The large white canopy covering 1,500 chairs on Southern’s front lawn is a sure sign that the fall Week of Prayer, affectionately termed InTents, has begun. This year’s meetings took place October 1-5 as guest speaker David Achata brought the message “Real Security and the Call of God” to the students at Southern.
The multi-night event put the comforts commonly associated with success in their proper biblical place as Achata focused on God’s plan to call His people out of complacency.
“Too many of us believe in the world’s definition of security,” Achata said. “But getting a great job or salary is not always the same as heeding God’s call. Understanding this can help us see that real security is only found in complete submission to Jesus—salary or no salary, job or no job!”
Sophomore Eric Suarez-Vazquez learned this valuable lesson firsthand. After seven years of struggles and trials, the theology major is now confidently following God’s call for his life.
In 2005, Eric was 25 years old and working in construction when he began to feel led into the ministry, a path that would include coming to Southern for pastoral training. His boss, not wanting to lose a dependable employee, did everything he could to stack the decision in his favor. He told Eric that he didn’t need school, bought him a new Ford truck, and helped him buy a house. And the plan worked for several years. Eric began to think he didn’t need college, and that he would be fine.
As Eric became more and more active in lay ministries, especially leading youth programs at his church, God tugged at his heart again, and this time he responded. He told the boss he was quitting, gave the truck back, and began making arrangements for school.
But by the time school started in fall 2010, the financials hadn’t yet worked themselves out. So Eric took a job at a gas station. When he told the business owner why he was saving money, a scenario almost identical to the one five years earlier repeated itself: the owner offered him a $35,000 management position with free gas and benefits. After much prayer and reflection, Eric knew what to do.
“I used to have these great jobs and had enough money, but there was always something lacking,” Eric said. “Every time I was involved in the church, I was excited and would go to sleep in peace. I knew that if I stayed at the gas station it would be another five years of financial stability, but not spiritual satisfaction.”
Instead, Eric took his $1,000 savings, put his house up for sale, and left Indiana to come to Southern. This was another giant step of faith considering Eric had not yet taken the ACT exam he needed to enroll. But God was leading. Eric passed the test and was admitted to the university.
After two semesters on campus, he was struggling to make tuition payments and didn’t know if he would be able to return the following year. Over the summer he spent a lot of time in prayer searching for answers to this stressful situation. In these moments on his knees he could feel God telling him, “I will give you that and more,” but he didn’t know how that promise would be fulfilled.
After leaving school and returning to Indiana in fall 2011, a friend from church told Eric that his sister-in-law was sick in the hospital. Eric asked if he could go with him to the hospital, so he could pray with the friend and the friend’s relatives. For the rest of that week, he visited the family in the hospital, praying for them and sharing devotionals.
That Friday, the sick woman’s husband—impressed with Eric’s kind heart and spiritual leadership—sat him down and asked why he wasn’t in school working on his theology degree. After Eric told him about the debt, the man asked, “How much do you owe?” Not only did he write Eric a check covering the debt, but he also promised to take care of all the expenses incurred during Eric’s remaining years at Southern.
“When I couldn’t go back to school, I was impatient,” Eric said. “I was reproaching God, asking why He didn’t provide money for my fall semester. But when I was praying about moving back home, I said something that is the key to a Christian life. I prayed, ‘Lord, let it be Your will.’ It doesn’t matter where I go, or what situation I face, because I have the assurance that God has called me. That’s security!”
Eric’s struggle to find and follow God’s plan for his vocation is years in the making, and serves as an encouragement to many who are only now beginning to feel the Holy Spirit move in their lives. The Chaplain’s Office received 80 commitment cards as a result of InTents, including requests for baptism or re-baptism, Bible studies, and outreach opportunities. Achata’s message and the spiritual support of Southern faculty and staff have given students a strong foundation on which to discover the real security of God’s leading in their lives.