When Tony Rodger left home to attend college he drifted away from the bondage of his Christian upbringing for the freedom of the world’s values.
Growing up in a small town in northwest Iowa, population 4,000, Tony’s family attended church regularly. He stayed involved in Sunday school and youth group throughout his high school years. But something was missing...
“If you were to have asked me at that time I would have adamantly claimed I was a Christian but I did not have a relationship with Christ and I was definitely not living according to God’s word.”
Once he left home to attend college in South Dakota he no longer felt compelled to attend church.
“I was chasing life where the world tells you that life is found…in temporary moments of pleasure, in seeking my own interests, in setting myself up for a successful career.”
That went on for four years.
“Very near the end of my last semester, I woke up one morning disgusted with the man I was looking at in the mirror, and filled with regret and shame.”
Tony had applied for graduate school at several institutions. When he received a Graduate Merit Fellowship at Texas A&M, he realized he had been handed an opportunity for a new start.
“I would feel these nudges, almost whispers in my heart to go back to church to start over.”
So he made up his mind that the first thing he would do when he arrived in College Station would be to find a church.
“I think I just Googled ‘churches in College Station’ and I found Grace Bible Church toward the top of the list.”
The first Sunday he was in town he attended the family service because he was too shy to ask about the college service. On his second Sunday he stumbled across two girls who were also looking for the college group. Together they discovered that the college students met across the street. On his third Sunday he sat in the service alone until a stranger asked Tony to join him and his friends. He hung out with them during the week and enjoyed the company until they invited him to join a summer Bible study.
“I had done the ‘church thing’ growing up and honestly I thought I was too cool to do a college Bible study.”
Nevertheless, Tony reluctantly agreed.
“I sat there quiet, mostly feeling like a fraud that didn’t belong.”
The same group of guys encouraged Tony to continue with them into a fall semester Bible study. Tony joined a class, “Essentials of the Christian Faith.” At the same time an undergraduate technician who worked with Tony invited him to Breakaway.
“That night [at Breakaway] Ben Stuart said something…that felt like God shot an arrow through my heart. [Ben said] ‘I think God will give to you or take from you whatever is needed for you to find Him’.”
A thousand miles away from the home, Tony left all his family and friends behind and these long distance relationships strained with distance.
“I remember lying in bed the first two nights in College Station until the early, early hours of the morning feeling incredibly alone, lost, and wondering why the heck I chose to move so far away and leave myself with nothing.”
In hindsight, Tony learned why.
“God knew the only way He could get through to me was by stripping away everything else in my life and leaving me to wrestle with Him.”
And wrestle he did.
“I remember hanging out with some fellow graduate students where the conversation turned to mocking those who believe in God…and I felt torn to my very core. The world was trying to convince me that I could not be both a man of faith and a graduate student in a scientific field.”
Tony felt he had to resolve this conflict.
“I read as many books [on Christian apologetics]…that I could get my hands on. I found debates [online] between secular and Christian scientists…all in an effort to lay out every question, every doubt, every perceived inconsistency I thought existed…which I hoped would lead to a fatal flaw that would allow me to just leave the notion of Christianity behind and be free to return to my past life guilt free.”
That was the real struggle. To live the life he wanted free of guilt.
“The opposite happened. I found I could no longer deny the historicity of the person of Jesus, nor His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of my sins.”
And Tony discovered he could be both a man of faith and embrace a career in a scientific field.
“I found my journey through these difficult questions was incredibly rewarding and I wanted to share that experience with others.”
Today, Tony is a Fisheries Biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife. He uses material developed by Grace Bible Church to lead a young adult Bible study and a study for high school students. He also volunteers for Life Launch, an organization whose purpose is to mentor youth about to age-out of the foster care system.
“After I became a Christian my focus began shifting from myself to others.”
Tony is no longer ridden with regret and shame.
“Christ…changed the things that entertain my heart. He changed the movies I watch, the music I listen to, the jokes I find funny. Christ changed how I navigate relationships as well.”
As a result of his journey and what God taught him along the way, Tony has some sage advice for incoming college freshmen.
“Your parents’ faith is not going to take you through college. It’s okay to ask questions. God is truth, so He is not afraid of you looking for truth. A lot of you will be looking for ‘freedom’ from parents, from church, from rules. You don’t want to spend four years collecting hurts and regrets from following the advice of the world to find out all along the only freedom to be found is that which is in Christ Jesus.”
Tony has advice for graduating college seniors as well.
“Find a local church and get plugged in! Then find a way to serve your church. Find a community group/small group of believers to do life with. Church is not meant to be spent entirely in rows, so much growth happens in circles.”
Though Tony has no children of his own he cautiously offers some advice for parents of college-bound teens.
“There are incredibly intelligent people that view faith as a crutch for the weak. [Your kids’] faith will be challenged. Disciple your kids in the ways of the Lord, raise them in church, yes, but also…show by example what it means to be a Christian. Focus on their relationship with Christ, not just a list of things that they do to check the ‘church’ box. A faith that has been challenged and withstood that test will be unshakeable.”
Then Tony touches on perhaps the hardest thing for any loving Christian parent to do.
“After you’ve done all that you can do you have to turn them over to God. It’s hard to fathom but God loves them even more than you do.”
Tony Rodger’s story is evidence of that.