HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Evangelist Tony Nolan had one question for the Hannibal-LaGrange University students, staff and members of the public who filled nearly every seat in Parker Theater for the school's annual Spiritual Emphasis Days on Wednesday.
"Do you hear the tapping?" Nolan asked after prefacing his question with a story.
A group of people stuck in a room of a sinking ship tapped against a wall in Morse code to those on the other side of the wall, Nolan explained. What they tapped was, "Is there hope?"
The meaning of the story and his question about the tapping was that when you feel like you are at a low point in your life -- or "sinking" -- there is hope with God.
Nolan, a Georgia-based preacher and the keynote speaker for Spiritual Emphasis Days, told how he found hope with God after a failed suicide attempt in 1989 when he was 24, and he encouraged others in the room to turn their hearts to God, especially in times of despair.
"I was born in a mental hospital to a prostitute," Nolan said. "I was placed in foster care with guardians who abused me. When I was 3, I was adopted by a family for $200. My father said he wish he had never bought me. ‘You aren't worth the $200 I paid for you,' he said to me."
Those words stung, and Nolan turned to alcohol and drugs as an escape.
"The highs never get stronger than the hurts," he said.
After the attempt to end his life, Nolan joined his stepbrother at a Bible study. There, he heard God speak to him.
"I have never regretted purchasing you with the priceless blood of my son," Nolan said he heard God say in his heart. At that moment, he decided to dedicate himself to traveling the U.S. to share the word of God.
Spiritual Emphasis Days, formerly known as 3 Days in September, focuses on campus spiritual renewal and kicked off Wednesday with live performances of religious songs.
Many students appreciated the opportunity to join peers and share in their faith.
"I just transferred here from a liberal school, and it's great to be around other people who are interested in growing in their faith," junior Brace Tiemann said.
Junior Sierra Brodhacker agreed.
"It's been so cool to come here today and worship with others, see connections made and witness the transformations in others as they open their hearts to God," Brodhacker said. "I really enjoyed coming to this event."