The final two weeks of my summer class, Introduction to Software, overlapped with the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. I wrote code as I watched Muhammad Ali on the television climbing the stairs with the Olympic torch to light the flame at the opening ceremony. While I was debugging my project, looking through hundreds of lines of code to find mistakes, gymnast Kerri Strug was landing a nearly-perfect vault despite having sprained her ankle on her previous attempt. Her remarkable feat won the gold medal for the United States in the women’s team all-around competition. And I was taking a break from studying, trying to meet girls on the Internet using IRC, while American runner Michael Johnson won gold in the 400 meters, but I was keeping an eye on the other American in the race, Alvin Harrison. He and his twin brother, Calvin, had spent part of their high school years in Santa Lucia County, where I grew up; after these Olympics, my brother met both of them at an autograph-signing event. Alvin Harrison finished fourth in this race, but would go on to win gold as part of a relay team. Both brothers were on a winning relay team in the following Olympics, but unfortunately were later disqualified as part of an incident involving performance-enhancing drugs.
From the moment I walked out the final exam, I knew that I did well. Everything was very straightforward, and I had been studying, so there were no surprises. After I dropped off my backpack at home, I went for a bike ride, then I showered, took a nap, and made dinner After that, it was time to go to Bible study. I did not get to watch any of the Olympics that night.
Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, a chapter of the nondenominational campus ministry organization Intervarsity, did not have regular meetings during summer break, but two small group Bible studies still met, one in the Pine Grove Apartments near campus and one in south Jeromeville on the other side of Highway 100. I drove on Maple Drive toward campus for about a mile and turned onto a cul-de-sac which dead-ends into the parking lot for Pine Grove. I parked on the street, walked to Lillian’s apartment, and knocked on the door, and someone told me to come in.
“Greg!” Lillian said as I walked into her apartment with my Bible. Amelia Dye, who lived in a different apartment in Pine Grove with her cat who had the birthday party, had arrived before me. So had Ramon, Jason, and Caroline, friends from my freshman dorm who all lived near me. “How are you?” Lillian asked. “Have you had your final yet?”
“It was today,” I said. “I think I did pretty well.”
“Good! So no class tomorrow?”
“No. I only had class this summer on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.”
“Four day weekend every week!” Amelia said. “And now you’re done for the summer, right? No class second session?”
“Right,” I replied.
“Any big plans for the weekend? Are you going to Dan and Adrienne’s wedding?”
I paused as my brain tried to process what Amelia had just asked me. Did Amelia have me confused with someone else? Apparently some people named Dan and Adrienne were getting married this weekend, but I did not know these people. Or did I? If I did know these people, they never told me about their wedding. Was I supposed to receive an invitation? “I don’t think I know these people,” I said.
“Dan Keenan? From 20/20? The college pastor?”
With this additional information, my brain began making connections. Students at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship attended a few different churches on Sundays, and I had heard some of my friends who attended Jeromeville Covenant Church use the name 20/20 to refer to the college-age Sunday school class. “From Jeromeville Covenant?” I asked Amelia. “I’ve never been there.”
“Oh, that’s right!” Amelia said. “I guess you don’t know them. I’m so excited for the wedding!”
“A lot of people will be in town for the wedding,” Ramon added. “Liz is coming up for it, and the Morocco team gets back tonight, so they’ll be there too. A bunch of us will be hanging out afterward. I’m sure you’re invited, if you want to come.”
“Yeah,” I said. “That sounds good. Where?” Ramon told me the address, and I wrote it down. “What time should I get there?” I asked.
“It depends on how late the wedding reception goes. But if you show up by eight or nine, someone will probably be there by then.”
“Sounds good. I’ll stop by.”
Two days later, I sat in my apartment watching the beginning of the Saturday evening broadcast of the Olympics. Ramon had said to show up by eight or nine; it was now just past eight o’clock, and I sat on the bed staring at the paper on which I had written what Ramon had told me: 1008 Walnut St. I did not know whose house this was, and I had never been to Walnut Street, although I had easily found it on a map earlier. I was excited to see my friends, especially the ones who had been away for the summer, but they were all coming from a wedding reception, and I did not want to be the only one there waiting for everyone else. I played around on the computer wasting another half hour chatting on IRC before I left the house.
Walnut Street was in an older part of Jeromeville, in between my apartment and Pine Grove. The neighborhood was all single-family homes, and it was not readily obvious at first whether they still housed families or had been converted to student rentals. Tall, leafy oaks and sycamores provided shade. The house at the address I wrote down had lights on in the living room, and there were so many cars in front that I had to park a few houses down the street. My fears about being the first one to arrive at an unfamiliar place were apparently unfounded.
