Campus-wide worship night unites UM and local college students

UM and local college students gather at the Wesley Foundation on Friday, April 21. Photo credit: Grace Altidor

Yaira Ortiz, a first-year marine biology and ecology major, was leaving the Mahoney-Pearson dining hall last Friday when she heard live worship music from across the street.

“On my way back to my dorm, I heard ‘I’m caught up in your presence,’ [a lyric from] one of my most favorite songs, ‘Nothing Else’ by Cody Carnes,” Ortiz said. “I just knew I had to join in on the worship after having such a long week.”

Ortiz walked into a gathering of over 40 students from UM and other local colleges worshiping together at the United Wesley Foundation building.

Members of several campus ministries united for the two-hour event, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM), the Hammond-Butler Gospel Choir, UM Wesley and Cru.

“I was overjoyed to see so many people my age — people who I see everyday — worshiping. There was no doubt that the presence of God was with us,” Ortiz said.

Aiden Byrne, a first-year marine biology major, appreciated the timing of this event with the start of finals season.

“It was so refreshing to see so many people coming before God to worship Him in a time where so many students are full of worries and stress,” Byrne said.

Byrne, a violin player and vocalist, helped lead the congregation in worship. Other members of the worship team included second-year flute performance major Jayna Deeb, first-year biochemistry major Nathan Choi, first-year music therapy major Rachel Hornback and third-year psychology and English major Layomi Adeojo.

“At first, I was really worried to be singing in front of a lot of people, but by the time we started, I had no worries at all,” Byrne said. “All I could think about was how amazing it was that so many people were brought together for one purpose that is much bigger than us all and how special it was that I had an opportunity to help in leading.”

When recounting the event, the only word that came to Choi’s mind was “awe.”

“The team and I were expectant for this night, but God blew those expectations away,” Choi said. “I’m just in awe of what God did this night and I really don’t have any other words to describe it.

For two hours, the team led students in spontaneous worship between moments of prayer. Cru leader Ellyn Clayton and BCM Director Andrew Fernandez prayed over the topics of healing, breakthrough, repentance and revival.

A reoccuring theme in both the songs and prayer was “God’s love,” something that first-year marine science major Sam Dubbelde said she felt throughout the night.

“I am a big music person, so I love when I can feel God’s presence through the songs. Everyone wanting to scream at the top of their lungs that ‘God loves me’ was amazing. It’s beyond words,” Dubbelde said.

The idea to host a campus worship night came after Deeb, Choi, Adeojo and second-year music education major Emma Marks met for a spontaneous “jam sesh” in a music practice room two months ago.

“Four people just went in with no plans and no agenda for no reason,” Deeb said. “We just wanted to come together and worship God, and we walked out two hours later without even realizing that two hours had passed.”

Involved in the planning stages, Deeb called it “a special moment” to see students worship and pray with each other.

“Just being able to see it come to fruition, my heart was exploding before the night even started,” Deeb said.

Fourth-year health sciences major Grace Altidor was also moved by “the young generation on fire for God” and the display of unity among several campus ministries.

“I’m believing that…events like this [will] unite the on-campus Christian community as well as empower them to be bold about their faith, even if others criticize them for it,” Altidor said.

Dubbelde described the event as “inspirational.”

“You don’t think Christians go to this campus, but it’s true! They do!” Dubbelde said.

Altidor echoed these sentiments, noting how events like this give Christian students a safe space to worship and find community.

“Being a secular college campus, you don’t get to see as much of religious life take place actively. It can be hard for students who are interested in furthering their relationship with God or growing in their faith to do so at this age,” Altidor said.

For senior computer engineering major Emnet Yebeltal, the night was a full-circle moment. A member of the Launch Pad at UM, he previously worked in Wesley’s Kreske Hall, the former home of SkyLab by the Launch Pad.

“I used to [come] in the middle of the night and play worship music,” Yebeltal said. “I’d just pray and ask God to inhabit that place and dwell in that place.”

While setting up sound equipment before Friday’s event, the graduating senior realized that a night of worship would soon take over that very space.

“To see something that was spoken and I prayed about three years ago come right before graduation was the best gift I could have received,” Yebeltal said.