By Isaac Bruns, junior English major
Stepping onto the stage in Bauman Auditorium, Mike Arzie found it difficult to believe he was returning to chapel at his alma mater. Confronted with an audience of distracted students and “a sea of glowing Apples” from open laptops, he vividly remembered the time he had spent in their seats.
“It never crossed my mind during chapel to think, ‘I’ll bet someday I’ll come back to do one of these,’” he says. But as he took the podium that day, he began to tell the story of how he had learned of salvation in that very room 21 years before.
Arzie is now in his 17th year of ministry at Southwest Bible Church, a sizeable church in Beaverton. As the student and children’s ministries pastor, he interacts with a number of George Fox students, but his connection to the university runs much deeper. After all, it was at George Fox that he began the two most important relationships of his life.
The reason he decided to attend George Fox, he explains, was simple: “I was dating a Quaker.” His high school girlfriend enrolled at George Fox, so it was the only college he seriously considered. Its close proximity to his hometown of Wilsonville and his lack of alternative plans made it an obvious choice. After visiting the campus and meeting with a school recruiter, he decided to apply and was accepted.
In August 1993, he moved into a four-person suite on the first floor of Sutton Hall. He chuckles as he recalls the awkwardness of meeting his roommates for the first time. He also remembers some of the mixers from orientation weekend, especially the “Ha-ha-ha Game.”
“You had to lie boy-girl with your heads on each other’s stomachs,” he explains. “The first person says ‘Ha,’ and the second person says ‘Ha-ha,’ and the third person says ‘Ha-ha-ha,’ and so on. You have to go all the way down the line without laughing.” Soon they were all laughing uncontrollably. As stupid as he thought the game was at the time, it left a lasting impression in his mind.
Arzie began as a literature major with a vague intention of becoming a high school teacher.
“It was the only thing I could see myself doing for very long,” he says. He claims that he was never focused on academics, and recalls being intimidated by professor Bill Jolliff’s literature classes because Jolliff was not afraid to call him out for giving vague answers.
Christianity had very little to do with Arzie’s life at the time.
“I grew up going to church, and then we started moving around and never landed back in one,” he says. His conceptions of God were vague: “I would have told you I was a Christian, but I was just a Deist. I prayed. I believed in God.” That was as far as his religion went. But at George Fox, his conceptions of Christianity began to change.
One day during his freshman year, Arzie lounged with a group of students in the Sutton lobby as they discussed what God looked like. They asked Arzie’s opinion, and he responded that he pictured God as he appeared in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. He was surprised by their laughter, and they told him the man in the picture was Jesus, not God. Arzie fell quiet; he didn’t know the difference.
“That’s when I started wondering if I was what I called a Christian,” he says.
Chapel services became vital sources of information on Christianity. “I was too bored to do anything else – we didn’t have laptops or cell phones – so I just listened to the speakers,” he says.
As he heard the gospel each week, Arzie began to feel a longing for the fulfillment which, the speakers claimed, could be found in Jesus. When Arzie’s girlfriend abruptly ended their relationship, he felt a desperate need for change.
“I was going through literal heartache,” he says. At the height of his despair, he attended a chapel in which Christian author Kay Arthur spoke. Arzie found himself captivated by her message.
“She talked about the weight that’s on your shoulders, and that you can’t bear it,” Arzie says. “In my very being I could sense what I had done up to that point in my life and realized, ‘This isn’t going to get better.’” He thought, “If I’m doing this at 18, what’s it going to be like at 28, or 38, or 48? That’s a lot of garbage to try and put down.”
As the chapel ended, the speaker asked the audience to bow their heads. She told anyone who wanted to receive forgiveness and accept Christ to look up at her as she led a prayer for salvation. Arzie desperately wanted to look up, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so.
“I just had this huge inner struggle, because it was too embarrassing,” he says. “I didn’t want people to see me do it.”
“I left crushed,” he says. “I was down because I didn’t look at that woman.” He went back to his dorm room, lay on his bunk, and prayed. He told God that if there was any way he could still receive salvation, even though he had failed to look at the speaker, he wanted it.
“It sounds stupid, but it’s all I had to go off of,” he says.
It was a humble beginning. As Arzie put it, “I didn’t want to become an alcoholic, so I came to Christ!” But it was the first step in his metamorphosis from an aimless college student into a respected youth pastor. The next step, which began shortly thereafter, was falling in love with classmate Jill Schiewe.
“I started pursuing her, and she started really putting me off, trying to keep me at arm’s length, because I was not someone she should have been dating,” he says. He knew almost nothing about Christianity and did not apply himself academically, but he credits Jill with causing him to undergo significant personal growth. She encouraged him to read the book of Proverbs and invited him to attend Southwest Bible Church with her.
As a result, a man from the church began to mentor Arzie, answering many of his questions about Christianity and encouraging him to start a Bible study. Increased responsibility and spiritual development had a profound effect on his life. He changed his major to religious studies for two reasons: because of his interest in Christianity, and to impress Jill.
Arzie and Jill both returned early to campus before the start of his sophomore year, Arzie as an RA and Jill as a soccer player. He noticed a definite escalation in their relationship.
“There were very few people on campus,” he says. “I saw her in the cafeteria and ate with her, and I think I acted normal enough that she was OK hanging out with me more.” Eventually, Arzie’s dorm floor went on a beach trip with Jill’s floor.
“I still didn’t know how interested she was, but she sat by me on the beach, and I was like, ‘Well, this is different now!’” They began to date officially, and continued until they married in the summer of 1996.
Shortly before his junior year began, Arzie discovered that he would be unable to return to George Fox for financial reasons. “I didn’t have a plan,” he says. “I was devastated.” He found a job in the mailroom at Thrifty Payless and began to serve in the college and young adult ministries at Southwest Bible.
“I just got involved and kept getting more and more involved,” he says. “I was being asked to do more, and I just kept saying yes.”
In 1999, he accepted a 16-month internship as the high school youth minister, and he has continued at the church ever since. He calls his current position the “Zero-to-25 Pastor,” meaning he oversees the leadership of every ministry from nursery through college age, as well as regularly preaching to the congregation on Sunday evenings. The once-aimless college student found his calling – a calling that brought opportunities he never expected.
In March 2015, he returned to George Fox as a guest chapel speaker.
“It was just surreal, as far as how God can transform someone,” he says.
After relating his story, he spoke on a passage from the book of John and told the students they could find forgiveness in Christ.
He closed his message with a prayer: “Thank you that you are a God who does not let up. You pursued me all the way to my bunk in Sutton One until I surrendered, until I actually declared ‘I give up. I want you.’”