I walked up to the door slowly and knocked, hesitantly. “Come in!” someone shouted from the living room. I opened the door and walked inside, looking around. I saw a few unfamiliar faces on the couch. I could see into the kitchen, where Ramon and Liz and Jason were standing around talking, but they did not see me yet.
“May I help you?” the same voice who told me to come in asked. It belonged to a girl with light brown hair.
“Some people from my Bible study told me that a bunch of people were in town for a wedding,” I explained. “They said that they would be hanging out here afterward.”
“Yeah! That’s us! Were you at the wedding?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t know the people who got married.”
“I’m Vanessa,” the girl said.
“I’m Greg,” I replied. “Nice to meet you.”
“You too! Who did you say you knew here?”
“Ramon and Liz and Jason,” I said, gesturing toward them. “And Caroline Pearson, and Amelia Dye. They all told me about this.”
“Oh, yeah. They’re all here.”
“Greg!” I heard Ramon say from the kitchen. I turned and waved.
“I made it,” I said.
“I’m going to go say hi to them,” I told Vanessa. “It was nice meeting you.”
“You too! I’m sure I’ll see you around later.” I walked to the kitchen where Ramon and Liz and Jason were standing. Caroline was also there, seated at a small dining table, talking to Taylor Santiago, Pete Green, and Charlie Watson, who had all just returned from a month-long mission trip to Morocco.
“Greg!” Taylor said, reaching to shake my hand.
“Hey, Greg,” Pete added, as I was shaking Taylor’s hand.
“Hey, guys. How was the trip?”
“Uhh, I’m so tired,” Taylor replied. “I’m still adjusting to the time difference.”
“Oh, I bet,” I said.
“But, yeah, it was a good trip. There were a bunch of people on our trip from all over the US, and the three of us got split up for a while. We’ll be presenting more about our trip at 20/20 after school starts again.”
“You should come,” Pete told me.
“Maybe,” I said.
I got up to snack on some tortilla chips and saw Amelia, who had first mentioned this party at Bible study two days earlier. She was with Scott Madison, her boyfriend who had gone home for the summer. “Hey, Greg,” Amelia said.
“Good to see you,” Scott added.
“Yeah. There are a lot of people here I don’t know. But there are people I do know here too. Are the people who got married here?”
“No,” Amelia replied. “They’re on their way to their honeymoon.”
“Oh, yeah. That makes sense.” I was relatively unfamiliar with how weddings worked, and that felt like a dumb question in hindsight. “So the people here who I don’t know, are they from 20/20?”
“Yeah. 20/20 is the college group at J-Cov. We have a class before big church, and we usually have a retreat sometime during the year, and fun events too. And some people go on mission trips in the summer.”
“I see.” I was not sure what Amelia meant by “big church,” but it sounded like she was talking about the actual church service, as opposed to Sunday school classes, so I did not ask. But I did ask something else: “And a lot of people from 20/20 also go to JCF?”
“Yeah. Some of us, at least.”
“Why is it called 20/20, anyway?”
“I don’t know, now that you mention it,” Amelia replied.
“I think it’s, like, 20/20 vision,” Scott explained. “Because we want to see God clearly.”
“That makes sense,” I said.
I wandered back into the living room, where people had begun to gather around the television. They were watching the Olympics; the gold medal game for men’s basketball between the United States and Yugoslavia was on. A shorter-than-average skinny guy with dark hair sat on a couch next to a tall guy with wavy brown hair and an empty seat; I gestured toward the empty seat and asked, “May I sit here?”
“Sure,” the skinny guy said. “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Noah.”
“I’m Greg,” I said, shaking Noah’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Martin,” the tall guy with wavy hair said as he also shook my hand. “Do you go to 20/20? I don’t think I’ve seen you before?”
“No. I go to JCF, and some people from my Bible study invited me to come hang out tonight.”
“Have you been watching the Olympics?” Noah asked.
“Off and on,” I said. “The women’s all-around gymnastics was pretty impressive, with Kerri Strug’s sprained ankle.”
“Yeah. I hope she’s okay.”
The United States was heavily favored to win this game, but both teams were undefeated so far in the Olympics. The score remained close throughout the first half. At one point, I looked up to watch Reggie Miller shoot a 3-pointer for the USA. Noah and Martin and a few others who were watching the game cheered.
“I hope Yugoslavia wins,” I said quietly.
“What?” Noah asked incredulously.
“You Communist,” Martin said.
“I’m a purist,” I explained. “I don’t think NBA players belong in the Olympics. The Olympics are for amateurs. And their endorsement deals get in the way. Like last time, when some players had to cover the logos on their warmup suits with flags because they had contracts with rival shoe companies. It’s ridiculous that that has to be an issue.”
