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College students are vulnerable to straying from their faith. I offer a series of testimonies.

This+graphic+was+created+by+Wyatt+Bible%2C+Collegian+graphic+designer.+
Wyatt Bible/The Collegian
This graphic was created by Wyatt Bible, Collegian graphic designer.

Let this story of testimonies be more about faith and less about religion.

“People that have a strong faith usually have a good mental health profile,” said Monsignor Roy Scott Daugherty, a pastor at St. Anne’s Parish in Porterville.  

I’ve experienced both ends of this statement first-hand. 

“You weren’t the same when you first came back home. I could see in your eyes that you just weren’t there,” my mom said. This was after I withdrew from the University of Santa Barbara and came home after a breakdown. 

I can sum up early-years away at college in four words: binging, parties, boys, depression. 

How could my social life be at an all-time high while I was feeling at an all-time low? 

I imagine this broke my mother’s heart, receiving her 18-year-old daughter back home in the state I was in, in her sophomore year of college. 

Looking back now, I know it was God that was missing from the center of my life at that point in time. I always knew of Him and I would think of Him, but He never came first.

I know church may not be the popular or cool place for college students to be spending their time on weekends, but I believe it starts there. Making a conscious effort to be somewhere in order to build a relationship with Christ is a sacrifice. 

“There’s no true love without sacrifice,” Monsignor Scott said. 

But I get it. Once you have left for college, Mom and Dad are no longer over your shoulder enforcing a way of life. Students have access to sweet freedom for the first time.

“Do what makes you happy” has become a popular way of life, but this can be misleading. 

Monsingor Roy Scott Daugherty is a pastor at St. Anne’s Parish in Porterville. (Cynthia Carranza/The Collegian)

Doing what makes you happy can be self-indulgent and lead to a narcissistic way of life because everything that you do is for your own happiness, Monsignor Scott told The Collegian. This is temporary enlightenment and can in the end cause us to be lost, shutting out our faith entirely. 

“It’s the things that don’t necessarily make us happy that we need to do because of duty, that bear the most fruit and create the most good,” he said.

Fewer people are professing the faith. A poll conducted by Gallup in 1999 found that 9% of Americans said they did not identify as spiritual or religious. The poll was updated in 2023 and the percentage has doubled to 18%. When this percentage increases, the percentage of Americans that do identify as spiritual or religious decreases. 

In my early college years, when I was living this rambunctious lifestyle, my relationship with my parents was not great. I avoided them whenever I could. Being in their company was a reminder to me that my behavior needed work. 

Still, they graciously helped me get back on my two feet. I was able to re-enroll into school again and I transferred to Fresno State. 

I would not be in school if I hadn’t  surrendered to my faith and accepted help from my family. It was not what I envisioned for myself and I had no discipline. Since then, my relationship with my parents has healed in many aspects.

Monsignor Scott is the pastor of the parish I was raised in. He was somebody I would watch from a distance as an audience member of the church every Sunday. He is a passionate speaker and gazes at the crowd as if looking for a response. I remember I used to try to avoid eye contact and shrink when he did this. 

A lot has changed since then. Today, I consider him a dear friend who I often call for advice. I admire his faith, dedication, and love for his community. 

He explains that homes in Ohio have lightning rods to absorb the energy when lightning strikes so that the house does not get destroyed, preventing fire and explosions. 

Faith is much like this. This is my second chance at college. The difference between now and then is that I have God as my lighting rod to protect me when the lightning strikes. I may get hit, but I will not be destroyed. 

Monsignor Scott says college students are vulnerable to straying away from their faith.

“‘Cutting the bonds with the way I was raised,’ ‘Cutting the bonds with family ties, with all those cultural things, with all those religious things,’ sometimes people just want to be done with it,” he said. “That’s pretty common.”

In fact, he shares with The Collegian that his walk with God was not always straight, calling the young college-version of himself “anti-Catholic.”

Monsignor Scott says that he considers himself lucky for the friends in his life at the time. 

“I was blessed because I had good friends and had good people that helped me to stay in the right direction,” he said.

While none of his friends are Catholic, he said various religions still share the same values and visions at the core. Over 50 years have passed and they are still dear friends. 

Once he had this pivotal moment that he realized he was Catholic, this idea of becoming a priest would appear in his life over and over again. He attempted to shut it off, but says it kept reappearing in different forms. 

“This idea of becoming a priest started bugging me and I didn’t know where that was coming from because that was not on my agenda at all,” he said. 

People would say things to him and he kept experiencing moments that caused him to circle back to it.

Today, he has been the pastor for St. Anne’s Parish for 30 years. He will retire in November due to mobility issues. While he said he is not someone who is constantly looking for miracles, he says without a doubt, how he came to be a priest is one. 

Tancredo Pastores poses for a photo after sharing his experience with religion with The Collegian. (Cynthia Carranza/The Collegian)

Cancer survivor Tancredo Pastores, a 67-year-old college freshman at Fresno State, remembers a time he questioned if God was real. 

