I have been in Christian higher education for a couple of decades and have worked in a variety of roles, including my current one as VPAA for the CCCU. For those of us who work in the “trenches” of higher education, it’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of budgets, accreditation reviews, enrollment projections, and the like. So it’s important to take a step back on occasion and examine what’s important, in the bigger scheme of things, about what we do. At the end of the day, why do we do what we do?
Fortunately, that higher-level assessment has been easy for me because, in addition being employed in Christian higher education, my wife and I have four children who have graduated from or are attending different CCCU schools. While this is likely not a record, it does give me an interesting vantage point on our schools and the life-changing impact that they make on students.
So here’s the story of our schools’ impact on the lives of students, as seen through a parent’s eyes. It’s a story of how CCCU institutions have enabled four very different young people to develop their God-given potential and discover their place in the world.
Shortly after showing up at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, in August 2009, Ryan met a new friend and future roommate named Tim whose parents were missionaries in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They quickly developed a close friendship that continues to this day. Ryan decided to major in history because, in his words, he wanted to travel all over the world doing study abroad, and he needed a major with lots of electives to do that.
Ryan spent six weeks with Tim’s family in Cambodia. The next year he spent a semester in Rwanda, studying African history and culture and working with survivors of the genocide. After graduating from Messiah, Ryan spent a year in Ecuador, where he met Hannah, a computer science major from Azusa Pacific University. He followed her back to Los Angeles, began substitute teaching in L.A., discovered that he enjoyed it, and ended up completing his teacher certification at APU. Now he is teaching high school history and coaching soccer in Lompoc, California, and preparing to spend many more years with Hannah.
Messiah College provided Ryan with a group of bright and mature Christian young men as lifelong friends. It gave him the thinking and relational skills to pursue a variety of possible careers, and it helped him to become a citizen of the world who can thrive in any environment. Wherever he ends up, he will always benefit from his years at Messiah.
Tyler’s choice of major in college was easy. As a toddler, he made interesting designs out of Cheerios in his cereal bowl; we knew Tyler would be an art major. He chose Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, because it has one of the best art programs not just in the CCCU, but in the U.S. At Gordon, Tyler was mentored by accomplished world-class Christian artists, such as Bruce Herman and James Zingarelli. He also spent a semester studying art in Orvieto, Italy.
Tyler’s professors taught him to develop skill in a variety of mediums and to dedicate himself single-mindedly to the artistic craft. For Tyler’s senior project, Dr. Z. gave him two blocks of aged black walnut and patiently guided him as, progressing from chainsaw to chisel to polishing cloth, Tyler slowly transformed the blocks of wood into beautiful human forms. The following fall, he was able to display them at Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize event.
While at Gordon, Tyler also found a group of bright, thoughtful young people who were eager to understand their own Christian beliefs, discover their particular place in the world, and simply enjoy life. Since graduating three years ago, Tyler has exchanged the grey New England winters for San Diego’s eternal sunshine. But the thoughtfulness, artistic skill, and deep friendships that he developed at Gordon remain a part of him.
Rachel’s choice of major was also an easy one. She started dancing at the age of five, so majoring in dance in college was a foregone conclusion. That also meant that her choices of Christian colleges were down to just a few from the start, and she decided on Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana.
Now a senior at Anderson, Rachel’s dancing colleagues and professors have become a second family to her. Last summer they had the unforgettable experience of performing in the national collegiate dance competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Halfway through her sophomore year, Rachel met a basketball-playing, chapel worship-leading Hoosier named Ben. In May they will get married, two weeks after Rachel graduates. While CCCU schools are not in the match-making business, Rachel is not the first student to discover this value-added feature of a Christian college.
Anderson University provided Rachel with a healthy balance of positive Christian influence and the room to be her sassy, fun-loving, and somewhat mischievous self. As a result, she has blossomed into a mature and thoughtful Christian woman, although one with plenty of wit and sarcasm.
Then there’s Anna, our youngest. Despite spending her high school years in Grand Rapids, she wanted to attend a friendly, snow-free college in the South, and she decided on Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Like her brothers, Anna wanted to study abroad, so last spring she studied at the CCCU’s BestSemester program in Uganda. She transitioned from a bustling Lee University dormitory with constant late-night activities to a quiet homestay in Mukono, where she and Mama Harriet would cook meals over an open fire and watch Indian soap operas before retiring to bed at 9:00 p.m.
Working at a children’s clinic under the mentorship of her Global Health professor, Anna developed a depth of spirit and maturity beyond her years. Here is an excerpt from her semester-ending reflection paper:
"I came to Uganda seeking clarity and simplicity and ended up gaining uncertainty and ambiguity. But I have come to see how much of the good stuff of life lies around perplexities, and the ability to question, doubt, and ponder has turned out to be a true gift. After a semester of unanswered questions, I am comforted by James K.A. Smith’s statement that 'I am what I love.' I have grown in more ways than I can express on a few pages, and I might struggle to explain it all to curious, well-meaning people back home. Ultimately, what I have gained from my semester in Uganda is faith in a God who is good, hope that all will be made new, and love for the world in all of its beauty and brokenness."
Anna has since decided that a nursing major isn’t for her and has switched to biochemistry. We don’t know where Anna will end up, but we have already seen the impact of Lee University on her spiritual and intellectual growth.
My wife and I met at a Bible college and finished our degrees at public universities – which is why, perhaps, we are such passionate proponents of Christian colleges and their commitment to impacting the whole person. As a result of their experiences, our children have sharper intellects, deep and lasting relationships, spiritual insight, and a better sense of their place in the world. In short, they have grown as image-bearers of God because of CCCU institutions. If I ever need to be reminded of the infinite value of what we Christian educators do, I need only look at my own kids.
Rick Ostranderis vice president for academic affairs and professional programs at the CCCU.