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Colleges and Universities Making a Difference
College and university presidents share anecdotes that demonstrate how their institution is unique and provide a positive contribution to people’s lives.

Faith Today asked the presidents of colleges and universities affiliated with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada to share a brief anecdote of an interaction with a student or parent that reminded them how their institution is making a unique, positive contribution to people’s lives. These, as well as other stories are online at www.faithtoday.ca.

Ron Fraser

Puff Up or Build Up?
by Ron Fraser, president of Alberta Bible College

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” according to 1 Corinthians 8:1. I’ve been thinking about this as I reflect on the life of Steve Rehn. He died last September at age 33, but not before spending a decade in literacy work in Thailand and Africa.

Steve graduated from Alberta Bible College in 1997 with a Bachelor’s of religious education in international studies. For about six years he and Nicki, his wife, taught people how to read in Cote d’Ivoire with Wycliffe Bible Translators. For the last two summers he multiplied himself by teaching Africans to teach Africans to read. He just completed a Master’s in language and literacy at Trinity Western University last April.

Steve wasn’t a great student here where grades were concerned. But he received an award posthumously for his work at Trinity, proving once again that learning that makes a difference is premised on a sense of call, an openness to what means most before us.

In terms of openness, Steve shone. How does openness arrive in our lives so that we learn in a way that actually serves and transforms the world? We can be open to interesting ideas and that’s OK – except when we place knowledge at the centre of relationships. That leaves them in ashes and us “puffy.”

What makes us loving? We can find a clue in these words from Steve’s blog: “The road calls me.” Steve’s footprints on that road will impact literally thousands of people for generations – all ultimately due to the clear call of the One before him, before whom he stood open, available and joyfully obedient.

The great challenge facing Christian higher education is the creation of space where openness to both God and people are live possibilities in which “love builds up.”

Students Worth the Cost of Change
by George Durance, president of Ambrose University College

My ten years as president here have included a campus move, the addition of an arts and science faculty, a merger between the schools of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada and The Church of the Nazarene Canada, a capital campaign, and the construction of, and finally relocation to a new campus.

George Durance

These initiatives were all inspired by the belief in what Christian higher education can accomplish through the lives of transformed graduates.

Now that the institution is reshaped in a profound way, I can’t help but wonder: Was it all worth it? Are we realizing the vision for which so much has been risked?

One of our sociologists, Joel Thiessen, invited me once to one of his senior seminar classes for an hour’s discussion with the students. As we began, each student introduced him- or herself by name, year and program. Then, spontaneously, they went on to tell me what they wanted to do upon graduation.

What particularly impressed me was that all were planning to go somewhere and do something for the benefit of others and the glory of God. If they had dreams of personal wealth and status – of good luck and good fortune – they never mentioned it. They actually became animated and passionate about the transformational action they intended to pursue.

If these students are any indication, the cost of changing this institution was more than worthwhile.

Stories the Lord Writes
by Dwayne Uglem, president of Briercrest College and Seminary

It is our joy to see and participate in the good things that happen on our campus because of the gracious work of our Lord. He does some surprising and unexpected things.

Dwayne Uglem

Stephane came to Briercrest to become a pastor. In his third year in our pastoral program, he discovered he wasn’t a pastor but he finished his degree. From there the Lord introduced a different plan. Today Stephane is a director of an information systems department, serving a Christian organization with the million-dollar software package he created with his degrees in pastoral ministry and leadership.

Donald has seen that the Gospel of reconciliation can change homes and our nation. Shannon believes babies born in economically challenging circumstances still deserve to be warm and dressed. Suzanne is convinced that sport is a platform for ministry.

Rod is certain that, as a McDonald’s manager, he really is a youth pastor. These are glimpses into the remarkable stories the Lord writes and in which He encourages us to play a part. It’s all about becoming attentive life-learners who seek the kingdom of God in hope, respond to the Gospel in faith and serve others in love.

Education and Discipleship
by Gerald Gerbrandt, president of Canadian Mennonite University

“We are proud to call CMU our daughter’s university.” That’s what the parents of a Canadian Mennonite University student wrote to us this year. They went on to say: “We appreciate its emphasis on community life, its positive environment and its excellent academics. We have been impressed by her classroom experiences and opportunities for one-on-one interaction with the highly skilled and educated faculty.”

