“It was powerful, definitely powerful,” freshman Lucy Estrada said concerning the late night chapel on Tuesday, Nov. 13.
The speaker, Pastor Benny Perez of Las Vegas, began the chapel by giving a message as part of the “On Missions” chapel series, which focuses on Acts and Matthew. The later part of the chapel took an unexpected turn, when Perez began healing people in the crowd.
The impact that the chapel had on the students is no small thing. Owen Maldonado, a freshman, expressed that he would like to see Perez return to speak at Vanguard, describing his sermons as “dope.” Sharing this desire for Perez to return is senior Alondra Lucatero.
“He kinda stepped up the game for us again, and reminded us of why we’re here, and why we do things, and why we believe,” Lucatero said. “It tested the faith,”
Sophomore Alyssum Guerrero related the charismatic nature of the chapel and speaker to her upbringing, as she was raised in a similar church environment. She expressed her joy in witnessing the healings.
“I was just in awe of God, and you know we look in the Bible, and you see the casting out of demons, the laying of hands, and so it was just nice to have that here,” Guerrero said.
Though for some students it was not as welcome. The charismatic approach and speaker is unusual and even shocking. Phoenix McGee, a freshman, explained that this chapel was the first time he saw people being healed by a pastor like that.
“I really liked it,” McGee said, “It really caught me off guard. It was like a whole new type of situation.”
While for some students, like McGee, it was a pleasant new experience, for others it was challenging. One such student is Senior Cameron Missakian, who felt overwhelmed by the volume and energy of Perez.
“I don’t know if [the healings] were true or not, but it seemed like he just wanted to create that atmosphere himself rather than the Holy Spirit,” Missakian said.
Lucatera expressed that while she would like to see Perez lead chapel again, she wouldn’t prefer that for every chapel. Mike Whitford, campus pastor and associate dean of the Spiritual Formation Department explained that Vanguard should be experiencing chapels from all areas of the liberal and conservative spectrum of preaching.
“A church is so vibrant and full of life, and different life experiences and perspectives that we need to have a ‘both and,’” Whitford said, “so long as everything is in alignment with scripture,”
Whitford recounted the healing of two people with migraines in the crowd. Additionally, he described the emotional healing of a girl in the middle of the room who began crying with joy when assured by Perez that Jesus loved her with “no strings attached.”
“She just started breaking down, like in a good way,” Whitford said, “she just buckled down and just wept and just received it,”
Whitford has known Perez for over 25 years, having met him for the first time when he was in high school. According to Whitford, Perez was his youth pastor for one year, and from then on he would see him from time to time at youth camps and Assemblies of God events.
“Admittedly he is unconventional, counterintuitive, and his personality is a little bit what I would call vibrant,” Whitford said, “but, Jesus said it this way, those who have been forgiven much love much. I would say that principle translates into those who have been healed much, heal much,”
Whitford recalled a summer where Perez, at a camp in Oregon, healed a large man with back pain, who then came back to testify about his healing the next day. Healings in the name of the Lord are not an unexpected occurrence when it comes to Perez.
“Honestly, I expected miracles. I expected God to speak to hearts, but you never know, cause I don’t know who needs healing, and I don’t know that Benny’s gonna say,” Whitford said.
The impact of the late night chapel with Perez varies with each student. How students reacted to the healings and charismatic nature of the event is based on personal experience.
“[It was] definitely life changing, you know, seeing like the power of God,” Estrada said, “like you don’t see God, you see what he does, and I was definitely seeing what he did,”