GCU students' faith illuminated at Ignite worship service

Students use their cellphones to illuminate GCU Arena with a glow of light during Ignite at GCU Arena on Tuesday.

Photos by Ralph Freso Slideshow

Be the light.

The Grand Canyon University Worship team was the light, lifting up a crowd of several thousand students gathered Tuesday night for Ignite at GCU Arena, a fitting, inspirational end to the first day of class.

“I’m caught up in Your presence/ I just want to sit here at Your feet/ I’m caught up in this holy moment/ I never want to leave."

The Worship team sang the lyrics from “Nothing Else”; an Arena packed with students joined them.

Students sing in praise with the Worship team.

Junior behavioral health science major Jake Steiskal was the light.

He weaved in and out of hundreds of students on the Quad who were gathered there to connect their fellow students with Spiritual Life teams, such as his, Local Outreach. He spoke of working with the Hope Wing Women's Rescue Project to support sex-trafficking victims.

Student body president Jagaar Halverson of the Associated Students of GCU was the light as he stood onstage, looking out on a sea of thousands of faces filled with inspiration and love and joy. He was awed by it all.

Students end their first day of classes with exuberance at Ignite.

He asked them to turn on the flashlights on their cellphones, illuminating the Arena that, just moments before, was bathed by the darkness as the Worship team performed. Hold those phones up, Halverson said, “as we ignite the spark for the campus for this year,” before reading Matthew 5:14-15:

“You are the light of the world/ A town built on a hill cannot be hidden/ Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl/ Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house/ In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

“This is amazing,” he said of the 5,000 or so students gathered for worship.

Such were the scenes from Ignite, GCU’s reverent, beginning-of-the-school-year night of worship, which was different in tone from Friday’s charged up Lope-A-Palooza pep rally that kicked off the year of spirited athletic games to come.

“This is the first campus worship night,” said Erik Nelsen, Director of the Department of Spiritual Life, “and being the first night of school is a unique opportunity, especially for new students to be inspired on that first night.”

It was special, Nelsen said, to have the opportunity to worship with students after what is often a stressful first day of school for students far from home and family.

Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and University Pastor Dr. Tim Griffin reads a passage from Psalm 27:1.

Dr. Tim Griffin, Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and University Pastor, said this event, Ignite, is meant to introduce students to the Worship team and spiritual life at GCU, but also to connect them to community.

“This is where we ignite our year,” he said, inviting students to join worship opportunities such as Chapel, the Gathering, Sanctuary and Spirtual Formation sessions.

Griffin acknowledged that students are often anxious about what’s to come in a new school year.

The Worship team huddles together before taking the stage.

“Your year will have some ups and will have some downs. There will be some moments of great joy and times where you’ll be challenged and you’ll struggle,” Griffin said, then shared Psalm 27:1:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Griffin pointed to the second part of that verse that declares the Lord is our stronghold – that place of refuge, that fortress where we will find safety.

“There are going to be moments this year where you are going to need the light that comes from the Lord, that shows you the way to go, the directions to take, the decisions to make, to give you insight and wisdom. He will be your light.”

Jilly Freid performs with the Worship team.

He urged those who don’t know Jesus as their salvation to look to Him and shared how God continues to bring students to GCU. “It’s a joy to see it in action once again – to see God’s people coming together to lift the name of Jesus in song and fellowship.”

Echoing Halverson’s message of being the light, Griffin’s wish for the year, he said, is that God would do something special on campus and “that he would use each one of you to be a part of it.”

Students pick up stickers and goodies at the Global Outreach booth during a tabling event on the Quad lawn following Ignite.

Joanna Dowdy, senior business entrepreneurship and family studies major, was ecstatic to be a part of Tuesday night’s Ignite audience.

“The most important thing to me is my relationship with Jesus, and I just feel like when, especially college students, can get together and worship together and praise together, it’s an entirely different experience,” Dowdy said. “Just knowing that there’s a bunch of people here that have the same love for Jesus is really inspiring and encouraging, and it just keeps you moving. It keeps you going in your faith.”

Students express their joy at Ignite.

Junior pre-med major Hailie Barton said that going to worship events, such as The Gathering and Ignite, reminds her that “God gives us purpose."

Sophomore biology major Rachelle Alamilla said Ignite “really plants a seed for everyone to know Jesus.” She added that renewing one's faith on campus is important as students navigate the stresses of college.

“We just need to find rest for our souls, especially going through the ups and downs of college. It’s really good that GCU offers this opportunity for us,” Alamilla said.

Isabella Gomes (left) and the Worship team.

Worship team vocalist Isabella Gomes, a junior Christian studies major, said, “It was really cool and, honestly, breathtaking when everybody was singing and out there praising.”

The Worship team practiced for about two weeks for the event and wanted to set the tone for GCU worship.

Fellow Worship team vocalist Alex Ramirez, a senior sports psychology major, performed at Ignite for the second time. She said the team focused the evening on the word “holy” and shared how this worship service does set the tone for the year.

“It really sets our eyes on Jesus, and that’s just how we want to start our whole year, with our eyes on Jesus.”

Alex Ramirez (right) and Isabella Gomes (left) of the Worship team hoped to set the tone for the year to come.

ASGCU vice president Amaya De La Cruz, in her prayer from the GCU Arena stage, asked that God “use us as a vessel to spread Your love and to spread Your light to wherever it needs to be.”

At Ignite, she, too, wanted to be the light.

GCU Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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