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Traveling preacher shares experiences
Short continues campus evangelism after 26 years

After two days of inciting controversial theological discussion in the free speech area, Tom Short invited those still around to join him in a prayer. Around 30 students circled Short as he led them in singing "Amazing Grace" while others heckled him.

"Come over to God's side," Short said.

"I'm on God's side, and it's not over there," someone from the crowd responded.

Short finished his prayer and then left for Missouri, where he will continue his 26-year-old ministry as a modern-day circuit rider, stopping at campuses all over the country.

"I realize when I come on campuses that I am presenting truths that are unpopular and do challenge commonly held beliefs in the university, so I realize some people will react to that," Short said. "It is not my goal to upset people, but if a person hears God's truth and won't turn to it, it will be upsetting. We see that throughout the entire Bible where people are being persecuted for standing up for God and for truth."

Short said while he preaches on campus, he encounters three types of people: Those who love what he says, those who hate what he says and those who don't know where they stand.

"I think here in Denton, far more people support me than oppose me, but those who oppose me are far more vocal," he said.

Short said he wasn't always the fiery preacher people see him as. When he became a Christian in high school, he said he used to view people like his present self as ignorant or weird. It wasn't until he read the New Testament that he accepted what he now believes.

"I said, 'Wow! I believe this - this is what I've been looking for,'" Short said.

Short never finished college. He said his denomination, the Great Commission Association of Churches, does not ordain based on seminary education, but rather on the minister's relationship with God.

"Personally, that's where we [GCAC] think a lot of churches are weak because they don't have an example of people living as Christian leaders," he said. "We'd say American Christianity has cluttered what it means to be a pastor and a simple calling."

Short said the authority to preach does not come from ordination but from the Bible, and added that there were no seminaries in the New Testament church.

Short was ordained in 1978 in Solid Rock Church [now Linworth Road Community Church] in Columbus, Ohio.

"Most of what I've learned, I learned because I was stumped by somebody, and I was determined to go find the answers," he said. "I firmly believe Christianity has the answers."

Short began preaching on campuses in 1980 while he was stationed at a church in College Park, Md.

"When we went to the University of Maryland, it was a very hard campus to talk to people about Jesus, and we felt we had to do something to make an interest in spiritual things," he said. "In spring of 1980, we just went out in front of the library and people began to listen. Within a year, the campus was talking about Jesus a lot."

Shortly after, Christian leaders from other schools invited Short to speak at their campuses.

While his circuit ministry was growing, Short moved to a pastor position in Georgia and later in San Diego. He returned to his hometown of Columbus before he resigned as a full-time pastor and dedicated himself to the traveling ministry in 1996. Short funds his ministry through church donations, 10 percent of which come from Linworth.

"This is where people are supposed to be thinking about these things," he said. "The campus is the marketplace of ideas. Often, when students leave campus their mind is made up on things like this, and I see this as a last chance to get them to think of issues of life like this."

Short said his family has supported him throughout his time in his ministry.

"I thought it was something he ought to do," said his wife, Rosalyn Short. "I felt he was gifted in speaking."

Rosalyn said Short comes home on the weekends to unwind.

"We had strong support from the community of churches and friends and believing what he does, I'm as convinced as he is that this is a good thing," Rosalyn said.

Short has five grown children. Tim, the youngest, travels with Short but was unable to come to NT.

"I just graduated from high school and there's nothing else I rather would have done for my first semester out of high school," Tim said. "Because I'm being challenged I'm having to re-learn the details of why I believe what I believe. It's just to the point where I've matured naturally as a person and in my faith."

While traveling with Short, Tim said he listens to his father half the time and shares his faith half the time.

"I went to a Christian high school, so I wasn't exposed a lot to these different ideas," Tim said. "Everyone has a unique opinion. There's so many ridiculous ideas, but some are the same beliefs, also. I didn't question my faith."

While most of his children are devout Christians, Short said one of his sons is still searching for what he believes.

"We pray for him," Short said. "We know a relationship with Christ is essential in life, and we honestly want him to have a solid relationship with Christ. As part of our family, we love him. He's included in all we do."

Some people, such as Mary Luna-Wolfe, senior pastor for Harvest Metropolitan Community Church, have accused Short of being condemnatory.

"I was there for the better part of the first day and the only thing I heard from him was, 'You have to, you should, you're going to hell if you don't,'" Luna-Wolfe said. "I think if you focus on that part of Christianity, just the punishment, you've bypassed what the Gospels talk about. We're talking about a God who sent his only son to die because he loved us not because he had nothing better to do than stand on a campus and scream at us."

While Short denounced homosexuality when he spoke at NT, Harvest MCC does not consider it a sin. Luna-Wolfe said biblical passages do not refer to homosexuality as it is known today.

"Based on Christian scholarship and academic work I've done, I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin," Luna-Wolfe said. "I do preach repentance of sin. I just don't believe homosexuality is a sin, but I do preach cultural behavior, social justice, being a part of the community."

Members of Harvest MCC offered another interpretation of Christianity at a table across the sidewalk from Short, but Luna-Wolfe asked them not to engage in a debate with Short because she did not want to add to the "ruckus."

"I think they [members of Harvest MCC] distorted Christ's message because they don't call people to repent from their sinfulness," Short said. "They affirm a person to continue in your sinfulness. Jesus' forgiveness is truly offered to all people who repent, and believe, but you have to repent."

Short has been cussed at and spit on, but never physically assaulted since most people would consider violence over the line, he said.

"One of the most common comments I get is 'How do you stay so patient when people say these things to you?' and I really think it is God's grace," Short said. "Jesus was the most loving human being ever, and yet people hated him. They twisted his words, they accused him of being possessed by demons, they asked questions to test him and ultimately they got angry enough to kill him. No one can even say Jesus wasn't loving, but he got all those types of responses, and I do as well."

North Texas Daily, September 27th, 2006