Sacred Encounters Through APU History – APU Articles

The calm waters of the baptismal pond, the worship-filled walls of the Upper Turner Campus Center, a bustling classroom moments before a lecture – APU is a special meeting place for all. Wherever you are on campus, the Holy Spirit has been and is at work. Several APU leaders, past and present, reflect on significant moments in our history when God moved in miraculous and powerful ways.

Turner Upper Campus Center

In the middle of the busy school week, classes come to a halt and APU students climb the steps of the Upper Turner Campus Center (UTCC) to gather in worship. For decades, this building overlooking Cougar Walk – at the heart of APU’s East Campus – has served as a place of change of heart and constant spiritual growth. Terry Franson, PhD, who worked at APU for 43 years and held many positions, including past Senior Vice President/Dean of Students, witnessed countless moments of the Holy Spirit while that he frequented the chapel. “I quickly realized that the chapel was home to radical transformation and encounters with the Holy Spirit, whether it was people sharing testimonies, students pouring out their hearts in worship, or ‘others committing their lives to Christ for the first time,’ Franson said. “This place is sacred ground.”

Travel to February 6, 1970, when a Spirit-led revival broke out at UTCC. Morning Chapel lasted well into the afternoon as students talked with God, knelt in prayer, testified, confessed, asked for forgiveness, and embraced each other. The service lasted seven hours. In the following weeks, Azusa Pacific students carried the revival to their nearby churches and colleges. The spark ignited in the UTCC ultimately touched the lives of thousands of people, spreading to outer parts of the state.

Powerful moments with God continue in this space today. After nearly two years of online chapels due to COVID restrictions, the doors of UTCC are once again welcoming students. Last February, the chairs were filled and the excitement aroused during the Gospel Celebration Chapel, a time of lamentation, reflection and worship.

“A constant and powerful thread of hope was woven throughout the service as we reflected on the challenges of the past few years,” said Coba Canales, EdD, Dean of Spiritual Life. “It was like a turning point for our campus as we rediscovered together the beauty of the gospel message in community.”

baptismal pool

Once every semester, members of the APU community gather around the baptismal pool, filling the bridge and circling the still waters. Excitement fills the air. Friends, housemates and teachers cheer and shout praises as students take turns wading in the pond, declaring their commitment to Christ and sharing their testimonies before being baptized. “The baptismal experience is in many ways a microcosm of the beauty of APU,” Canales said. “It’s a snapshot of a community thrilled to experience the work of God in their lives and encourage the faith of those around them.”

Over the years, hundreds of students have been baptized in the pond. As campus pastors promote baptism through the local church, many students express the profound impact APU has had on their faith. Nestled among palm trees and other green space, and bordering the peaceful courtyard of Hartwig Prayer Chapel, the pond provides students with a place to make public their devotion to Christ within the very community that drew them to him.

“When I listen to baptismal testimonies, I think of the many other encounters that occur among our thousands of other students on campus,” Canales said. “The pond is a reminder that God works in His time, calling each student in a unique way.”

Athletic training grounds

From the hills overlooking the APU campus to the standing cross beside the track, the grounds where athletes train are sites of deep character development, close camaraderie and conversations about God.

Franson, a track and field head coach for 15 years, experienced those life-changing moments on what was once APU’s Hillside campus. Often in dazzling sunshine, Franson’s students, some of whom later became Olympic athletes, raced on these roads overlooking the valley below. Breathless after their training, the athletes returned to the simple white cross on the hillside. Together they would spend time in fellowship and prayer, united by the symbol of Christ.

“The cross on the hill reminds us that we don’t need perfect facilities to excel in what God has provided for us, but a heart and soul to work with what is given to us,” Franson said.

Although the asphalt roads of the hillside campus have been turned into the athletics track on East Campus that now bears Franson’s name, the same sacred work of discipleship is occurring.

“APU coaches are dedicated to seeing lives changed for Christ,” said Cliff Hamlow ’56, PhD, vice president emeritus, who served 58 years in intercollegiate athletics and in numerous leadership roles. direction. These bonds formed between coach and athlete often last a lifetime. “One of my former players wanted to quit and I reminded him of the Lord’s plan for his life. He stayed and embarked on his teaching career. We are friends to this day.

Today, in a grove of shady trees beside the track, a memorial cross represents the faithful work of one of those coaches, Jim Milhon, head football coach and mentor to student-athletes for 17 years . The cross reminds all who pass of the deep and sacred work of athletics.

International student community

Bright shades of red, blue, green, yellow and white float in the breeze over the eaves of a building nestled among the trees on East Campus. These flags – from countries around the world – represent the hundreds of international students who have attended APU, all of whom have found a place to belong here.

“There are many who come to campus and have never seen a Bible before,” said Mary Grams, director of international students and scholars. “The places where these students engage in conversations about Jesus, the places where the seeds are planted and watered, are sacred grounds.”

For many years, the International Office served as such a space. Breaking away from the hustle and bustle of campus life, international students would gather in the office to share food from their cultures, laugh while trying to speak each other’s language, or study with their peers.

One of these APU students was a generational Muslim who immediately said he was not interested in knowing about Jesus. The years passed filled with Bible studies, chapel and the testimony of his roommate. One day he returned to the International Office with tears streaming down his face, professing his deep love for Christ. Many international students share stories like this. “APU is in my heart deeply as a place that has been faithful in sharing Jesus for generations before me and will continue to do so after me,” Grams said. “Heaven is going to be richer thanks to this university.”


In the spring of 1991, a small group of faculty and staff gathered in a parking lot outside a corporate center marked for sale. In this unlikely meeting place, they prayed for doors to open that would allow APU to purchase this 15+ acre property. Richard Felix, PhD, then-new APU President, led them in a prayer of petition and direction.

“We asked God to open the way if this property could be used for his glory at APU,” Felix said. “It was amazing the way God moved. Gradually, God provided the APU with the means to eventually purchase the land.

Now known as West Campus, the once empty parking lot welcomes the comings and goings of students. At the Mary Hill Center, Honors College scholars gather around a table to discuss the works of Aristotle. Nearby in the Darling Library, housemates type research papers under the colorful shadows of the stained-glass rotunda above. Across the parking lot from the Segerstrom Science Center, biology students participate in a lab that explores the complexity of the human body. In all these varied moments of learning, God acts. “God intervened and started a sacred work in our university after our prayers many years ago,” Felix said. “Since then, we’ve almost doubled in size, giving us more space to accommodate a wide range of students as they study and grow in faith.”

As a Christian university, APU has the unique opportunity to interweave scholars with faith. The teachers open the classes with prayer or devotion. Students share their hopes and struggle with their doubts. Classes reflect on the role of believers in their future career areas. “Over the years, the classroom has provided the space for sacred encounters with students,” said Roxanne Helm-Stevens, DBA, acting dean and professor at the School of Business and Management. “As faith is integrated into the curriculum and classroom discussions, students learn how their education and profession can be directly linked to their beliefs. One of the joys of my life has been the deep connections with students that come from these transformative moments.

From the reverent stillness of the Munson Chapel to the daily bustle of the Dining Hall, APU harbors sacred spaces of powerful memories and present experiences. Looking to the future, as the university approaches its 125th year, these places also hold a promise of God’s work to come.

“I feel APU can be a center of renewal – faculty, staff and students come together to pray for God to move here,” Franson said. “Something really special is on the way.”

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