“I see your point,” Noah said. “But, the way I see it, other countries were letting their professionals play, so it’s only fair. And after the Dream Team in the last Olympics was so popular, they’re probably not going back at this point.”
“NBA players from other countries can play for their countries too,” Martin added. “Vlade Divac is playing for Yugoslavia.”
“That’s right,” I said.
As the game continued, I overheard parts of the others’ conversations, in which Noah talked about being something called the “junior high intern” this year. “What’s that?” I asked.
“Last year, we both volunteered with the junior high youth group at J-Cov,” Noah explained, gesturing toward himself and Martin. “This year, I’m an intern, so it’s going to be my part-time job to lead the junior high group.”
“That’s cool. Is that the same youth group that Taylor Santiago works with?”
“Yeah! I’ve known Taylor for years. We went to high school together. How do you know him?”
“We were in the same dorm freshman year.”
“We’re going to camp with the junior high kids the week after next,” Martin said. “Taylor will be there too.”
“That sounds fun. Where is the camp?”
“Near Mount Lorenzo.”
“Nice. It’s pretty there.” I looked at Martin’s shirt while he was talking to me. It was white, with the words “VOTE BOB & LARRY IN 1996” at the top. Below it was a strange cartoon drawing of a round, almost spherical red character and a tall green character, cylindrical with a rounded top, standing behind a podium like candidates running for President. Both of these characters had oddly-shaped asymmetrical eyes. Apparently their names were Bob and Larry, but whatever cartoon they were from was unknown to me. I did not ask.
The game remained close until late in the game; neither team led by double digits until only 10 minutes remained, when the United States began to pull ahead. Vlade Divac had fouled out by then. When it became apparent that Yugoslavia was not going to make a miraculous comeback, I got up, used the bathroom, and wandered around what was left of the party. It was getting late, and the crowd seemed noticeably smaller by then; the living room and kitchen were filling up with empty cups, soda cans, and paper plates.
“Are you having fun?” Vanessa, the girl who had answered the door when I arrived, asked me.
“Yeah. I didn’t know much about this 20/20 group before tonight.”
“You should come check it out sometime. Do you go to church?”
“Yeah. I go to the Newman Center,” I said
I waited for Vanessa to give the predictable response that Catholics aren’t real Christians, and that the office of the Papacy is un-Biblical. But instead, she just said, “That’s Catholic, right?”
“You’re always welcome to check out 20/20 and J-Cov if you want. The class starts at 9:15, and the service at 10:45.”
“Thanks. I might someday.”
By midnight, the party had quieted down even more. Noah and Martin were still watching the Olympics; the final round of the men’s 5000-meter run was on. “I don’t think I even realized the 5k was an Olympic event,” I said.
“They show it late at night because Americans don’t do well in it,” Martin said.
“Yeah,” Noah added. “Usually those African long-distance runners dominate.”
The race took fourteen minutes to finish. The lead changed several times, and the lone American runner in the race, Bob Kennedy, remained in contention but fell to sixth place on the last lap. Half of the contenders finished within a few seconds of each other, but a few others had fallen far behind. The final runner, Aissa Belaout of Algeria, did not cross the finish line until 20 seconds after the next runner ahead of him, almost a full minute behind the winner.
“I always wonder with guys like that,” I said. “You’re so far behind, there’s no way you can win. But you just have to keep going, because making it to the final round of the Olympics is such an accomplishment.”
“Yeah,” Noah replied. “Never give up. Keep running. They earned their spot in the Olympics. As long as you’re still alive and still running, you never know what’ll happen.”
I said my goodbyes a few minutes later and drove home, going straight to bed after I arrived. I learned a lot of new things tonight. I knew that my friends from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship attended a number of different churches, but I always assumed that church was just something they did on Sunday. Apparently I was wrong. Jeromeville Covenant Church had a whole group for college students with activities and retreats, and this group included some people who did not also go to JCF. My JCF friends who attended J-Cov had other Christian friends whom I did not know.
After the events of the last few weeks at the Newman Center, I was starting to question whether or not it was the best place for me, as a newly committed Christian, to learn about the Bible and grow closer to Jesus Christ. Too many students at the Newman Center did not seem to take their faith very seriously, and the leadership put their agenda ahead of Scripture and the Church with their emphasis on liberal feminism. Maybe I would try J-Cov and 20/20 sometime. But, on the other hand, I was committed to singing at Newman, and I did not want to turn my back on the traditions of my Catholic family. I did not have to decide right now. Maybe, like the runners I had just watched waiting for the right time to surge ahead, I would just have to wait for the right time to try something new, and then see what happened. Even though my life was full of unanswered questions, I was still alive and still running.