ATHENS — It’s Tuesdays @ Tate, the University of Georgia Baptist Collegiate Ministries’ weekly worship gathering. Freshman Cole Chapman picks up his guitar and helps sing, leading worship in front of his peers.
Chapman is involved in as many BCM ministries as he can. Why?
“I’m sent to Athens to share the Gospel.”
The Business Administration major got involved in BCM during Welcome Week this year, but isn’t your typical raised-in-a-Christian-home, knew-all-the-Christian-lingo-from-birth BCM student. As a sophomore in high school, Chapman wasn’t a believer and as he describes it, didn’t know his purpose in life.
But then a friend, Zach Hutzell, invited him to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting, which Chapman began attending regularly. In February 2017 Hutzell invited Chapman to North Metro Baptist Church in Lawrenceville where he became a faithful, yet still lost, attender.
Chapman felt compelled to keep coming back because of the people. “They showed me the love of Christ when I really didn’t know them. And they were just family to me when I really needed it,” he said.
Later that year North Metro Pastor Frank Cox preached a sermon about purpose. It echoed the question Hutzell would pose to Chapman: “What’s the purpose of this life?” Cox had explained that if one’s purpose in life isn’t rooted in Christ, that person has lost hope and feels empty inside.
“That had never been explained to me before, and it just made sense that I needed to fill a hole with Jesus. So I accepted Him that day,” Chapman said.
As he faithfully attended services and Sunday school, Chapman heard many of his friends talking about the importance of BCM in their lives. In fact, Hutzell’s older brother, Drake, was president of UGA’s BCM. Chapman headed to Athens to attend UGA after being encouraged by so many – including his Sunday School teacher, Marcus Bullock – to try BCM out.
‘Home away from home’
His first Welcome Week activity was Color Wars – a “a crazyfest of water balloons and dye.”
“I didn’t have any friends, so I figured I’d help them clean up,” Chapman said. BCM members immediately invited – or more so told – him to join a small group. From there he started getting to know some of the students there, including Hutzell, the BCM president.
Chapman, who feels the Lord calling him to attend seminary and become a pastor after he graduates, met other like-minded friends as well, bonding over their shared love of country music and a calling to ministry. “It’s just nice to see people with that same similar mindset,” he explained. “because I was kind of an oddball in Gwinnett County.”
When his small group leader, Luke Forrester, offered to meet one-on-one with whoever was interested, Chapman took him up on that offer. Subsequently the two began meeting weekly over coffee, discussing life and Scripture. Peer mentoring was something he never really experienced. Just having “someone who knows about my life, knows where I’m headed, just to feed into me in the spiritual aspects of life,” has already helped him grow, he shared.
“BCM has given me a home away from home. It’s a cliché, but it’s the truth.”
And because he’s being discipled, Chapman is excited to use his lens, that of not being raised in a Christian home (although his parents are believers and growing in their faith now), to reach out to others who come from similar backgrounds.
“It’s just clear to me that I’m meant to be in the BCM and I’m meant to help those like me,” Chapman shared.
Growing in community
Chapman, who also is part of UGA’s Paint Line (he’s the “S”), understands not only the importance of growing with his BCM family but also in community with other believers. He almost immediately plugged into a church family as well – Prince Avenue Baptist near Athens.
He’s thankful for multiple reasons, including the way the Thursday night and Sunday morning groups are structured to walk through Scripture by “what every verse means, how it relates to us, and how it relates to God,” he said.
Similar to his home church, he’s already “finding those people who truly love you despite what you’re going through,” at Prince Avenue.
He also found community with 700 other students at this year’s Georgia Baptist Collegiate Ministries Confluence conference Sept. 27-29 at Eagles Landing Baptist Church in McDonough. Confluence is an annual weekend collegiate conference that provides top level worship leaders, speakers, and breakout sessions for college students from both churches and campus ministries.
At Confluence, he learned to allow others into his life. “I’m the type of person that helps other people carry their burdens,” Chapman, who is an Enneagram Type 2, shared.
And one way to do that is through relationships. At Confluence, he was excited to see old friends from his home church as well as make new ones at the conference.
Confluence “truly helps you to grow in relationships you already had, but it also helps you to grow in [those] you never thought you would have. Even if we don’t see each other again, it’s good to know that we’re connected in Christ,” Chapman explained.
Chapman wasn’t the only student encouraged by Confluence. Amy Jenkins, a senior double major at Mercer University studying Biochemistry Molecular Biology and Spanish, attended this year, too. Her biggest takeaway from the weekend centered on discipleship.
“In order to be a true disciple, it involves letting people bear your burdens, which means letting people see what your burdens are,” she said.
Cam Jackson, a sophomore History major at the University of North Georgia, said Confluence reminded him that “consuming knowledge without expending it causes spiritual obesity.” The weekend, he added, encouraged him to put the things he learned to into action.
Freshmen, set good patterns
Jerry Johnson, Chapman and UGA’s campus minister encourages all students to get involved in BCM early in their college career.
“Oftentimes students set the patterns they’re going to have for the next four years in the first month of college. Studies show that if they’re not involved by Thanksgiving, at the very latest, then the chance of involving them in a campus ministry or local church is very slim,” Johnson shared.
With so many different options around campus for groups in which to be involved, if a student isn’t clear about “the direction of your life it’s easy to be swept up in someone else’s agenda or direction or priorities,” he continued.
“We let freshman know that now that they are at school, away from mom and dad, they have freedom like they’ve never experienced. You must decide early to surround yourself with community who will help you in those priorities.
“It is this time of life where values and priorities, faith, and the trajectory of their life is set,” he added.
Johnson describes Chapman, one of those students who got involved early, as a “joy” and an “almost daily fixture at the BCM center.” It gives Johnson and other leaders “a unique opportunity to pour into him, take him onto the campus for evangelism, and build him up into a leader for Christ and the church.”
Mackenzie Ford contributed to this article.