By GERENEICIA FOSTER
Prayer is often thought to be a sacred act and is most commonly performed in the confines of a holy place. But Shahrukh Khan is trying a different approach. He is accepting prayer requests on campus.
Since Feb. 25, Khan has been sitting at a table above the Pit in the C building with his Bible, “Matthew Henry’s Commentary,” and a sign that simply reads “Prayer Requests.” He also has several pieces of paper and pens handy for anyone who wants to jot down a request.
He sits silently, studying his books while waiting for someone to stop and inquire about prayer.
Khan has received at least 45 written prayers and has verbally prayed with about 50 students since he began. He said the prayers range in their complexity. Some have prayed for help passing a math test, while others asked for help with relieving stress or bringing peace to a dying relative.
He wants people to know that prayer doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be sincere.
“Sometimes prayer doesn’t need any words at all,” he said. “It could be a teardrop that is a prayer. [God] not only sees your tears, but He hears them, too. Every one of those tears mean something, and He knows what it means. And if you don’t know how to pray, just start out saying, ‘Father, teach me how to pray.’ ”
Khan wasn’t always so passionate about prayer or so confident in his faith. He grew up in the church and attended regular services, but he didn’t live the life of a Christian. Like most young adults, he enjoyed partying and having a good time.
But a trip to Dubai last fall helped him become a more dedicated Christian. He went abroad to study and visit his Muslim family. While there, he learned a lot about Islam. He even went to their mosque and prayed five times a day. But his heart was never in it.
During the daily prayers, Khan began praying to the Christian God. His family knew he was a Christian, so they tried to convert him and constantly challenged his faith. That was when he realized he needed to make some changes in his life.
“I could tell them [about Christianity] from my knowledge growing up in the church, but it wasn’t meaningful,” Khan said. “I realized that if I’m going to share this message of Christ, this gospel, this good news, then I have to start making it real in my life.”
Khan said he realized he needed to pray more and challenged himself to do so. He wanted to know what it meant to “hearken his heart toward God’s commandments and his statutes.” Khan said the Lord spoke to him and told him to come to Eastfield and see if anyone was in need of prayer or just wanted to get something off their chest.
Khan believes prayer is important for everyone regardless of faith. He said it is a gift to be able to speak directly to the heavenly father.
“A lot of challenges that we have throughout the church and just in life in general can be solved through prayer,” he said. “Just pray about it. We have that ability to talk to our heavenly father. It’s communication. It’s a way to get clarity on the things you’re going through. Things that just have so much complexity to them that you need to see through the fog and look for that lighthouse.”
Khan said he draws inspiration from the Bible. Certain books and stories about the old prophets are also encouraging.
“I love Romans Chapter 8 because it starts out that there is no more condemnation for those who abide in Christ or those who love him,” he said. “I love that because it’s encouragement [and] no matter what you did, if you’re chasing the Spirit, you can’t be condemned. I look at Moses and all of the old prophets and men of God, and you’ll notice that they do all of these great works, but they do slip up from time to time. I think those stories give us encouragement today that you might have sinned, you might have turned completely from God, but it doesn’t matter.”
Khan said students and faculty have been receptive to the idea of prayer on campus. Many have told him that his approach is “awesome.”
Learning Frameworks professor Dr. Jonathan Michelon said the spiritual side is often the “missing realm” in college.
“I feel like we need more spirituality at all levels in communication,” he said, “and for somebody to offer a simple approach with the supernatural, with God, it’s very powerful. We only take into consideration the cognitive part of the students and we forget the other parts.”
Khan said his background in political science and debate helped him become bolder in discussing his faith.
“I started reading the Bible and I loved debating,” he said. “Then I realized that this is something I know in my heart to be true, so why not debate about Christianity, the message of Christ, and be able to defend it?”
Khan hasn’t seen any opposition to his prayer. Although he said people have approached them with different beliefs, they still understand the necessity of prayer.
“I have met a few individuals, and though we had different stances on Christianity, we could conclude that there is indispensability in prayer regarding the spirituality of our being,” he said.
Gloria Pendyala, the wife of Khan’s youth minister, believes his mission might inspire other students to be bold in their faith.
“I think that’s what God calls us to do, and if people see that [Khan] is not afraid to pray in public, I think people will become curious and will want to ask questions,” she said.
Student Adama Samba said it takes a lot of courage to offer prayer requests on campus. It also hit home with her because she enjoys praying in nontraditional settings.
“I think prayer is always needed because God is everywhere,” she said. “He is not restricted to just one geographic location. And I feel like people need to know that because some people just feel like it can be done in a church setting. I think it’s a real blessing to know that you can talk to God anywhere and He will always listen.”