Second-year law student Paul Clewell spent the sunny Wednesday afternoon of April 6 on the steps of Low library. This may seem typical of a Columbia student, but Clewell is far from typical. Clewell did not lounge on the steps with friends or toss a frisbee on South Field. He was on College Walk with a Bible preaching the gospel to anyone willing to listen.
With his sandy blond hair, thin figure, and engaging, open manner, the Ohio native quotes Bible verses in response to any and every question. One hardly believes that he is a born-again Christian who just converted in 1993. Clewell was born to a family whom he calls "culturally Christian" but who did not attend church regularly. He and his older brother were raised by his father and attended public school. As a child, he said he was raised with Christian roots, but had no "core personal relationship with Jesus."
Clewell said that his life changed after he graduated high school.
He became close with a friend who, he said, "shared the gospel with me." He said that before then, he had never connected with the Bible. "I hadn't heard the gospel told to me before in that way." At that moment, "I realized I was a sinner, and I needed God's gift so I put my faith in God." Clewell now finds it unsurprising that a friend would be so quick to "share the gospel."
After all, that is the commandment in the end of Matthew, and it is a commandment that Clewell takes seriously.
Clewell's connection with the Bible changed his life and gave him the confidence needed to bear the stares of passersby on College Walk. The conversion "gave me the assurance and peace of knowing the truth." He began to "read the Bible with a new understanding, to pray knowing that God was real and hearing me."
Reading the Bible is obviously a passion of Clewell's, as he is quick to answer any question with a verse from the New Testament.
During the five years Clewell was at Yale University, from 1993 to 1998, he was involved in Bible study and went to church, where he met older Christians who helped him to better understand his newfound beliefs.
As soon as he came to Columbia in 1998, he got involved in the International Christian Fellowship to "continue building up my own faith and to provide an open place for others to follow Jesus." He is enthusiastic about the organization, insisting that it is really more newsworthy than he is. He claims that the organization "builds me up. A friend sticks closer than a brother." But lest people may think that he is crediting the group and excluding Jesus, he is quick to add, "Jesus is my friend and is with me all the time."
As to the question of whether preaching the gospel on College Walk is really the most effective way to encourage religious belief, Clewell answered, "If they want to hear about Jesus, they'll come; if they don't, they have no excuse when God judges the world." Either way, Clewell plans to continue to stand outside with his friendly smile, exhorting any and every college student who walks by to come, listen to the gospel, and take a tract, a book, or a business card. Despite the seemingly small numbers of students who actually stop to talk, Clewell insists, "it's hard to gauge how responsive people are."
Student reaction shows the truth in Clewell's words, reflecting a wide range of opinions of Clewell and his message.
Darcy Richardson, CC '04, a member of the Christian intervarsity organization, saw Clewell preaching and commented, "I think it's a good, non-threatening way to introduce students to the gospel."
Another intervarsity member, Amanda Craft, SEAS '04, disagreed. "It's important that as Christians, we tell other people what we believe, but I don't think you should force people to hear something they don't want to hear."
Clewell defended evangelism by saying it was simply a way of fulfilling his duty. "Our job is to obey Jesus and share the gospel the way other shared it with us," he said.
He added that "we want others to love Jesus the way we do. I have assurance of peace and salvation; everyone can have that."
For Clewell, everything comes back to religion. When asked what his interests are besides religion, he answered that he enjoyed reading, particularly history and literature by Christian authors.
Clewell plans to become a lawyer, but such career plans do not mean he will abandon his evangelical calling anytime soon. He plans to continue his involvement in Christian organizations as a lawyer. The reason he gave was simple. "It is a commandment," he said.