With a wooden yellow sign that reads “Jesus Forgives” draped over his shoulders, Marty Kennedy delivers his Christian message to PSU students in the South Park Blocks on a cold day in mid-February. Street preachers are a common sight in the PSU Park Blocks. Among some of the regulars who choose to deliver their messages on campus are Kennedy, 53, and Ron Lohman, 65.
With a wooden yellow sign that reads “Jesus Forgives” draped over his shoulders, Marty Kennedy delivers his Christian message to PSU students in the South Park Blocks on a cold day in mid-February.
Street preachers are a common sight in the PSU Park Blocks. Among some of the regulars who choose to deliver their messages on campus are Kennedy, 53, and Ron Lohman, 65.
Both men have been preaching Christianity together on campus for over 15 years. Kennedy and Lohman said they are out to talk to PSU’s intelligent and insightful students about their message.
“We’re not so much interested in a crowd as we are a serious conversation about God,” Lohman said.
Some students walk right by them, some sit and listen and some discuss or argue. On at least one occasion, the men have even been attacked. Last fall, Kennedy and Lohman were outside Smith Memorial Student Union when a young red-haired man rushed toward them, pushed Lohman off the Park Block stage and attempted to tear Kennedy’s sign from his shoulders. Police quickly apprehended the man. Kennedy and Lohman say they did not press charges, forgave the man and quickly went back to their preaching.
“People will do some wild and weird things,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy, a St. Helens resident, devotes most of his time to street preaching. Back in 1983 he suffered a serious eye injury, which left him unable to work in his machine-shop trade. In 1993 he said he decided to devote his time to street evangelism downtown and around PSU.
Both Kennedy and Lohman preach on the street full time, splitting their work between Pioneer Courthouse Square and the PSU campus.
Two lives devoted to preaching
Lohman has been involved in gospel work on and off the campus since 1971. He originally lived in Berkeley, Calif., and is now a resident of the Hawthorne District, where he lives with his wife, Karen. He met his wife in 1970 in Berkeley, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in math and physics and a master’s degree in communication.
In the early 1970s, Lohman said, he and his wife moved to Portland and began operating the “House of Olivet,” a Christian ministry that was housed on the corner of Southwest Park Avenue and Jackson Street, where the current PSU Native American Student and Community Center is located.
For 20 years, Lohman worked as a pastor in Portland’s Prince of Peace church on Southeast Madison Street. It was here that he met Kennedy in 1986. The two started preaching at Saturday Market. Then, in 1993, Lohman stopped working as a pastor, and he and Kennedy began full-time street evangelism.
Kennedy said Lohman has mentored him through a lot, and their street preaching has been a partnership. Lohman said his street preaching work is supported, in part, by monthly donations from individuals and local churches.
Preachers in the Park Blocks
During their years on campus, Kennedy and Lohman said they have seen good and bad preachers who have taken the Park Block stage.
Some are infamous for causing disturbances and some have even harassed and assaulted students, like street preacher Daniel Lee–known to some as “Preacher Dan”–who was arrested on campus back in 2001.
“Some preachers come through and rile people up,” Lohman said.
Lohman and Kennedy said that some preachers who have spoken in the Park Blocks have had motives other than promoting Christianity.
“It’s just emotion, and that’s harmful,” Lohman said.
Lohman and Kennedy both said they try to hold reasonable discussions with students.
“It’s important to be respectful of people,” Lohman said. “We’re not into name calling or stirring up people into anger.”
Some students say that Kennedy and Lohman’s presence, as well as the presence of other street preachers, has offended some on campus.
“Them yelling about their beliefs isn’t going to change anything,” said Jesse Gwinn, a junior at PSU. “It’d be fine if they were preaching all the love and all the good.”
Martin Carr, a junior at PSU, said he has no problem with Kennedy and Lohman’s being on campus.
“They don’t act abusive like the others,” Carr said.
Kennedy and Lohman said the younger generation needs to hear their message, and they will continue to preach in the Park Blocks for quite some time.
“As long as we still got breath, and as long as the Lord don’t come back first,” Kennedy said.