At the age of 17, Jeremy D. Anderson had affiliation with a Bay Area gang and plotted to kill a young man who had raped his ex-girlfriend. On the evening he planned to carry out the deed, Anderson instead acquiesced to a dinner invitation from his praying grandparents. He reluctantly went along with his elder relatives to ARCO Arena to hear a speaker they vaguely described as famous. That night in 1995, at the invitation of evangelist Billy Graham, Anderson accepted Jesus as his Savior.
“I had never tried Jesus, I never understood the gospel,” says Anderson. “I got saved in more than one way. I would have ended up in prison or dead if I didn’t go to the revival, because I would have killed that guy.”
Instead, Anderson graduated from California State University-Stanislaus in 2004, then went on to become Chi Alpha Campus Ministries director at the school in Turlock after serving on staff for four years. Subsequently, he oversaw planting Chi Alpha outreaches on five other campuses in three counties that comprise the Central Valley Chi Alpha along the Highway 99 corridor: Modesto Junior College, the University of California Merced, Merced College, Fresno State, and Fresno City College.
Anderson met his wife of 19 years, Debora (who is of Portuguese descent), during his intern year in Turlock. In 2019, the couple — along with their four children — moved to Santa Cruz to start another Chi Alpha chapter with a team of missionaries at the University of California branch there.
An unusual feature of all these Chi Alpha chapters is a “free spiritual readings” booth, where team members explain Scriptures and offer prayers with non-Christians. Students experiencing trials and heartaches stop by, as well as those who are simply curious.
The outreaches are dependent on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Staff and students pray extensively about their encounters beforehand, and often receive words of wisdom or knowledge for those who stop.
Students who visit a booth or tent sometimes are healed physically, or have a dream interpreted. Before a student departs, he or she is always asked if there is any reason why a commitment to follow Jesus shouldn’t be made immediately.
“When they come to Christ through spiritual gifts, they become operational in those gifts,” says Anderson, an ordained Assemblies of God minister. “We trust in the Holy Spirit’s anointing more than our ability to persuade.”
At Turlock, openness about past mistakes is a hallmark of both the large meetings and small group gatherings. Being part of the group requires a hefty dose of authenticity, as well as vulnerability. Framed images and mini biographies of students adorn one wall of the meeting room, summarizing the stark realities of past struggles with drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, drug dealing, homelessness, pornography addiction, and abortion. Testimonies wrap up with how the students found hope in Jesus.
Remarkably, the same framed testimonies are displayed in various other spots around campus — not to shock, but to evangelize. They are open invitations to those searching for genuineness to become part of the group. Likewise, at certain venues on campus, Chi Alpha students speak at open-air outreaches nicknamed “I am your sign.” In these amplified testimonies, students reveal their deep, dark secrets — life as it used to be — before culminating with how they found freedom in Christ.
Since 2015, the Andersons have served as Chi Alpha West Coast area directors, overseeing operations in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii.
In September, the Andersons moved to Hawaii to supervise a young adult team of six led by Filipino-American Jeffrey Chalko-Mique and his wife, Kelsey, who are relaunching the Chi Alpha chapter at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. Other couples involved are Roneel and Andrea Chaudhary (Indian/Fijian and Hispanic) and Surr and Hailey Vang (Hmong and Indonesian/Euro-American).
The ethnic cultural mix is perfect for the campus, Anderson maintains.
“We have a conviction that diversity on earth should be like it is in heaven — every tribe, tongue, and nation,” Anderson says. “Hawaii is a strategic place for many reasons. Students from all 50 states are on the University of Hawaii campus, and one-third of students on the islands are internationals.”
Few students possess an evangelical Christian background, however. And despite the idyllic setting, University of Hawaii students ranked the third “least happy” in a recent Princeton Review academic study.
“We want to help them find true happiness in following Christ,” Anderson says.
Anderson expects to duplicate the techniques that have been effective in California, such as “spiritual readings,” in Hawaii.
“Some call it encounter evangelism.” Anderson says. “People who go into a tent to receive a free spiritual reading are open to receive the Holy Spirit.”
Jeffrey and Kelsey Chalko-Mique welcome the Andersons’ leadership.
“Jeremy and Debora have spent five years building relationships in the Hawaii District,” says the 31-year-old Jeffrey, who serves on the Chi Alpha Diversity Task Force. “They have made it easier for the rest of the team.”
“They are experienced in mentoring pioneering directors and staff teams,” says Kelsey, 26.
When Anderson took over as director at CSU-Stanislas, no minority students attended Chi Alpha meetings. Whites quickly became the minority as Anderson befriended students coming from such diverse nations as Saudi Arabia, Japan, and India because of the comparatively low educational costs.
“Early on we were very intentional about genuinely embracing students from other nations,” Anderson says. “We don’t want to be shocked when we get to heaven.”
TOP PHOTO: The Chi Alpha team in Hawaii includes (from left) Surr and Hailey Vang, Deborah and Jeremy Anderson, Kelsey and Jeffrey Chalko-Mique, and Roneel Chaudhary.