He was raised as a devout Catholic, but when he was diagnosed with the sickness it triggered a crisis within his mind as well. 

“When I had cancer, I questioned God, like ‘Why did he do this to me? Why me?’”

He said that God answered his prayers and got him through that time. 

“I believe in God very much,” Pastores said. “When I have something that I can’t cope with, I pray. I ask God for guidance and to give me strength and wisdom.” 

He thinks the college environment makes it comfortable for students to forget about God. The desire to be social overshadows their belief system he said to The Collegian.  

“You as a student, a college student, you want to be sociable. You want to be in the crowd and as a result you forget to go to church,” Patores said. 

Hazael Medina, a sophomore at Fresno State, said he is seeking a path where he can get closer to God. He was raised in two different religions with his mother being a Jehovah’s Witness and his father Catholic. 

His first year of college he was not spiritually guided, but struggles in his life prompted him to search for that relationship. He said that he has never been someone who is considered the “religious type.”

“I have been wanting to make a change in that,” Medina said. 

Since finding Jesus and accepting him into his life, he has been able to overcome adversity.

“My faith has shown me that with Jesus Christ, I could get the energy and strength that I didn’t know I had,” he said.

This has changed his perspective and personality. He reflected on day-to-day instances where he believes God deserves praise instead of his frustration. 

“I hate traffic, but God blessed me to have a car, to have a job to go to, to have a house to go to,” Medina said. 

There have been times where he admits he struggled in his faith.

“Last year, I had depression and anxiety, and I couldn’t really find a way to cope with it, so I would go towards drugs, partying,” Medina said. 

He said he has learned that these forms of coping create happiness only for a brief moment. Through all of his decisions, he came to realize he was never alone.

“Even in your worst moments, He is there with you,” Medina said. “I’ve been sober for a while now and I’ve been respecting myself a lot more than before.” 

Hazael Medina opens up about finding religion during his time at Fresno State. (Cynthia Carranza/The Collegian)

Medina said he is thankful that he is not continuing the path he was on anymore, and he decided to join Cru, an active club on campus, so that he could work on strengthening his faith. 

Contemplating these testimonies, I walked along the main pathway leading up to the Fresno State library. A man holding flyers asked me if I could lend a hand in helping to plug in his power-operated wheelchair to charge.

The man handed me a flyer titled “Purpose of Life and Secret of Happiness.” I pulled up a chair to sit and listen to him speak while he re-charged his chair battery. His name is Shoukat Khan, a Muslim and professional engineer. This was a life-enriching conversation that I will hold near to my heart and I will do my best to share.  

“People are lost in the world,” Khan said.

He volunteers his time on the side to talk with students at Fresno State with the goal to give the new generation guidance. 

“I talk to so many students here. They don’t know who God is; who made them,” Khan said.

He said we as humans try to fill ourselves with life’s distractions, but we will not find what we’re looking for until we allow God in. 

“Let me give you an example, now if you go see a movie, I’m not against movies,”  Khan said. “You will enjoy it for two or three hours. When you come out you are empty, you will have no fulfillment.”

He uses wine as another example. Just like the movie comes to an end, the glass will empty and the alcohol leaves our bloodstream. 

“Connection with God is the permanent source of happiness,” Khan said. “Once you connect to God nobody can take your happiness.”

He proceeded to speak about wealth and how there are suicidal billionaires that exist. Greed is disruptive and people’s view of wealth is distorted, but he shared what he believes to be, the true meaning of wealth.

“If you have one day of food, peace of mind and your health, you are the richest person in the world,” Khan said.

He said that human beings are the most complex design in the world and with that comes a unique purpose because our creator is intentional.

Twenty years ago, Khan was involved in a car accident that changed his life. Since then, he has not walked and uses a power-operated chair as a mode of transportation. He holds himself accountable for his responsibility of giving back to the community as a volunteer any way.

To this day, he said with a smile on his face, he never turned to therapy or medication to cope mentally during this transition because he trusted God.

“God put me in this situation as a test. I have to accept this challenge, and take it as it is,” Khan said.

He chooses to be patient and strong, trusting that goodness will come out of the challenges posed since 2003, when the crash took place. 

Our conversation ended with this: 

“You cannot hide,” Khan said. “The FBI can monitor us and God is much more sophisticated.”

Our actions, our thoughts, what we do when we think nobody is watching, none if it goes unseen or unheard, and there is nowhere in the universe that is a secret place from God, he said. 

To no surprise of my own, God’s timing never fails to be perfect. As I attempted to finish writing this story, He sent me Khan so that he could be the final testimony. 

My life isn’t perfect, but I can bear the hard days now. When I am weak He is strong, when I can’t walk He carries me and when I can’t find the words He speaks. He is the source of everything there is to me and there is so much comfort in that.

Khan said that the world is a giant university and every day we are tested. 

I will leave you to contemplate a final word from Khan: “The problem with human beings is that they are so sophisticated. They can be evil, worse than anything, but if they are good, they are better than angels. It is up to us to choose which way we’re going to go.”

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