Jim Whaley and his wife, Denise, have been serving as campus ministry leaders at Tiffin University since the beginning of the fall semester.
Whaley said God laid out a plan for Tabitha, and she ended up at TU as a freshman this year. He and his wife came, too, and met with school officials since their first visit in March.
“We are so blessed to be here, to be a part of this,” he said. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Whaley said he and his wife have studied people falling in the college age group and know how to reach them. One characteristic is they are searching to fill a void only God can fill, he said.
“They may not realize what it is they need,” he said.
Whaley said students want two things: love and acceptance. He said he doesn’t have an eyebrow piercing and doesn’t agree with the idea, but he accepts students who may have them anyway. He said he and his wife must be willing to meet students where they are spiritually.
“We’ve had good response,” he said.
The Whaleys lead H20, a program that meets Thursday nights and features Bible study and worship in Chisholm Auditorium. At the end of the semester, students started meeting on Sundays, too.
Whaley said H2O is a live application of Scripture.
“We’re Southern Baptist, but yet we don’t focus so much on the denomination,” Whaley said.
Whaley said he doesn’t know what will occur during each service.
“It just all depends on how God’s leading me that week,” he said. “It just varies. … We don’t ever want it to be the same.”
On the first night of H20, nine people showed up, Whaley said. The couple started making connections and attending campus activities.
Whaley said more than 30 people have been attending each week, and about 60 have registered since the program started.
Scott Fraker, a TU student from Delaware, Ohio, said he first attended H2O when he saw a flyer about it. He said he enjoyed the first meeting, which encouraged him to stay involved.
“Jim is really passionate, and so he was really into it, and that just motivated me to keep going,” he said. “It reminded me of a church I go to when I’m at home, and that’s where I wanted to be.”
Fraker said the service allows him to build relationships with Christ, other students and people in the community.
“When I first went there, there was only four of us,” he said. “There’s quite a few (now). It’s really nice to set that it’s growing and word’s spreading out.”
Fraker said Whaley presents a message aimed at college students — such as preparing for finals or worrying about various life issues — during the first half-hour of every service.
“Getting the biblical perspective of that really can help you in your life,” he said.
H2O isn’t just focused on worship services: The Whaleys have organized community service projects, too.
Denise Whaley said the students had Thanksgiving and Christmas projects in which they fed three families and also donated money.
“It was incredible,” she said.
Denise Whaley said she and her husband sent Christmas cards to students and host movie nights at their home.
“We know they’re safe because they’re at our house,” she said.
Jim and Denise are members of Grace Baptist Church and are in the process of launching a new contemporary church focusing on 18- to 35-year-olds.
“We’ve just seen an overwhelming need in this community that churches in general are not reaching this age group,” he said.
The ministry may spread to Heidelberg College, too.
Whaley said he believes a ministry can reach two campuses if it focuses on one first. He said the TU program has experienced overwhelming success, and he feels it can carry over to Heidelberg.
He said it may be the spring or fall of 2009 before that becomes reality.
“We will not rush it,” he said. “We will be prepared.”
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