Gerald Gerbrandt

Hearing a comment like that is very satisfying. But there was more. “We are also excited and encouraged by CMU’s commitment as a Christian university,” they wrote, adding that they also appreciate how it “provides many opportunities for students to live out their faith in everyday life. From retreats to small Bible study and prayer groups and chapels, God is invited into all aspects of university life.”

When parents send children to a Christian university, they place a lot of trust in the school not only to provide a quality education but also to help them grow as disciples of Christ. When I hear comments like this, I think I can say that I am proud of CMU, too.

God changing lives
by Marvin Brubacher, president of Heritage College & Seminary

Approximately two years ago, after a chapel service, I met a family – Dad, Mom and six children – who had come to examine Heritage. They were looking for a place where their children could begin their post-secondary educational pursuits in a positive Christian environment.

Marvin Brubacher

Their eldest son Dennis enrolled the next year in a one-year certificate program. “I was not entirely convinced where I was heading,” he recalls.

But after graduation, he now says “Heritage has been a great environment for me as I have contemplated what God wants for me, and the courses have deepened my walk with God.” He says his best memory is the two hours he spent weekly with five other guys from his residence sharing requests and praying together.

God convinced Dennis that full-time ministry would be part of his future so he returned to study toward a degree and to serve as a residence assistant. This year he has become an influential leader positively impacting others, including one of his younger brothers who joined him at Heritage in January 2009, to become serious about their faith.

“To see the way God is changing lives here is an amazing thing,” Dennis says. After observing closely for 19 years as president, I agree.

God Uses Passion
by Gordon Giesbrecht, president of Horizon College and Seminary

We want our students to “thirst for knowledge” and develop a “passion for God” so they can “make a difference” according to our current college theme.

Gordon Giesbrecht

I remembered that theme during an inspiring conversation with a senior student fresh off an internship at his home church. He reported how he had decided to connect with the community by playing road hockey with neighbourhood kids. Each week more guys showed up – in a sea of uncertainty, this was a place where they were comfortable, accepted, safe and loved. They eventually moved inside.

Soon 20 youth became 40 and the group was split into junior and senior ages. Our student was really stretched, having to learn to connect equally with both age groups through activities, fellowship and Bible study.

Finally a female from the church – now in first year at our college – joined the leadership team, thus paving the way for young gals to attend. These students are building bridges to their community. Youth are asking for – and reading – Bibles, and some parents contact the church for various needs. It is also exciting that these initiatives have increased the congregation’s interest in reaching beyond its walls. The lead pastor summarizes: “God is doing some amazing things and it was just … simple!”

The Deeper Substance of Faith
by Stanley Porter, president of McMaster Divinity College

“When you are trying to communicate in contemporary terms in a secular culture, the default is to be shallow and to skim the surface of issues,” says David Courey, a third-year PhD student who also pastors at Calvary Pentecostal Assembly in Cambridge, Ontario.

Stanley Porter

“When ministering to a broad cross section of people – the non-Christian, the explorer and those who are dragged to church, for example – the temptation is to speak to the lowest common denominator. We find ourselves defaulting to catchy phrases and the latest fad in ministry, to ‘pat’ answers and ‘knee-jerk’ superficial reactions to the questions and concerns of parishioners.”

But David finds the discipline of his studies gives him the opportunity to rethink his beliefs, his theology, his “usual retorts” and the deeper substance of faith. It gives him the opportunity to critique what he thinks and why, and then be able to present it in a fuller, deeper way.

“When we are confronted every week in classes with the ideals and principles of the faith, rather than just the pragmatic issues of ministry, then we naturally go deeper in our own faith and in the way we do church.

“In ministry it’s easy to substitute the quick fix and the easy laugh for what’s thoughtful and true. Sometimes we forget what we signed up for as pastors. I didn’t really want to be a stand-up comic; I wanted to make a difference. And in my program I am challenged every week to rethink how to remain a good communicator and to still say something that has substance and depth and will change people’s lives.”

First-Rate Preparation to Change the World
by Jon Ohlhauser, president of Prairie Bible Institute

I sometimes wonder if Christian colleges don’t get the recognition they deserve. Many assume the education is second-rate or that they are only for those going into full-time church work. When I hear this I tell them what our students are doing.

