A local college pastor is transforming a former popular fraternity house on the edge of the Baylor University campus into a residence focused on helping a small group of male students live Christ-centered lives.
The former Phi Gamma Delta “Fiji” fraternity house will reopen this summer as the “Sp808” discipleship house, named after the building’s address at the corner of Speight Avenue and Eighth Street.
The home will be occupied by six male college students who will participate in Bible study, small group discussions and weekly talks with guest speakers.
The effort is being led by Omari Head, college ministry pastor for Acts Church, who will live in the home and serve as the house director.
His plan is to focus on everything from building faith and godly character to dating and developing positive friendships.
“I wanted to provide something for these guys that kind of went against the norm of college life, that you can truly live for Jesus now,” Head said. “You can use these four years not only to educationally grow, but also in your spiritual walk really grow and this not be a vacation from the Lord and this be a life-transforming time.”
Head said he has seen many female students in Acts’ college ministry step forward in leadership and community service roles, and he has chosen to focus on men to make sure they develop strong
faith, worship and service commitments.
The concept is meant to follow Jesus Christ’s example of discipleship. The Bible chronicles how Jesus and his disciples lived, traveled and prayed together, and the group witnessed him teaching, ministering and healing others.
Head said while he embraced his calling to minister to college-aged individuals, he chose to live farther away from the church and the Baylor area to separate his personal time and his ministry work.
The Oklahoma City native has been Acts Church’s college pastor since 2009, and he graduated from George W. Truett Theological Seminary in 2012 with a master of divinity degree.
“Jesus was always with his disciples, so it was living in intentional community,” Head said. “Many times we may live in community, but we don’t make it intentional. We don’t realize that we’ve been places with these people for a certain purpose, for a certain reason.”
Five students already have been selected to live in the house, and Head hopes to fill the final vacancy before the lease begins in June.
The men have to pay rent to live in the home, and they are required to participate in house activities for the entire 2014-15 school year, as well as attend Acts Church.
Patrick McCarthy, a freshman athletic training major at Baylor, said he learned about the discipleship house in the fall as students were beginning to make their housing plans for the upcoming school year. He hadn’t been able to find a roommate and recalled feeling discouraged that his living arrangements weren’t finalized.
“The first time I went to Acts Church, they made this announcement (about applying), and I was like, ‘I’m there,’ ” McCarthy said. “Just being with all these guys and how we’re wanting the same thing, to grow with God and to learn how to pour that out onto others, especially how close we are to campus, I love that.”
Remington Stallard is a sophomore at McLennan Community College, but he is planning to transfer to Baylor this fall to study business finance.
He grew up in Waco, and he sees the house as a way to transition into a larger college environment while maintaining his spiritual focus.
Freshman Zach Gee lives in Baylor’s Kokernot Residence Hall, and he said he thinks the Sp808 house will be a unique opportunity to grow and develop a spiritual support system while he navigates the college life.
“We’re here for the same purpose, the same heart,” Gee said. “In a dorm, you have all different kinds of people. Here, we should be able to come in and buckle down on the same things, highlight the same things, grow in the same way.”
Head said he hadn’t planned to target the popular frat house for the new ministry effort. He zeroed in on the Baylor area so that the home would be closer to the men’s classes, but he discovered that most of the properties close to campus were priced above $500,000, far more than leaders of Acts Church were willing to invest in supporting his vision.
During a property scouting trip last fall with church members, Head pointed out the frat house as the ideal spot for a discipleship house.
One of the members immediately took him to the house’s property manager, University Rentals, which informed Head that the building was not for sale but that the lease was available for the first time since the Fiji organization originally moved into it.
The fraternity was suspended last fall for violating campus policies.
“Our hope is to redeem the home’s reputation in a positive way, and to continue the home’s tradition of building brotherhood,” Head said. “Everybody’s going to know that we live for the Lord, but we’re also not going to be this weird house of people singing ‘Kumbaya’ or anything. We’re going to have fun and learn what it means to enjoy our college life but serve the Lord at the same time.”
The discipleship house will host various community events like Christian music concerts, spoken word nights or barbecues, for example. Stallard is an indie rock singer and guitarist, and expects to perform music for guests from his recently released CD.
Head said the men also will work on practical skills like cooking, cleaning, working out and living a healthy lifestyle.
The residents will get some experience in home maintenance in fixing up some of the disrepair from the home being used for countless parties and fraternity events in the past 15 years.
“A lot of people have seen what it used to be, and they don’t really know what to expect of what it will be,” said Aaron Obidigbo, a junior business student. “It’s a big, iconic house, so having the house change from what it used to be to what it will be, it could change a lot of people to say, ‘Oh, they love God, but they still have fun.’ Hopefully they see the light in us.”