During his senior year at William Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, Anthony J. Saladino lived with his girlfriend and had no interest in following Jesus. But fearing his soccer teammates had become too dependent on drugs, the physical education major urged them to quit smoking, snorting, and shooting up. They laughed at him.
Saladino’s emotional outlook only grew worse when he broke up with his girlfriend. He needed a change of scenery.
So, in a semester exchange program the school offered, Saladino in 2000 enrolled for a semester at the University of Montana. On campus, he met a Christian woman named Jenn Sterns who invited him to church.
“The presence of God scared me to death,” Saladino remembers. Worshipping at the altar, with his face on the floor, Saladino cried out to God. Subsequently, Saladino says, the Lord broke his addictions to drinking alcohol and hooking up with women.
Saladino had another revelation when he attended a Chi Alpha meeting held at the church.
“I heard an internal voice saying, The cool people you are looking for are right here,” Saladino recalls.
As a college student, Saladino planned to become a soccer coach. But Chi Alpha altered his career.
For the past 14 years, the 44-year-old Saladino and his wife, Michelle — a 2005 graduate of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia — have directed the Chi Alpha chapter at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg. It has grown to be one of the largest Chi Alpha groups in the U.S., with more than 400 students involved in meetings and/or Bible studies. There are a dozen staff members.
The Saladinos arrived at the school two years after the worst mass shooting on a U.S. university campus. In 2007, student Seung-Hui Cho used semi-automatic pistols to murder 32 people. In 2009, the Saladinos found some students still traumatized by the event.
In part, that is why the couple laid prayer as a foundation of the ministry. Five times a week, prayer sessions are held from 6:30-8:30 a.m.
“Our strategy has always been to invest in prayer to come against spirits,” says Michelle, 40. “We have a unique prayer culture of 10 hours of prayer meetings a week. Hundreds of students have attended.”
Challenges remain, however. Virginia Tech is an academically driven research school known for its engineering program. COVID-19 restrictions enacted the past couple of years limiting in-person gatherings didn’t help.
“Hunger for God is less than we’ve ever seen,” says Michelle, a credentialed Assemblies of God minister. “The pandemic worsened it, as students gravitate to the familiar and comfortable, including addictions to cellphones and other technology. The message of culture now is self-care and narcissism.”
“The desire to live a sacrificial life is not as strong as it used to be,” says Anthony, a U.S. missionary.
Nevertheless, the Saladinos have accomplished much, helping to deliver students from addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, and other demonic oppression. Such activity isn’t the norm at a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) school such as Virginia Tech.
At the annual Chi Alpha Reach the University Institute in June in Springfield, Missouri, the couple led a session on how to pray with people to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
“We do not rely on our own power,” Michelle says.
“Our dependence on the Holy Spirit and culture of prayer as missionaries and as a movement, will be the difference between a fruitful, lasting transformation in the souls of our students lives,” Anthony says.
Mario M. Solari, Southeast Region director for Chi Alpha, believes the Virginia Tech ministry is fruitful because the Saladinos rely so heavily on the Holy Spirit. Solari, 58, says Anthony humbles himself in obedience to the Holy Spirit, which empowers him in situations of evangelism, prayer for healing, and baptizing people in the Holy Spirit.
“Anthony’s desire to be obedient overcomes any natural tendency he may have to second guess or be apprehensive about leadership,” says Solari, who first led a Chi Alpha chapter in 1993 at Florida State University. Solari notes that Virginia Tech students have been saved and healed just by passing by a Chi Alpha gathering.
“The Virginia Tech group is truly Spirit-filled,” says Solari, who has been pastor the past 15 years of Mosaic Church in Tallahassee, Florida. “The supernatural occurs regularly, even among those who are not Christians.
Solari, a U.S. missionary, also commends Saladino for mentoring student leaders, several of whom are now leading ministries elsewhere.
“The Chi Alpha ministry at Virginia Tech is not built on Anthony’s personality,” Solari says. “He is discipling and empowering leaders, and letting them flourish in the capacity to which God has called them.”
The Saladinos have four children: Micah, 13; Ethan, 11; Anna, 9; and Ava, 6.
BOTTOM PHOTO: Anthony and Michelle Saladinos pray with Chi Alpha students and leaders at the annual Reach the University Institute in June in Springfield, Missouri.