Campus Ministry Stirs Controversy at Purdue

by Kylin Schoeff | staff writer

The last names of some of the persons in this story have been omitted at their request.

Members of the evangelist group Campus Ministry USA, a nonprofit group based in Terre Haute, Indiana, traveled to Purdue with intent to practice “confrontational evangelism” at the engineering fountain here August 26, inciting various responses from several members of the Purdue’s student body.

The three students, Ryan, Josh and Kirsten, arrived at the Engineering fountain on Wednesday morning with Bibles and red-lettered signs in hand. Through the next three days of their preaching, they expanded their original crowd of 20 students to approximately 70.

Several students began to actively oppose the open preaching; what began as occasional comebacks and hand-written signs on notebook paper quickly developed into more organized efforts against the trio. Students were seen debating extensively with the young male, Josh, quoting open Bibles and highlighted scripture.

Other students attempted to drown out the preachers with sheer volume, including a group of speedo-clad males inciting the crowd to chant “Boiler Up,” and others resorting to setting up an amplifier  blasting the ACDC hit, “Highway to Hell.” Wednesday afternoon, Purdue campus police officers stood by the fountain in case a riot occurred.

Some dissenting members of Purdue’s population took a pacifistic method of protest. Casey Smith, senior, held a poster board reading “This is Not Christian.” The sign was handed off to different students, but was consistently held aloft next to counter the messages on the signs held by the three preachers.

“I just want to be out here to do damage control so people don’t get a bad impression of Christians,” Smith said. “This is not what Jesus wanted. It’s not what he taught. What they say is not Biblically supported; they’re cherry-picking Bible verses to support their position.”

Despite a number of negative reactions, the members of the group remained steadfast in their purpose. Kirsten, a new member of Campus Ministry USA visiting Purdue for the first time, held a sign reading “You deserve hell” while openly debating students.

“I feel like this is the most satisfying thing I can do in my life,” Kirsten said. “I believe that when we are out there preaching, we are plowing the ground of their hearts, because their hearts are very hard. We want to promote discussion about God. Some people aren’t ready to receive the Gospel, but we are producing thought and discussion. We want people to think about eternity.”

According to the Campus Ministry USA website, visits to college campuses by these evangelists have occurred for approximately 40 years. Campus Ministry USA was originally created by Terre Haute resident Jed Smock in the late 1970s. Smock, 72, continues to preach using his signature method of “confrontational evangelism” at colleges around the country and his home. Smock’s wife, Cindy, has joined Jed in preaching for the past thirty years, usually known as “the Tampon Lady”, as she wields a coat-hanger decorated with bloody tampons intended to grab students’ attention. According to the organization’s website, Cindy frequently says to audiences: “Students, I must warn you, that joint of marijuana may look good, it may smell good, it may taste good, and it may make you feel good temporarily, but in reality, a joint of marijuana is just a chocolate covered bloody tampon!”

Campus Ministry USA sponsors preachers like Josh and Ryan to travel around the country and follow the Smock family’s example. The trio’s recently visited neighboring Indiana school where they encountered similar opposition.

“I just went to Indiana University,” Ryan said. “A man took a swing at me at IU. He almost went to jail.”

The three preachers said they are scheduled to continue their mission on a different campus.

“Purdue looks pretty depraved,” Ryan said. “But I have to make sure God wants me at Purdue.”

On Wednesday, August 2, the evangelists returned to Purdue.  Accompanying the three preachers from last week are Jeff and Cindy Smock, creators of Campus Ministry USA.

Campus ministry USA’s website can be found here: http://www.brojed.org/cms/.

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