Last week we celebrated the opening of the Spring semester with a “Provost’s Convocation.” The theme for the day was “Finding our Calling: Stories from our College Years.” I asked a colleague from the faculty and one from our staff to join me in sharing our stories. And we encouraged students to ask their professors to share theirs. The College Hour team and students will be considering their gifts, calling and hopes through the semester. One of our purposes is to help students discover these while at Fresno Pacific. Here is my story for anyone interested.
Like some of you I knew I would be going to college—there was never any question about that—I didn’t know I had the option to do otherwise. But I wasn’t sure what I would do with it. I wanted to study just the subjects that I teach now—history, literature, philosophy. Over the years my interests became a bit focused, but I resisted being practical, and finding a major that would be sure to land a job for me. I was a serious student, and even read beyond the class assignments (the first sign of a serious student—he or she wants to learn. The class is just an avenue to pursue learning.)
I spent my years at a university across town. I went to classes there. Had some good instructors, and knew friends who were there. But we didn’t hang out there, or spend time outside of class. My Christian community was at Fresno Youth for Christ, or YFC, where I directed a middle school club, and also helped organize the city-wide middle school program.
I wasn’t sure where God was leading. I sensed early on, and still believe, that God does not always tell us what he is going to do with us, or what he wants to do or where we might serve. We find out along the way, often, in my case, after it is all over.
What is God’s will for my life? To follow him. Where is he leading? I don’t know. What should I do next? Keep seeking and following. How will I know when he is leading? I am not sure. But he promised to be with us. This is walking by faith, not by sight.
I remember vividly my first YFC club event. I was 18 and we were at a field one Friday evening near Ratcliff Stadium, City College’s football field on Blackstone. One father walked up to me with his daughter and her friend. We introduced ourselves and then he asked if he could speak privately with me for a minute. He told me that his wife had recently died, his daughters were acting out, and he was hoping we could help. I must have responded in some way that was semi-intelligible. Then he said he would be back in a few hours to pick up the girls.
Within a few minutes, a young mother walked up with her son, a seventh grader. She explained, while holding tightly onto his hand, that he had is first experience with drugs that day, and that I should watch out for him through the evening. She thought he was ok, she said. He did seem a bit spacey. She handed him over to me, and said she would be back at the end of the event.
This is not what I thought youth ministry would be. I thought we would have fun, introduce young people to Jesus, and begin the practice of discipleship (that’s old language for “spiritual formation”). But this evening was something I hadn’t planned for. I took the young girl whose mother had recently died over to one of the staff girls and introduced them. And I kept my eye on the young boy throughout the evening. We all had a good time, as I remember it, but I was experiencing a lot more than I had anticipated.
I discovered that God had much to teach me, and that I should expect to be surprised. Things might not follow a planned course.
I worked with YFC for three years, and pursued my studies, spent some time at the University of Wales and prepared for graduate studies. I didn’t know what I would be doing in future years, but I kept moving where it seemed like I should go. There were Christians who studied, wrote, and taught—C.S. Lewis had been an Oxford tutor and Cambridge Professor. And there were Christian’s who ministered in practical ways. Some served, some evangelized. All are needed and called in Christ’s kingdom.
One day in my second year of graduate work, I was sitting at my desk in our little apartment preparing for a seminar. I had a Latin text with a series of theological articles of Thomas Aquinas on one side, and an English translation on the other—if I remember correctly it was a portion of his commentary on the Gospel of John. I was moving back and forth between them, trying to make sense of what St. Thomas was trying to say. And I thought I was making progress. My professor, a Benedictine monk who had spent many years as a missionary in China, seemed to like me. I had recognized the source of one of his allusions to the medieval mystic St. Bernard, and now he seemed to think that I knew what I was talking about. I did not feel it was my responsibility to correct him.
As I was studying I received a phone call. My friend and former supervisor at YFC called to offer me a job directing the middle school program in Fresno. They had prayed about it, and thought I was the person to take it over. I had some gifts of administration, as one pastor had explained to me, and the ministry needed me. He wanted to know when I could start.
I hesitated for one brief minute, but then thanked him for the offer and explained that I knew I was where God wanted me at least for the time being. I didn’t need to think or pray about it. That had been done. And for some reason I was sure about my answer. I was confident also they would find someone to take over that part of the ministry, someone whose gifts and commitments would serve the students and staff well, better than me.
There is more to the story. We don’t figure these things out on our own. I had trusted friends and counselors to test things with and who offered prayer and advice. My professors offered advice and encouragement. We were newly married–Teri and I talked and dreamed often about where we thought we were we might be called, and where we could serve.
I suppose this is one way we find our calling. We pursue what we have a passion for, what we seem to be good at. We test the work and various opportunities that are put before us, and we trust that someday it becomes clear. I didn’t know what would come next. There were no academic jobs at the time—it was the time of the last big recession–but somehow I knew I was doing what I was called to do. I have been doing it ever since. There is more to the story, perhaps another time…
You may experience a similar path. You will not know where it is leading, but you will follow, trusting that your calling will become clear to you as you walk. It may become partially clear. I have continued to walk, not always knowing where I was going, or what would come next. And there has been enough guidance to think that was we walk by faith, not by sight, we will hear and see what we are called to, at least for a time.