“When I was here, I hated this place,” Erskine College graduate Jonathan Cook told students during a chapel session in Lesesne Auditorium Nov. 2. Now living in Due West and serving as Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) minister at his alma mater, Cook spoke about his student days. He cited the story of the woman at the well in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, alluding to the human thirst that can only be satisfied by the “living water” Jesus provides.
Before coming to Erskine, Cook was captain of the football team at Easley High School, where he was dating a cheerleader. He chose Erskine to be close to his girlfriend, who was enrolled at a college nearby.
Early in his college experience, his girlfriend broke up with him, his grandmother died, and he suffered constant anxiety about his brother in Iraq, expecting him to be killed any day. He was miserable on a small campus where “everybody was up in everybody’s business.”
Cook remarked on the “yapping” that goes on in a small community, noting that during his time in Due West, whatever “that girl did on Friday night” or “that guy did on Saturday night,” everyone would soon know about it and would be discussing it.
As he recalled the stressful situations and events of his own college years, the speaker advised students facing a break-up, a death in the family, or other difficulties, “Talk to somebody about that.”
Cook had begun planning his own suicide before he finally talked with his SLA (Student Life Assistant–now called Resident Assistant or RA). The two talked all night, and the SLA put Cook to bed in the morning, keeping watch outside the room.
The SLA was active in Reformed University Fellowship at Erskine, which met on the property of the Rev. Paul Patrick, then serving as RUF minister, and he invited Cook to one of the Sunday evening gatherings known as “The Barn.” It was there that Cook made a connection and a commitment that changed his life.
“Jesus found me in a barn in Due West,” he told his chapel audience, adding, “Jesus is looking for you.”
The thirst referred to in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well cannot be slaked by success, or sex, or money. “It doesn’t work,” Cook said. “If you keep running away from Jesus, you’ll always be thirsty.”
Cook told students, “There are gospel places on this campus,” naming other campus ministries as well as Reformed University Fellowship. “Find the gospel.”
The Rev. Jonathan Cook, a member of the Erskine College Class of 2007, lives in Due West with his wife and four children. Under his leadership, RUF launched its 2021-22 activities Sept. 5 with a cookout on the Erskine Mall. The mission of RUF is to “Reach Students for Christ and Equip Students to Serve,” he says.