Neville Arena on the campus of Auburn University was rocking on Tuesday night, September 12. But the cheers that night weren’t for sinking a game-winning shot at the buzzer. The voices that rang the rafters on this night were raised in praise to God, led by a Christian worship band and two guest speakers.
The event was called “Unite Auburn” and it was birthed out of a season of prayer started by Tonya Prewett, wife of Auburn assistant basketball coach Chad Prewett. Tonya started praying with a handful of students at the beginning of the year, among them was sophomore Jamya Gilleylen, a member of Auburn’s cheer team.
Jamya recalls, “One Friday she (Tonya) was like, let’s go pray at the stadium. So we started. We prayed over the stadium, praying for something to come to Auburn. And then we had to be moved to the (Neville) Arena. Throughout the week more and more people started coming. We started with five. We got to 50. We would have hundreds of students just praying for something to come to Auburn. We still didn’t know what we were praying for.”
Then Tonya announced that the Lord had placed having a conference on her heart.
“She (Tonya) said we are going to unite all the colleges,” according to Jamya. “It’s going to start in Auburn and it’s just going to spread. And so that’s how the vision got started.”
Jeremy Napier is the chaplain of the Auburn men’s basketball team. He told WRBL, “My heart was to get the local church involved. So I put together a prayer team of 26 men, people within the community that are student pastors or campus pastors so they could be praying towards the event.”
Auburn’s head basketball, football, and baseball coaches got involved in promoting “Unite Auburn.” Coach Bruce Pearl helped hand out free tickets to the event on campus. It was also promoted on the jumbotron at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
When the doors to Neville Arena were opened on the night of September 12th, a steady stream of students came pouring in. And what unfolded was quite miraculous.
Dylan Cardwell, a senior Auburn basketball player, described what he experienced this way. “I saw God in motion. God was moving in a way I’ve never seen before. Four thousand hungry kids showed up. They didn’t come for a sporting event. They didn’t come for a party. They didn’t come for a concert. They came for Jesus Christ. God was moving through the band, through the speakers, and you could just feel a different level of passion for Christ.”
Jeremy added, “The spirit of God was present. I really feel like there were real strongholds that were broken that night and that’s why we had the response we had.”
Jamya chimed in, “I felt like I could feel all of those answered prayers from those Fridays.”
When the service ended at Neville Arena, someone asked to be baptized. The nearby lake at the Red Barn was transformed into a baptistry.
Dylan said, “It was the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t think anybody who walked over there planned to get baptized. But I feel like people were led by the Spirit to get baptized once they got over there.”
When Jeremy got to the lake, he said, “I knew immediately I needed to get in the water and help out. We would have been baptizing until three in the morning. I also wanted to make sure that at least the ones I was baptizing knew why they were doing it. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t something just emotional, and really talk them through what baptism is before they were dunked in the water.”
When the baptisms had ended, Jamya said, “I heard a student say she was so lost and didn’t know where she wanted to go. She was just in a deep, sad mood all the time. (But after being baptized) she said she finally felt refreshed.”
In thinking back on all that happened that night, Dylan thinks it can lead to something special on the Auburn campus. He said, “I just hope it’s not a one night stand. I don’t want a one night stand with Christ on my campus. I know we all fall short from time to time, but let’s keep the momentum going. God showed up for a reason. This might be the generation He needs to use.”
Jeremy recapped the night saying, “There’s a vision, there’s a plan to go beyond this. We know that several universities have already reached out and want to do the same thing there. So we’re just going to see what the Lord does with it.”
He added they were able to capture the names of several hundred students who were baptized that night. Those names have been put in the hands of local church pastors for follow-up.