"700 Club" co-host found salvation at Wayland revival

PLAINVIEW – Terry Meeuwsen never set foot in a classroom at Wayland Baptist University. You won’t find her name on any transcripts or her photo in any yearbook. Yet she is as much a part of the fabric of Wayland’s 100 years as anyone thanks to a chance encounter as a guest on campus that she said literally changed her life forever. 

Meeuwsen is co-host of the “The 700 Club,” which airs on the WBU cable channel 6 – an affiliate of Family Net. She was also Miss America 1973 as a native of Wisconsin. But one event in 1971 on the Wayland campus melded her with the school’s history and paints a picture of the impact a Christian university can have even on those who never attend as students.

In a taped greeting from the “700 Club” set, Meeuwsen shared congratulations on the school’s centennial and thanks for the longtime outreach efforts that ultimately resulted in her eternal salvation.

Meeuwsen was at Wayland that weekend for an on-campus revival in Harral Auditorium, where evangelist Richard Hogue and his Spirino team were holding services. As a member of the secular music group the New Christy Minstrels, Meeuwsen and her team followed the evangelist onto the stage and were intrigued by the charged atmosphere of the auditorium. It was the first Christian college at which the group had performed.

“Every time this evangelist said something of any import, the place went up for grabs. We could hear kids pounding on the floor and cheering. I’d never heard an evangelist speak before so I thought, ‘What could he be saying that is exciting these kids like this?’” Meeuwsen recalled. “We got on stage to perform and we had some kind of off-color jokes in our repertoire that we common in our shows. But that night, nobody laughed much.”

Terry said after the show, the group flashed the peace sign, but was greeted with the entire audience giving the single index finger pointed upward, a common sign for the Jesus Movement that meant “one way to salvation through Jesus Christ.” Unsure of what it meant, the group flashed the index finger sign back and the place erupted in applause.

“You thought we were Christians,” she laughed. “We thought we’d done a good show and that meant we were number one.”

Later, the group was at a fast-food restaurant and a 19-year-old girl who worked with the evangelist approached Meeuwsen and asked about her spiritual state. Though she had been raised in a Christian denomination, Terry said it was the first time anyone had talked about a personal relationship with Christ.

“That night, she sent me back to my room with Bill Bright’s ‘Four Spiritual Laws’ tract and for some strange reason that only God could have orchestrated, I agreed to meet her for breakfast at 5:30 the next morning,” Meeuwsen said. “I went back to my room that night, and I had no intention of making any kind of commitment. But I read the little pamphlet, and alone in my room, I realized how far away from God my life was. I realized I was reading the Bible for the first time, little pieces of scripture that shined a spotlight on the darkness of my own life. I got to the end of the booklet, and when Bill Bright asked if you would like to say a prayer to receive Jesus, I said the prayer that night, alone in my room.

“Really, at the place that I was at, I said it very caustically: ‘God if there is a God, Jesus if you’re there, I’ll give you what’s left of my life and you can do what you want with it. If you’re not, I’m no worse off than I was before I said this prayer.’”

The next morning at breakfast, Meeuwsen told the girl what she had done and got a reaction of smiles, tears and hugs, as well as an arsenal of books, buttons, pins, tracts and Bibles to begin her walk with God. They left her with a challenge to read one chapter a day from the New Testament and see God work through her life.

“I said yes because my mom raised me to be a nice person. I really didn’t want to read one chapter out of that every night. But I started to do it, and to my amazement, it turned out to be the best book I’ve ever read. In fact, it changed my life,” she said. “That’s not a surprise to you, but to a young girl from Wisconsin who thought it was going to take a world of fame and fortune to make her happy, I found that the only thing that satisfied was a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

From then on, Meeuwsen would go on to represent the nation as Miss America and begin a journey to ministry over the airwaves, first working on a local talk show for the NBC affiliate in Milwaukee, then joining The 700 Club in 1993. But she credits her start on that road with Jesus to a single event in Plainview, Texas. Her recorded message notes her gratitude.

“I wanted to tell you today, as I congratulate you on your own anniversary, the role that Wayland played in that. So often in our walks with Jesus Christ, he gives us a word for someone or just love for someone. He asks us to reach out to somebody; we may not know their spiritual condition, but our obedience can make the difference in somebody else’s eternity. That happened to me at your university,” she said.

“It wasn’t because you knew my condition; it was because your passion for Christ intrigued me and opened my heart to want to experience more of the same. So today I want to say ‘congratulations’ but I also want to say ‘thank you.’ Thank you. You made a difference for me, just like you’ve made for thousands and just like you’ll continue to do, because that’s the kind of place Wayland is. God bless you.”

Meeuwsen’s video greeting will be available for viewing on the Wayland Web site at www.wbu.edu under the Past Students section.