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UNO religious organization brings evangelical preacher to campus

Scott Stewart

As the excitement from the Welcome Week concert passed, one man remained in the student center plaza to share a message of salvation.

Tom Short of Columbus, Ohio, delivered his message in the Milo Bail Student Center Plaza earlier this week on Aug. 11 and 12.

"The university is the marketplace of ideas, and to me the most significant, important and life-changing ideas ever spoken were the things spoken by Jesus Christ that were recorded in the Bible," Short said. "I believe that there is a hunger and an interest [on college campuses] and so I just hope that I'm effective in filling that hunger."

Short was brought in by a campus religious organization, the Rock, which is affiliated with Candlewood Church in Omaha. The only compensation he received was compensation for his travel expenses, he said.

"Candlewood Church is a non-denominational, Bible-based Christian Church," according to the church's Web site, candlewoodcc.org. Candlewood Church is affiliated with the Great Commission Association, also of Columbus, Ohio.

Short said he has been preaching on campuses since 1980, when he began at the University of Maryland. Short planned to travel to Lincoln after speaking at UNO.

"I've been going to Lincoln actually, I think, pretty much once a year since 1994," he said Tuesday. "I'll be there Wednesday and Thursday of this week."

Short's visit came after a visit by evangelical street preacher Jeremy Sonnier in April. That visit resulted in Sonnier being hit with an egg by a student and controversy among students about Sonnier's message, which included warning about groups ranging from "Roman Catholics" to "porno freaks."

After his first day of preaching, Short said that UNO's reaction to his message was typical.

"I'd say almost everywhere I get three things," he said. "I get some people who love what I say, I get some people who hate what I say and I get some people who are just curious what's going on and don't have an opinion on what I have to say."

At one point on Tuesday, Short and around 25 students joined hands, prayed and sang "Amazing Grace" together. Freshman Hannah Parriott was present during the singing.

"I've been here for an hour and a half," she said. "His passion is very thought-provoking. It's interesting to listen to a side that I don't know much about."

Sophomore Vanessa Van Valkenburg also expressed her support of Short's message.

"I agree with his message completely," she said. "I wanted to support him and his mission."

Senior Nick Wzorek spoke out against Short on Tuesday afternoon. He puffed on a cigarette as he volleyed arguments about homosexuality back and forth with Short after Short said he wanted to "convert the homosexuals."

Visibly shaken, Wzorek stood in the center of the plaza and shook his head while Short continued to preach.

Mark Whitney, president of the Rock, was issued two permits by the campus for the use of the student center plaza.

Both permits were approved by Jim Welsch, director of the student center, according to copies of the permit requests provide [sic] by his office.

The Gateway (University of Nebraska), August 25th, 2006