Reformed Quarterly, Volume 8, Issue 2
RTS middlers Paul Hahn and Fred Harrell will tell you they have been together since the crib — separate cribs and separate houses — but together just the same. Delivered within two months of each other twenty-five years ago in Lakeland, Florida, they were not born brothers, but their friendship has so entwined their lives that one could be fooled.
Both from strong Christian families, their friendship was inevitable since their parents were and still are best friends, getting together for fellowship every Saturday night without fail. They grew up in Lakeside Baptist, which their parents helped start and which now has over 1,500 members.
The two, at age twelve, even committed their lives to Christ at the same time. Fred remembers, “Paul was baptized, and I was right behind him thirty seconds later.” Each had his own reasons for getting baptized, most of which were very suspect.
Paul admits, “All my friends were committing their lives to Christ, and I wanted to be like them. I loved and feared God, and I wanted more than anything to honor him in my life. But I thought being a Christian was just talking with the pastor and being baptized. The two most important benefits of church membership, in my opinion, were being able to take the Lord’s Supper and having my name in big letters in the church phone book.”
Harrell confesses to the same misunderstanding. “I began to realize one did not become a Christian through osmosis. I looked around and saw there were two things missing in my life — being able to take the Lord’s Supper and being baptized. After I was baptized, I considered myself a Christian. But my goal was not necessarily to be a good Christian, but to be known as a ‘Christian jock,’ since I was a decent athlete. Through junior high and high school I simply wanted to please people; dating a very pretty girl, being involved in the church youth group, and maintaining a front with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes all kept me getting those pats on the back which I so desired.”
While Fred was enjoying peer acceptance, Paul’s superficial commitment bothered him greatly during those junior and senior high years. He knew he did not have a personal relationship with God. “Compared to my peers, I had a good lifestyle,” remembers Hahn. “But I was motivated by a fear of God’s wrath and a desire to please my parents, rather than a desire to have a relationship with the God who loves me.”
By his junior year in high school, Paul had reached the end of his rope. During a Bible study with two friends, he accepted Christ as his Savior. Meanwhile, Fred was still “playing Christian,” and it would be several years before he would genuinely commit his life to Christ.
OFF TO COLLEGE
Both excellent students and even better athletes, Paul and Fred each received scholarship offers. Fred, a five-time high school letter winner –three in football and two in baseball — went to the University of Richmond on a football scholarship. His goal: to become a college football coach or get an agricultural/economics degree to work for his father’s agricultural business in Lakeland.
As valedictorian of his class and a skillful first baseman and hitter, Paul set off for Yale — one of only 1,200 students accepted out of 12,000 applications. His goal: to be a professional baseball player.
As it turned out, both were miserable at their respective schools. Paul, urged by parents and teachers to go to Yale, had wanted to stay closer to home. A mere computer number in an undergraduate school of 5,000, he was lonely and withdrawn. Shy and unsure of himself in a new environment, he wanted Christian fellowship but didn’t know how to find it. Except for teammates and roommates, he had few friends.
Burned out academically, he yearned only to play baseball. Although he eventually graduated with a 3.1 average in economics, Paul looks back on his studies at Yale with disappointment.
“I did enough studying merely to get by,” he remembers. “All I wanted to do was play ball. Even though I had made a commitment to Christ, I still wrestled with who would be king — Christ or baseball. At times, baseball became my idol; I worshipped it, not Christ.”
It’s easy to see how Paul was distracted, since he was playing baseball with men whose names were soon to be household words. Yale’s pitcher was Ron Darling, later to become the star pitcher of the 1986 World Series, while Paul hit against pitchers like Frank Viola, who would become the star pitcher of the 1987 World Series.
Meanwhile, in Richmond, Virginia, 840 miles from Lakeland, Fred was faring no better. No one there knew or cared who Fred Harrell was; those pats on the back were few and far between now. And, for the first time in his life, he experienced a great deal of failure, both athletically and scholastically.
