"Almost everyone at USD already has some knowledge of Scripture and Jesus. So we can't go around saying 'Hey, you Catholics need to come to Christ.' Even though there are many Catholic students who have grown up culturally Catholic but don't know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior," said Scott Schimmel, when asked about the challenges of a Protestant ministry on a Catholic campus. "We are calling Catholics to faith."
Schimmel serves as the area director of InterVarsity, an evangelical ministry that serves more than 560 college and university campuses nationwide. Schimmel graduated from the University of San Diego with degrees in accounting and finance, but opted for full-time campus ministry. "People need a Savior and I love communicating this. I want to make this message simple and relevant to students," said Schimmel. "Last year, 61 people at USD came to Christ. This year, Schimmel estimates that 40 to 50 people have accepted Jesus as their Savior." Schimmel believes he can make the message of Jesus relevant because he understands college life and in his talks with students, uses examples from life in the dorms, problems that emerge in dating, and the messages propagated by popular movies. "Students don't have a long attention span to listen to a 45-minute talk. So, for my last talk, I used Napoleon Dynamite, because college kids love this movie and they pay attention to what I am saying."
Thursday nights, InterVarsity hosts a time to sing worship songs and hear a speaker. A band opened with the songs "Breathe," "Take My Heart," and "Better Is One Day." After a few announcements, Christy Sardachuk, a senior, spoke on "Loving God through Serving Others." Sardachuk said that American culture and Christian culture teach us that everything is about ourselves. "In the evangelical culture, we invite Jesus into our hearts and believe it no longer matters what we do. We all say we are saved by grace but we are afraid to use the word 'works' because we are paranoid that people will associate this with salvation." Sardachuk quoted Ephesians 2:10, which says that Christians are saved by good works. "As people, we need to stop believing the lie that the world exists for me." Sardachuk told the students that they are called to serve and suffer -- a model that Christ demonstrated while He was on earth.
After the service, students socialized. Joey, a student, said InterVarsity is half Protestant and half Catholic. I asked Joey about misconceptions Protestants have of Catholics. "People think Catholics worship Mary. I do believe Catholics overemphasize Mary, but I think Protestants under-emphasize her." Scott Schimmel added, "Evangelicals are so afraid of talking about Mary because of the Catholics. We ignore the fact that she is a great example of faith. There is a high respect for Mary in the Catholic tradition." Schimmel believes a lot of Evangelicals wrongly assume Catholics worship Mary. "It's only older people who ask these types of questions about Mary. Students don't care about this stuff. What they really care about is whether God is relevant for them."
I asked Schimmel what he has learned from the Catholic Church. "I respect the tradition in the Catholic Church and the high respect for God. This feels very distinct from the Protestant churches. Protestants act as if Jesus is their best friend; He's their buddy. But for Catholics, God is God. He is their father and they respect Him," Schimmel replied.
Katie McDaniel is raising support money to be on the USD InterVarsity staff. McDaniel spoke about her experience as a Protestant on a Catholic campus. "I've learned a lot from the Catholic tradition. They have a passion for social justice and a reverence for God that shows. At USD, we are interested in Catholic and Protestant reconciliation." McDaniel said that the USD InterVarsity program is looked at across the nation as an example of cooperation. InterVarsity works closely with the university ministry office on campus. "On other campuses, there is a lot of conflict between Catholics and Protestants. A lot of this boils down to misunderstandings and stereotypes. Protestants think Catholics worship Mary or that Catholics practice their faith without a passion. On the flip side, Catholics look at Protestants and think we are overemotional and that we don't have an authentic faith. Or there are stereotypes about salvation. The stereotype is that Protestants look at salvation as a one-moment thing, that once Protestants are saved, they can do whatever they want, while Catholics have to work for their salvation." McDaniel said her desire is to raise up world-changers. "I want to teach students how to study truth and how to know the truth in the Bible," said McDaniel. McDaniel emphasized that she wants the students to take this into the world and make a difference for Jesus.
I asked Scott Schimmel what happens to people after they die. "I'm at a place in my life where all I can say is 'I'm Scott; I don't know.' My grandparents died recently and they weren't practicing Christians. I do not know where they are. I believe in a good, loving God, who loved them. So, my hope is that they are in heaven. My hope is that everyone is in heaven. But I don't know. I do believe in Hell, I just don't know who is going there," replied Schimmel. "Students are not concerned about death. They are immortal in their own eyes. If I were to talk about death, this isn't even on their radar screen. They want to hear about what Jesus has to do with their life today," said Schimmel.
Founded locally: 1991
Team leader: Scott Schimmel
Congregation size: 150--200
Staff size: 6 full-time
Annual budget: $287,000
Singles program: no
Worship: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1-1/2 hours