by Angie Baldelomar
Manhattan, Kansas. The summer after senior year. Lester Withers and his mother visit one of his four brothers at his church, where revival meetings are taking place. At the end of the sermon, the church’s acting pastor tells them to put their heads down, and asks three questions. His final question is: “if you’re not sure if you’re saved, raise your hand.” This sparks something in Withers. He raises his hand, but when the pastor asks those few to meet with him, he does not go.
However, to his surprise, the pastor went after him once he finished with the others. The pastor had seen Withers raising his hand, and decided to approach him. They talked. Withers confessed his fears and doubts.
“He said the one thing that would have really helped me the most in growing [spiritually]: to read the Bible,” Withers said. “But I didn’t know it at the time. I have a very literary mind and learn a lot from reading.”
This was a turning point in his life, he said.
The rest of the summer between high school and college, Withers spent most of his days with a Bible in his hands.
Freshman year arrived. Originally, Withers wanted to pursue a pharmacy degree. During that first semester, he got involved with the local affiliation of Cru, an evangelical Christian organization. His spiritual growth began: He went to Bible studies, listened to speakers. But most importantly, he said, he found people willing to invest in his spiritual growth. They became his mentors.
Over winter break his freshman year, Withers participated in the Denver Christmas Conference, a five-day regional Cru conference. During those five days, he decided he would do vocational ministry after college because he wanted to share his beliefs with others. However, he was aware of the potential hindrance student loans posed in pursuing this path.
“If I went to six years of college, I would have that much more debt,” he said. “So I decided to switch to a four-year degree.”
Although at first he did not know what to study, he realized the subject he enjoyed the most – and excelled in – was English. He switched his pharmacy degree for an English degree. He also recognized an important factor in his vocational ministry plan.
“When I’m talking to people of different faiths, I want to have background knowledge of what they believe, so I can better engage in conversation with them about our respective beliefs,” he said.
This idea ultimately led him to go for a dual degree in English and religious studies.
Withers grew up in a Christian family in Sublette, a small town in rural southwest Kansas. He is the youngest of five sons, and he said his brothers prepped him for the transitions in his life such as high school and university, so it would not be much of a shock.
When he was a kid, Withers dressed in boots, a plaid shirt and a cowboy hat. His dream was to become a cowboy. Although the plaid shirts and the boots remain part of his normal attire, he realized his path was somewhere else.
Withers is now a junior at the University of Kansas, and runs a blog where he expresses his thoughts and ideas in the way that he knows best: through writing.
“It is a medium by which to show God to people, whether that’s in a story or stated directly in a text,” he said. “In my fiction and poetry, I try to demonstrate God to people who otherwise wouldn’t care about it. They might read the story because it’s fiction and fun to read, and then learn about him.”
He also works as a resident assistant in Ellsworth Hall. This is his second year in the job. He said he enjoys listening to people. One of the things he does on – the almost non-existent – free time he has is usually spent in one-on-one time with his residents, his friends, or co-workers. Puja Shah, one of his co-workers, said Withers has been known to take his residents for coffee to chat with them. She also said his ability to care about others is one of the reasons why she enjoys talking to him.
“Every conversation that he has, he is very attentive to the conversation; he actually listens to the person talk,” said Shah. “He is a genuinely nice person, and cares about everything and everyone a lot.”
Withers’ best friend, Dylan Wachter, is also an RA in Ellsworth. Withers and Wachter met in the car that was taking them to their first Bible study during their freshman year. They were living in the same building – Ellsworth. Eventually, they spent more time together, and became friends. When describing Withers, Wachter simply said:
“He is one of the most giving people that I have ever met.”