By the end of their freshman years, both Paul and Fred wanted to transfer. Paul had been offered a scholarship at Stetson University near Daytona, Florida, while Fred had decided on the University of Florida.
But Paul could not bring himself to leave. “Up to this point,” he said, “I had not let Christ figure too much in my life, but I knew I needed him to help me make this decision. So, I prayed about it. I knew then that I could not leave, but I did not know why.”
He was soon to find out. Midway through his sophomore year, Paul met a Campus Crusade staffer at Yale and became more and more involved with the ministry. By his senior year, he became a significant leader of the Campus Crusade chapter at Yale, taking part in campus evangelism and in-depth discipleship.
With his faith steadily growing, Paul returned to Lakeland that summer and with two friends (not Fred), began a youth Bible study. Although Paul asked Fred to be a part of the study, Fred’s interests were turning in an altogether different direction.
His transfer to the University of Florida had not brought Fred happiness, as he had hoped. A nameless face in a sea of 40,000 students, he was still seeking acceptance. Abandoning football the fall of his sophomore year, he joined a fraternity and began to party, letting academics go. His spiritual life was at rock bottom, something which placed a strain on his relationship with Paul.
The next spring, encouraged by his father, Fred joined the football team and watched his life become more disciplined and his grades rise. But he was still miserable, at times wanting to commit his life to Christ but not following through.
“In the spring of 1983 I went out with this girl,” said Fred, “and all she could talk about was her relationship with the Lord. It bothered me, because I had done all the things she had done, but I was miserable, and she was excited. I left her that night wondering whether I had any idea at all what it meant to “know Jesus Christ.”
Four days later on Easter Sunday, Fred was to teach a Sunday school class on the resurrection. The more he looked at the lesson, the more he realized he was not a Christian and the more he knew that he didn’t have a clue how to be a real Christian.
“At that moment,” remembers Fred, “I got on my knees and asked the Lord to come into my life, to weed out the trash that should not be there. And then I went straight to the phone to tell Paul the good news.”
A FRIENDSHIP DEEPENS
From that moment, God began to strengthen the relationship between Fred and Paul and deepen the bond between them. Fred became a part of the youth Bible study, which over two summers had grown from ten kids to eighty, many of whom became Christians. He also began to have a vibrant witness to his fraternity brothers, even seeing some of them come to Christ. From his experience, he was able to help new Christians learn how to drop old sins through prayer and Bible study. He also led Bible studies with football players and helped establish the Athletes in Action ministry at the university.
One of Fred’s main prayers was for the Lord to make him accountable to someone. God answered his prayer by giving Dan Akers, a Campus Crusade staffer through whom Fred grew tremendously, learning quite a bit of theology and how to share his faith.
He also began to pray for a Christian woman to date. “When the Lord provided Terely, I had no idea he was providing a marriage partner. She belonged to my church, but had been part of the Spanish mission so I never knew her.” (see inset)
After earning a degree in agricultural economics, Fred went to work for his father, who told him he could leave for seminary any time the Lord called. After a year and a half, Fred had become more and more involved in ministry, read a lot of theology, and talked with brother-in-law Ted Strawbridge, an RTS student, about the Reformed faith. He then decided to come to RTS.
Meanwhile, after experiencing the excitement of ministry in their summer Bible study, Paul began to feel that God possibly was calling him into full-time Christian work. But the call was not strong enough yet to override baseball, which still had a firm grip on his ambitions.
At the end of his junior year, Paul took the plunge and decided to “give it his all” to become a professional baseball player. “I said, ‘God, I’ll train as hard as I can this fall and let you be glorified in it. You show me if you want me to be in pro ball. You will have to open the door.'”
Throughout the fall and spring practices, Paul played better baseball than he had ever played in his life. His senior season, however, was the worst of his life.
“God simply made it so bad that I had to walk away from baseball,” said Paul. “If I had done just so-so, I would have tried hard to pursue it, possibly playing in the minor leagues. But there was absolutely no doubt that God had shut the door to baseball.”
