‘Please ask’: MTSU alumnus, instructor reflects on 10 years of speaking to students about Christianity


For anyone who has taken a hiking and backpacking class at MTSU, it’s possible you’ve seen Johnny Ruhl as an instructor. However, where most MTSU students have seen him is sitting on the steps of the quad.

For the past 10 years, Ruhl has sat near the university’s seal nearly every day. He sits there for hours at a time, hot or cold, with his cardboard sign that simply reads, “If you have any questions about Christianity, please ask.”

Ruhl is allowed to be on campus and speak with students due to the fact that he teaches a backpacking class for the university.

Ruhl’s connection to MTSU began in 1968 when he was a student. He started out as an animal science major before switching to sociology. Ruhl described this as a time when people were looking for answers and having trouble finding any.

“I was a student here during a very confusing, tumultuous time,” Ruhl said. “And we were looking for the answer that would change the world. And when I looked at the Christian culture that I had grown up in, it wasn’t changing the world. So, we rejected that. We went looking for something else.”

After graduating, Ruhl traveled all around the world, still searching for the answer. He was nearly 40 years old before he found what he was looking for.

“I explored Christianity and realized that true Christianity was very different from what we saw in culture,” Ruhl said.

Ruhl then started looking into how Christianity had changed during the Reformation period when there was an “unbiblical marriage between church and state.” The Reformation period refers to a part of history in which several prominent figures led a movement to split from the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church due to the perceived corruption of the church. Studying that period and discovering what he believed to be “real Christianity” inspired Ruhl to start answering questions on campus.

“And then I realized, ‘Yeah, this is what we have always been looking for.’ Well, then when you find it, you want to tell people,” Ruhl explained. “So, I went to Pakistan. I went to Indonesia. I went through Central America. But the Bible says to start at Jerusalem and then go to Judea, then to Samaria and then to the outermost parts of the world. I love the outermost parts of the world, but this is my Jerusalem. This is where my journey started. So, I thought I would come back here.”

Before coming to MTSU, Ruhl lived in 16 different places in and out of the U.S., so he felt like Murfreesboro and MTSU was his true home base.

While it’s not always the most fun way to spend one’s time, Ruhl says there’s nothing that he can think of that he would rather do.

“There’s times I don’t want to be here,” Ruhl said. “There’s times I don’t want to do this. When it’s cold or it’s really hot … but when I think, ‘What would I be doing that’s more worthwhile?’, I don’t know of anything … I’m a teacher. I love to teach. And there are a lot of things that we can teach people to make their life go more smoothly, but it won’t change their eternity. So, I would hope that I can help people through this life but also guide them into an other than hopeless eternity.”

With religion being as divisive a topic as it is, one can expect some negative reactions to Ruhl’s presence. However, he says he very seldom gets any. Though when he does, he does not argue. He said that he is not doing this to fight or prove a point; he’s there to listen and answer questions.

“I won’t fight,” Ruhl said. “If you jumped on me right now and started beating on me, that would not be a fight. It wouldn’t be a fight until I hit you back. And at some point, as you’re pounding on me, you would feel really stupid … So, the bible says the servant of God … must be gentle with all men.”

Ruhl says that the most common questions he gets from college students are about morality and sexuality.

“There was one woman who came up, and I just love that she came to me,” Ruhl said. “She waited until there was nobody here, and she just came up and said, ‘Your sign is repulsive to me.’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry, why?’ She said, ‘Why do Christians hate gay people?’ And I said, ‘Christians don’t hate anybody, but the name Christian is attached to a lot of things. But I can tell you what God says about homosexuality.’”

He explained to her that he believes it’s not about God hating homosexuality or hating anyone. According to Ruhl, the scripture says that any sexual activity outside of God’s will is a sin, like fornication and adultery. Ruhl said that many tend to just focus on the homosexual part, however.

“So, (I told her), ‘There have probably been young people who are in fornication that have condemned you for being a homosexual, and God looks at them both the same.’ And she went and bought me lunch!”

Being on campus for so long, Ruhl has seen many things. One of his favorite moments he’s seen was when a girl he’d often seen in a wheelchair stood up and danced for a moment with her friends. He later saw her outside of the Student Union and asked her what her story was. It turns out she’d had a disease that left her in bed for four months. Being in the wheelchair allowed her to save enough strength to do a few things every so often.

“I said to her, ‘For such a young person, you’ve been dealt a pretty hard blow,’ and she said, ‘I have my Jesus.’ And she smiled the whole time, and I thought, ‘Boy, could she teach me something,’” Ruhl said. “I’ve often thought about that; she danced.”

Ruhl says his ultimate goal in sitting on campus and talking to students is to be the person he needed when he was a student.

“My hope was that I could save somebody from having to make that journey,” Ruhl said. “That I could answer the questions that I had when there was no one here to answer them … I want to honor my Father, in this … And the bible says that I’m to be an ambassador for Christ and that would be the most important thing I could be that I would hope I am perceived as.”

To contact News Editor Angele Latham, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_New

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