Tom was a large, loud, obnoxious, irritating, drunken bully — or so I was told. Tom and his boozing buddies all lived on 3 West of Meier Hall, the main men’s dormitory at my college. During that year, my senior year in college, I succeeded in getting a job as resident adviser; unfortunately, I was assigned to 3 West.

Based on what I’d heard about Tom and his gang, I tried my best to steer clear of them. When they learned that I was their resident adviser and that I was studying theology, they dubbed me “Rev.” Even while walking across campus, I might hear one of them shout, “Hey, Rev,” followed by some other not-very-reverent phrases. Based on what I chose to believe about these guys, I marked them as irredeemable jerks.

The time between 7:00 and 10:00 each evening was designated as study hall. My door was to be open, and I tried — mostly in vain — to maintain an atmosphere on the floor that was conducive to study. On one such occasion at about 9:45, Tom crashed into my room. I thought my time had finally come.

I tried to maintain what I hoped would appear as a calm and confident demeanor. He grabbed a chair and sat down right in front of my face.

“So, you believe in God? Why?” he challenged.

Though I was taken aback, I attempted to answer his question. He asked other questions, and before long, Tom was sharing with me his own personal struggle with faith. He also shared the battles he faced at home with his parents, as well as his struggle with alcohol and drugs.

Before he left my room after 1 a.m., with tears in his voice, Tom told me how he longed for peace of mind, free from the pressure of peers, parents and addictions, and he asked me to pray with him.

From that night on, Tom and I were friends, though he still called me Rev. He was an effective recruiter when one of his buddies decided we needed a men’s choir on 3 West. The sound wasn’t all that bad. We serenaded the ladies on occasion and performed at a couple of local events.

In the absence of factual information, it seems to be in the nature of human beings to create our own, and it’s seldom positive. Since the night I got to know the real Tom, I’ve become determined to resist any preconceived notions about an individual and learn about a person through my own personal encounter.

by Chaplain Ron Hyrchuk

May 25, 2006