Palm Beach Atlantic University has lost one of its most charismatic ministers. Christian Sampson was not ordained. He was a cafeteria worker at the nondenominational Christian university. But by all accounts, he was a true child of God, who since he started working there in 2005 became the quiet heart of the university community.
Sampson, 28, was struck by a seizure as he rode with friends to church at Grace Fellowship Church on Sunday morning. The friends called 911 but Sampson died at the hospital. He had been estranged from his family but some of them were able to be with him at the end, school officials said.
When students and faculty returned to PBAU on Monday, the news began to filter out from the cafeteria, Sampson's "church," that he was gone. A table was set up with flowers, balloons and a memory book.
Sampson, who became religious at about the age of 12, later in his teens decided to start memorizing Bible verses. His goal was to lead a church of his own and he preached on MLK Boulevard on Saturdays.
He got a job cleaning tables in the PBAU cafeteria in 2005. That was when he started politely asking diners if they would like to hear his "Word of the day."
"I remember observing how kind our students were to him," said campus pastor Bernie Cueto. "They accepted him. They would hug him, or cry, maybe, because of a life situation. But because he was always memorizing scripture, he was filled with lots of good Biblical truth for them."
In 2010, it became obvious that Sampson was homeless.
"Literally within minutes we got the green light," Cueto said. "There was no need for meetings or memos. We wanted him here. I don't want to sound corny, but he was like a staple of the DNA of our school. He was always in the cafeteria, he always had a Bible with him, people knew him. I would watch how freshmen would feel a little awkward to have someone quote a Bible verse to them, but by the time they became seniors, it was uncommon for them not to mention Christian in their speeches."
Soon enough, people began to rely on Sampson.
"Sometimes I wouldn't wait for him to come to me, I would say, 'Christian, I need a Word for the day'. He seemed to know what's good for you," food service director Mary Kingery said.
Two days later, PBAU graduate Mike Baglio struggled to make sense of the loss.
"He's not somebody that you would necessarily pick as a world changer. But as soon as you heard him talk, you saw how genuine he was," said Baglio. "There's not a lot of great people in this world, and I feel we lost one."
Baglio, 23, wept as he spoke of his friend. So did Dorothy "Miss Dee" Gaitor, another cafeteria worker.
"He encouraged everyone," said Gaitor. "I will miss him a lot."
Visitation will be held from 4-9 p.m. Friday at the Original Tabernacle of Prayer for All People, 163 W. 20th St., Riviera Beach. Services will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the tabernacle, followed by interment at Glenwood Cemetery, 1233 Washington Ave., Riviera Beach.