Religious organizations prove to be resource for students

From Baha’i Club to Young Israel Student Center, USF religious organizations run the gamut. After all, USF is home to over 60 religious organizations.

Conventional wisdom would paint students as secularized or, at the very least, apathetic about religion. Although it is true that some students may be unconcerned about religion, others take advantage of the various religious organizations operating on and around campus.

Hassan Sultan, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, is a Muslim and vice president of the Muslim Student Association. For him, joining an organization was not simply a choice; it was an obligation that set him apart from his peers.

“For most students that go to USF, they just come to class, and then they leave, right?” Sultan said. “In MSA or (in any) organization, you have more things to do, more people to meet, more friends, a lot more activities, and you feel like you are a part of something. So you’re just not another student or another person who’s coming to USF.”

For some students, like Sultan, religious organizations provide an easy way to meet like-minded companions.

“It is a great way … to grow in your faith with other students of the same faith,” said Paul Leistner, president of the Catholic Student Union and secondary physical education major.

Students are often on their own for the first time in college, and in this period, students may choose to redefine themselves spiritually or religiously. A wide range of ideas and practices are now available to them.

“College is a great time to explore what you believe,” said Josiah Olenski, who has been involved with Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship for two years.

“Most people have grown up with some sort of religious background or influence, but they have not found this as (a) daily, personal, and life changing reality. Many question their beliefs in college,” Olenski said. “How they answer the questions about life, meaning and significance here are often what shapes the rest of adult life. So the door stands wide open for all those entering USF to redefine their spiritual life.

“[Students] don’t have moms or dads telling them to find something spiritual or religious. It’s a time for students to find out for themselves what is going to shape their values as they go through school and become productive member of society,” said Nicky Spivak, who is the director of Hillel Jewish Student Union.

Jim Ellison, director of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Tampa Institute of Religion and Latter-day Saints Association of USF, is one proponent of furthering religious knowledge.

“I would think that any student could benefit from making sure that religious education was a part of their overall educational plan,” Ellison said. “One of our church leaders put it this way: He said, ‘To acquire secular learning without religious education is like acquiring bricks with no mortar to hold it all together.'” Religious organizations also provide a place to turn to whenever times get rough.

“It gives them a home — a place to call home,” said Jennifer Moreda, campus minister of the CSU.

Mark Lydecker, an ordained minister and director of both the Baptist Collegiate Ministries and Friends of Internationals, said religious organizations serve an important function.

“We assist students regardless of their race, religion, nationality, anything. We have no prejudice, (or) traditional hindrances in our ministry. We’re totally open. If a student comes to me and they have a need, we’re going to fill that need,” Lydecker said. “We’re going to minister to them. … Ministry is more than just getting them to make a profession of some kind of faith. Ministry is about caring for them as an image of God.”

Lynn Stringfellow, campus minister of Christians in Action, said helping students “fits nicely with what Jesus said was the two most important commandments: ‘Love the Lord your God,’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

All of the religious organizations interviewed had a strong commitment to serving the community as well.

“This Hillel is recognized nationally as one of only twenty-eight tzedek Hillels, and what that means is we put a lot of emphasis on community service and social justice,” Spivak said, mentioning visits to nursing homes and hospitals as well as working with Volunteer USF on several different projects.

Some religious organizations also provide a platform for those who are sure of their faith to become involved with younger students.

“(Young Life) College Leadership exists to plug students in to our local high school and middle school Young Life outreach ministries throughout Hillsborough County. College students build mentoring relationships with teenagers and through a trusted friendship are able to share God’s love,” said Melanie Godley of Direct Ministry, Young Life College Leadership.

Many groups also provide tangible benefits to their communities. Crosswinds, an organization affiliated with the United Methodist Church and part of the Methodist Student Movement, is involved with Habitat For Humanity, which builds homes for the poor. Similarly, Chapel Center participates in building houses in North Carolina. Chapel Center is funded by four denominations: Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian and United Church of Christ.

“Both do spring break mission trips, as well as single day events with Joshua House or other service organizations,” said Linda Evans, an intern at Chapel Center.

Helping the homeless in Tampa Bay and assisting children with math and reading skills are two service activities that Warriors For Christ, an affiliate of New Life Tabernacle, participate in, according to President Natasha Manigat.

Wyclef Desamour has been involved with Campus Advent for five years and was last year’s president. He said helping those that are less fortunate is a big part of his organization.

“We want to spiritually uplift USF students…and the community,” he said.

Some members of the Baha’i Club recently taught Youth Character Development classes at Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa. Secretary Helengrace Hatcher, who has been involved in the club for three years, said the classes were to help children and youth develop their morality and recognize the value of virtues.

“The club is working hard with the Local Spiritual Assembly of Temple Terrace to implement such a program in this area,” she said.

All the religious organizations that responded to the request for an interview had events planned for the first week of school and throughout the semester, such as barbecues, study groups, gatherings and community service activities. For more information on the religious organizations on and around campus, go to

There is a place for every interested person to explore religion on campus. USF contains not only various Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations but also organizations for Pagans, Hindus and Buddhists. And if USF does not have it, one can always apply to start a new religious organization by visiting the Campus Activities Board office, located on the second floor of the Marshall Center. (I THINK THIS IS RIGHT, BUT NEEDS CHECKING).