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Minnesota man preaches on nationwide tour

The Parthenon

Published: Friday, October 12, 2012

Updated: Friday, October 12, 2012 00:10


Marcus Constantino | The Parthenon

Richard J. Shaffer, 59, of Howard Lake, Minn., yells Bible verses from Buskirk Field, Thursday, in Huntington. Shaffer said he has traveled to college campuses in 38 states over 20 years, mostly by train and bus, in hopes of spreading Jesus’s scripture.

Richard J. Shaffer is better known on Marshall’s campus as the man who yelled Bible verses at students passing by Buskirk Field this week. Shaffer has made a career out of sharing his beliefs with college students nationwide, but he has faced no shortage of challenges along the way.

Shaffer, 59, of Howard Lake, Minn., graduated with an electrical engineering degree at the University of Minnesota, and worked for the university until he was inspired by traveling preachers on the campus 20 years ago.

“People would laugh at them and say bad things, and they would just keep on going,” Shaffer said. “They would have like 30 or 40 people against them, and they would just keep on going, and I really admired that.”

Shaffer made the difficult decision to quit his job at the university and follow a traveling preacher around for about six months to “learn the ropes.” He then went out on his own.

Shaffer said he faced physical barriers during the first few months as he learned to live with no support system and little income.

“When I first went out, I didn’t have money, and I would go hungry and I would go cold,” Shaffer said. “I had no place to stay and it really affected me at first.”

For the most part, Shaffer lives in a tent as he spends a week preaching on college campuses. As he preached on Buskirk Field, he stored his tent safely in one of the lockers near the Marshall University bookstore in the Memorial Student Center. Sometimes he stays in homeless shelters or is invited to stay with locals, But, for the most part, he lives, works and sleeps in the Great Outdoors.

“I prefer to travel light,” Shaffer said. “I am a minimalist. I have very little material possessions, and I don’t have a car. I just travel by bus, train, plane, I walk, and sometimes I travel by bicycle.”

Over the years, Shaffer has learned to visit college campuses in the colder, northern states during the fall semester. He goes to the South during the winter months for warmer weather.

He has also learned to develop his messages to the situation. Sometimes, he has crowds gather around him and can preach entire stories, but in many cases, he only has a few moments to speak to passers-by.

“It’s frustrating because if they’re passing by, they are only going to hear about 15 seconds,” Shaffer said. “So I pick scripture that is a short message. A lot of scripture has short messages like that. And I use that unless I get a crowd that stops, and then I can use longer scripture that is more developed.”

Shaffer works for his brother, who is an atheist, at a “hobby farm” near the Twin Cities area of Minnesota during the summer. Shaffer’s brother recently gave him an iPhone to stay in touch – Shaffer joked that “the Lord prompted him to give me an iPhone, even though he’s an atheist.”

 The money Shaffer makes working for his brother, combined with the minimal amount of money he earns from working at a church during the winter, barely gets him by.

“I don’t get much support,” Shaffer said. I just get my own support. And that’s my life now, and I feel like there’s nothing more important than witnessing the Gospel.”

Shaffer has traveled to 38 states since he began preaching about 20 years ago. His goal is to eventually make it to all 50 states.

“Sometimes I preach on the beaches, which can be interesting because (students) are out there partying for spring break,” Shaffer laughed. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been offered a beer. My answer now is ‘No, I’m on the job, I’m working, I don’t drink on the job.’ But I have fun with them. They don’t get too angry.”

Shaffer has also faced many intimidating and dangerous situations. He remembered once, he had a knife pulled on him by a person who disagreed with his preachings.

“(It was) A big, long knife,” Shaffer said. “I had nightmares about that for about a week. It’s not like the movies… that was the real thing.”

Many years ago, Shaffer also faced a punishment straight from the pages of the Bible.

“I was out in a tent in Mormon country in Utah, and these kids started throwing large boulders – not little stones, softball-sized stones – into my tent,” Shaffer remembered. “I was scared, man. If one of them would have hit me in the head, it would have killed me.”

Shaffer said his goal is to help bring someone to the Lord. He admits his sermons won’t single-handedly bring someone to the Lord, but he hopes that at least one bit of scripture will stick with students as they pass by.

“I pray about this, that someone will hear, that their heart will be convicted.,” Shaffer said. “(I hope) some person will hear one sentence and it will stick in their hear for two or three years like a seed. I’ve heard testimony about that: somebody walks by and hears one little sentence that strikes them. I have faith that that has happened.”

Shaffer said the most difficult thing about his job is talking when it seems like no one is listening. At many times, students simply pass by with a quick glance and keep walking.

“I’d rather have a heckler than nothing,” Shaffer said. “Silence is the most discouraging thing. At least a heckler you know he’s listening. This is the Word of God.  It’s not just a nut speaking, it’s the Word of God they’re ignoring.”

Shaffer admits that many people write him off as crazy. As he yelled from Buskirk Field, a small crowd gathered nearby to listen to his animated preachings, including sophomore biology major Justin Gandee.

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