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Atheist Turned Missionary

Chi Alpha transforms a skeptical Nick Hester at Sam Houston State University.

Books and research studies galore tell the news that kids raised in Christian homes regularly detach from their faith upon entering college. The verbiage, age ranges, and percentages vary, but the occurrence is prevalent enough to be labeled a trend.

However, Nick Hester, who began his first year at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in Huntsville, Texas, in 2009 followed the opposite path. He enrolled while an atheist and graduated as a missionary in training. He credits his transformation to Chi Alpha, the campus outreach program of the Assemblies of God U.S. Missions.

After a childhood riddled with familial divorce and death, Hester felt angry, bitter, and opposed to God. He professed to be an atheist, and says he lived only for himself that freshman year. Yet Paige, his then-girlfriend and now-wife, had a different outlook, the result of being raised in a Christian home.

“She would always tell me Jesus was the answer and subtly share the gospel,” Hester says. “She was praying for me to find Christian community.”

Soon enough, he did. Through his sophomore year roommate, Hester met Kyle McGuire, who was part of Chi Alpha. McGuire followed the SHSU Chi Alpha practice of first forming a friendship, and then invited Hester to his small group.

At that very first meeting, the leader asked attendees about their beliefs.

“I told them that God wasn’t real, and that if He was, He hated me,” Hester recalls.

Hester says the leader looked him in the face and welcomed his presence to the gathering.

“It was the first time I’d experienced conviction,” Hester says.

McGuire says he didn’t have all the answers to Hester’s questions.

“But what’s important is he kept coming and started sort of living life with us,” McGuire says. “Chi Alpha taught me that there are no little people. It became clear to me that Nick mattered.”

Hester started attending Chi Alpha meetings every week, and McGuire taught him how to pray and study the Bible. After six months, Hester prayed one night, demanding that God prove His existence.

God responded. Hester says he sensed God telling him that what he had heard about Him at Chi Alpha was true, and he would know the Lord more if he walked with Him.

Before his junior year, Hester was baptized. The following spring he trained to become a Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, U.S.A. small group leader for his senior year.

As graduation approached, Hester was hesitant to leave the Christian community that had nurtured him. So, when he learned of the Chi Alpha campus missionary intern  program, he applied and was accepted. After graduation in 2013, Hester married Paige and then began the yearlong program. As it began to wrap up, Hester had the opportunity to pioneer a Chi Alpha program on another campus. After a lot of prayer and seeking guidance, the couple accepted an offer at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Hester had met the Chi Alpha director for the region, Reyna Little, on a missions trip.

Little pioneered Chi Alpha on the campus herself 10 years before, but after taking the regional director position, a series of interim pastors oversaw the chapter. Still, it remains an active chapter with about 40 students. Hester became the program’s first full-time pastor in several years when he arrived in August.

“Our first marching orders are the most important: to be small group leaders, to befriend these students, and just live life with them,” Hester says. He hopes to stem the tide of young adults turning away from faith and is confident the Chi Alpha model can play a major role.

“Students tell me church is boring, but being entertaining isn’t the answer,” says Hester, now a candidate missionary. “Chi Alpha’s programming is more than teaching, it’s more than comfort. It’s about friends and Christian community.”

Rachel Dawn Hayes

Rachel Dawn Hayes is a writer and journalist focused on the stories of ministries, people, and causes in the faith-based arena. Hayes lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Joel. Together they enjoy travel, the outdoors, and cooking for friends and family.