Sacred Encounters throughout APU’s History
The still waters of the baptismal pond, the worship-filled walls of Upper Turner Campus Center, a buzzing classroom moments before a lecture—APU holds a special place of encounter for all. Wherever you find yourself on campus, the Holy Spirit has been, and is still, at work. Several of APU’s leaders, past and present, reflect upon significant moments throughout our history when God has moved in miraculous and powerful ways.
Upper Turner Campus Center
In the midst of the busy school week, classes pause and APU students ascend the steps to Upper Turner Campus Center (UTCC) to gather in worship. For decades, this building overlooking Cougar Walk—in the heart of APU’s East Campus—has served as a place of changed hearts and steady spiritual growth. Terry Franson, PhD, who has worked at APU for 43 years and served in numerous roles, including as former senior vice president/dean of students, has witnessed countless Holy Spirit moments while attending chapel. “I quickly realized that chapel was home to radical transformation and encounters with the Holy Spirit, whether people sharing testimonies, students pouring out their hearts in worship, or others committing their lives to Christ for the first time,” said Franson. “This place is sacred ground.”
Travel back to February 6, 1970, when a Spirit-led revival broke out in UTCC. The morning chapel lasted far into the afternoon, as students talked with God, dropped to their knees in prayer, testified, confessed, asked forgiveness, and embraced one another. The service lasted seven hours. In the following weeks, Azusa Pacific students carried the revival to their churches and neighboring colleges. The spark lit in UTCC ultimately touched the lives of thousands, extending to the outward parts of the state.
Powerful moments with God continue in this space today. After nearly two years of online chapels due to COVID restrictions, the doors of UTCC once again welcome students. Just last February, chairs were filled and excitement stirred during the Gospel Celebration Chapel—a time of lamentation, reflection, and worship.
“A consistent and powerful thread of hope wove its way throughout the service as we reflected on the challenges of the past years,” said Coba Canales, EdD, dean of spiritual life. “It felt like a turning point for our campus as we rediscovered the beauty of the Gospel message in community together.”
Once a semester, members of the APU community gather around the baptismal pond, filling the bridge and encircling the tranquil waters. Excitement fills the air. Friends, roommates, and professors cheer and shout praises as students take turns wading into the pond, declaring their commitment to Christ and sharing their testimony before they are baptized. “The baptismal experience is in many ways a microcosm of the beauty of APU,” said Canales. “It’s a snapshot of a community excited to experience the work of God in their lives and spur on the faith of those around them.”
Over the years, hundreds of students have been baptized in the pond. While campus pastors promote baptism through the local church, many students express the profound impact APU has made on their faith. Nestled among palms and other greenery, and bordering the peaceful courtyard of the Hartwig Prayer Chapel, the pond offers a place for students to make public their devotion to Christ within the very community that spurred them on toward Him.
“When I listen to baptismal testimonies, I think of the many more encounters happening among our thousands of other students on campus,” said Canales. “The pond is a reminder that God is working in His own time, calling each student in a unique way.”
Athletic Training Grounds
From the hills overlooking APU’s campus to the cross standing tall beside the track, the grounds where athletes train are sites of deep character development, close-knit fellowship, and conversations about God.
Franson, track and field head coach for 15 years, experienced these life-changing moments on what used to be APU’s Hillside Campus. Often under the glaring sun, Franson’s students—some of whom later became Olympic athletes—ran on these roads overlooking the valley below. Breathless after their training, the athletes would return to the simple white cross on the side of the hill. Together, they would spend time in fellowship and prayer, united by the symbol of Christ.
“The cross up on the hill reminds us that we don’t need the perfect facilities to excel at what God has set out for us, but a heart and soul to work with what we are given,” said Franson.
Although the asphalt roads on the hillside campus have been upgraded to the track and field on East Campus that now bears Franson’s name, the same holy work of discipleship occurs.
“The coaches at APU are dedicated to seeing lives changed for Christ,” said Cliff Hamlow ’56, PhD, vice president emeritus, who served for 58 years in intercollegiate athletics and in numerous senior leadership roles. These bonds formed between coach and athlete often last a lifetime. “One of my former players wanted to drop out, and I reminded him of the Lord’s plan over his life. He stayed and launched into his career as a teacher. We are friends to this day.”
Today, in a shaded grove of trees next to the track, a cross memorial represents the faithful work of one of these coaches, Jim Milhon, head football coach and mentor to student-athletes for 17 years. The cross reminds all who pass by of the deeper, holy work in athletics.
International Student Community
Bright swatches of red, blue, green, yellow, and white flutter in the breeze on the eaves of a building tucked amongst the trees on East Campus. These flags—of countries all around the world—represent the hundreds of international students who have attended APU, all of whom found a place of belonging here.
“There are many who arrive on campus and have never seen a Bible before,” said Mary Grams, director of international student compliance. “The places where these students engage in conversations about Jesus, the places where seeds are planted and watered, are sacred ground.”
For many years, the International Office served as such a space. Breaking from the bustle of campus life, international students would congregate in the office to share food from their cultures, laugh while attempting to speak each other’s languages, or study with their peers.
One of these APU students was a generational Muslim who immediately declared he was not interested in knowing Jesus. Years passed by filled with Bible classes, chapel, and the witness of his roommate. One day, he returned to the International Office with tears streaming down his face, professing his deep love for Christ. Numerous international students share stories like this. “APU is deeply set in my heart as a place that has been faithful in sharing Jesus for generations before me and will continue to do so after me,” said Grams. “Heaven is going to be richer because of this university.”
In spring 1991, a small group of faculty and staff gathered in a parking lot outside of a corporate center marked for sale. In this unlikely place of meeting, they prayed for doors to open that would allow APU to purchase this more-than-15-acre property. Richard Felix, PhD, then the new president of APU, led them in a prayer of petition and guidance.
“We asked God to pave the way if this property could be used for His glory at APU,” said Felix. “It was incredible the way in which God moved. Little by little, God provided avenues for APU to eventually purchase the grounds.”
Now known as West Campus, the once-empty parking lot greets the comings and goings of students. In the Mary Hill Center, Honors College scholars gather around a table to discuss the works of Aristotle. Nearby, in the Darling Library, roommates type research papers under the colorful shadows of the stained-glass rotunda above. Across the parking lot in Segerstrom Science Center, biology students engage in a lab that explores the complexity of the human body. In all these varied moments of learning, God is moving. “God stepped in and began a sacred work in our university after our prayers many years ago,” said Felix. “Since then, we have nearly doubled in size—allowing for more spaces to welcome a vast array of students as they study and grow in faith.”
As a Christian university, APU has the unique opportunity to intertwine academics with faith. Professors open classes with prayer or a devotional. Students share their hopes and wrestle with their doubts. Classes ponder the role of believers in their future career fields. “Throughout the years, the classroom has provided the space for sacred encounters with students,” said Roxanne Helm-Stevens, DBA, interim dean and professor in the School of Business and Management. “As faith is integrated into the curriculum and classroom discussions, students learn how their studies and profession can be directly connected to their beliefs. One of the joys in my life has been the deep connections with students that stem from these moments of transformation.”
From the reverent stillness of the Munson Chapel to the everyday bustle of the dining hall, APU is home to sacred spaces of powerful memories and present experiences. Looking toward the future, as the university approaches its 125th year, these places also hold a promise of God’s work yet to come.
“I sense that APU can be a center for revival—faculty, staff, and students are gathering together to pray for God to move here,” said Franson. “Something really special is on the way.”
Posted: August 15, 2022