic testimonies. Sometimes our meetings would be attended by 150 people. We saw dozens of our fellow students transformed and set free by Jesus Christ.
Some business men from Union City, Tennessee got to know us and began to take some of us on Lay Witness Missions. We would go to a Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, or other type of church for a weekend. We would take turns sharing how Jesus Christ had changed our lives.
By Sunday morning the altar of the church would be full of people repenting and asking Jesus into their heart. We went on Lay Witness Missions in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee.
In our Martin group, nobody asked about denomination. We were so focused on loving Jesus, loving one another, and sharing the Gospel with others, that we had no time to debate doctrine.
When I graduated and left, I was shocked to discover that our experience at Martin wasn’t the normal Christian life — that it was very difficult to find that kind of Christian environment. Ever since then I have longed to recapture the Christian community that I enjoyed at Martin. I’ve never been able to be satisfied with anything less.
I moved around the country looking for it. I went to seminary and pastored churches trying to reconnect with a vibrant, powerful, passionate type of Christianity. All the time since leaving Martin, I’ve never stopped longing for the level of shared Christianity that I experienced there.
At the University of Tennessee Martin I was infected with a life-long passion to see the Living God daily manifesting His power and Presence in a group of my fellow human beings. This past year I have come closer to that dream than any time since I left the college that changed my life.
God is doing some amazing things at The Salvation Army Berry Street Worship Center at 225 Berry Street in Nashville, 37207. If you would like to experience Nashville’s most unique church come visit us on Sundays at 10:45am.