After college Hahn went on staff with Athletes in Action and worked at the University of Florida in Gainesville for two years, leading small group Bible studies, doing discipleship and one-on one evangelism.
In December, 1983, he attended a Campus Crusade Christmas Conference in Kansas City, Kansas, where he met his future wife Fran. They were married almost two years later, and after much prayer, also chose RTS.
Fred and Paul have both been busy while at RTS. Fred served as a student assistant at Mt. Salus Presbyterian Church in Clinton, Mississippi, and is now junior high youth pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson.
Two weeks into his seminary career, Paul became the assistant pastor and youth director of First Presbyterian Church in Gulfport, Mississippi, juggling seminary studies and commuting on weekends for almost two years. While there he completely restructured the youth program for grades 1-12 and began a college/career ministry which grew significantly under his guidance. Currently, Paul balances his studies with supplying the pulpit of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Meridian, Mississippi.
Two young men who love the Lord –Paul an only child and Fred the last of four. Different in both personality and appearance, but God has used their friendship to bind each of them closer to Him.
Terely Harrell: A Heart for the Homeless
Terely Harrell has a special heart for the homeless, the cast-off, the foreigner without friends. Because she’s been there and can sympathize. Born in Cuba in 1965 during the turbulent years after Castro’s takeover, Terely and her family, all Christians, have suffered hardship like few Americans will ever have to experience.
In 1962, three years before Terely’s birth, Castro closed all flights out of Cuba. In 1963, Terely’s parents, Ovidio and Betty Alfaro, managed to apply to leave the country –a long, grueling process with no guarantee of success. In an attempt to keep the promising young architect/contractor in Cuba, the government seized his prosperous construction company, informing Alfaro he could stay as general manager if he wanted. He did not.
For the next three years he set his will toward earning freedom for his family, working in cane fields 400 miles from his home and seeing his family only twice during that time. The program was designed to weed out the faint-hearted; Alfaro cut cane 12 hours a day, 365 days a year, earning only 48 cents a day. His life was threatened many times.
Working in the fields was not the only hurdle; to be approved, everyone had to be well, no one could have even traffic violations, the family had to have the correct number of children, at the right age, and none able to serve in the military.
Due to a shortage of architects, Alfaro was released from the fields early and forced to work for the Communist government. In December, 1970, police informed the family they could leave.
At the airport, they were stripped of their luggage and allowed to leave Cuba with only the shirts on their backs. They lost all of their possessions and their loved ones. Alfaro’s mother and father died without ever seeing him again; in March of this year, Terely saw her mother’s mother for only the third time in nineteen years.
When they arrived in Miami, an American missionary recognized them and helped them. The United States government gave them some coats, twenty dollars, and fare to any destination in the U.S.
So the family of five, none of whom spoke a word of English, drove to California, where they had friends. They were there two months when an earthquake destroyed their apartment. Discouraged, they moved to Minnesota where snow drifts six feet high greeted them. They moved on to New Jersey, but the weather was still cold and rainy. Finally, they settled in Lakeland, where Alfaro has built a thriving construction company. Her brother Ovi is a West Point cadet.
Terely remembers her family’s hardships with tears in her eyes. “I appreciate so much my mother and father’s courage and sacrifice to give us the life we have today. I know that I am more sensitive to others in need because of my struggles.”
As Vice President of Women’s Fellowship at RTS, Terely is a special friend to the international students, trying in every way to help them succeed in seminary and cope with American life.
Husband Fred says, “As one of the librarians, Terely aids confused foreign students in finding their way around the library. I think she identifies with people who are far away from family, friends, and country since she’s spent most of her life that way. She is such an asset to my youth ministry because she can zero in on hurting kids and sympathize with them.”
Scripture tells us that God can take even the worst events and turn them around for good. Terely Harrell’s life is one good example, isn’t it?