Jon Ohlhauser

Last semester we had a first-year nursing student doing her practicum in a hospital. She was caring for a terminal patient and noticed a Bible on his bedside table.

When she asked if she could read from it he replied “No, that’s not for me.” The next day she asked if she could read some of her favourite verses to him. He agreed. When she finished he had tears running down his face and said, “That’s what I need.” She then led him to the Lord.

A graduate recently sent a slide show about work he is doing as a missionary pilot overseas. He routinely flies sick patients from remote areas and delivers supplies to missionaries and medical staff who otherwise could not get the tools they need to do their work of providing care and spreading the Gospel.

There are so many more stories to tell. Every day Prairie students are making a difference in the lives of people around the world. Not only is their education first-rate, it has prepared them to change the world in credible and unique ways.

Reaching Farther
by August H. Konkel, president of Providence College and Seminary

One of the most disturbing social problems in Canada is the high rate of suicide in Northern communities. It is one symptom of family dysfunction. But some of our graduates are working to change that.

August Konkel

Last September alumnus Clair Schnupp contacted me. Clair and Clara Schnupp conduct a Providence certificate program for family life from Yukon to Greenland. They introduced me to Jonathan and Rhonda Kakegamic who work in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation among the Oji-Cree people.

Providence was able to arrange completion of a distance-education counselling program for them. The next day I received an enthusiastic call from Jonathan’s father. Goyce Kakegamic is the educational co-ordinator for Northern Chiefs Council. Based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He directs 49 councils between Manitoba and Quebec. Goyce enrolled as a student and is seeking to bring together a cohort group of 20 or more teachers from northern Ontario to complete the Providence program. He is convinced this additional training will help support educators and families in the public schools of the Nishnawbe Aski Territory.

Goyce further plans to use the training he received at Providence Seminary in a new venture called Aboriginal Family Empowerment. This organization will help Aboriginal families gain access to knowledge, skills and services to improve community life.

Making a Difference for Christ
by Justin D. Cooper, president of Redeemer University College

It never ceases to amaze me how graduates find creative ways to serve their Lord. Betty Broersma came to Redeemer with an interest in counselling and took this in a fresh direction with majors in art and psychology. That led her to further training in art therapy.

Justin Cooper

After practising in this field for some years, she hit upon a new approach to reaching out in her city with the healing power and love of Jesus Christ.

Hamilton is not among the largest of Canada’s cities but certainly has its share of social issues, poverty and homelessness. In this context she developed an outreach to street-involved youth through a studio ministry called Re-Create (www.re-create.ca). Over time this ministry has become not only an avenue to help these young people work through their issues and build relationships but also to develop confidence and self-respect as their best work is shown in various gallery exhibitions.

The impact of her efforts came home to me in a powerful way when I heard that one of these young people, despite his own great personal need, took the $100 he received for the sale of his artwork and gave it back to the ministry that had helped turn his life around.

Praise God for the unexpected ways that Christian university education is shaping a new generation of servant leaders who are creatively and competently engaging our culture with the wisdom, love and mercy of Christ.

Variety, Passion and Community
by Rod Wilson, president of Regent College

Recently I sat at my office table with eight students who have experienced part of their first semester at Regent College. Barry from Ontario studied theology in a secular setting and is so glad to be in a place where faith informs academics. Luke from Virginia worked in government policy research in Washington, D.C., and is experiencing a greater devotion to Christ at Regent. Jim from California is pleased that his love for rigorous academics and the church can be combined. Simon from China is a new Christian and is enjoying being in an academic environment where his expertise in physics and math is taken seriously.

Rod Wilson

Ruben from Costa Rica is encouraged that his peer students love Jesus and want to engage with Scripture and the culture.

Debbie from Washington has been battling mental health issues and finds that her brokenness is accepted here. Kelly from Oregon is realizing his background in fine art and social work is a good fit in this community. Lindsay from Alberta is discovering that her passion for environmental issues and theology is being stimulated.

Not only is Regent College influencing our students but the variety and passion in our student body is also making an impact on this community of faith.

Preparing to Serve
by Brian C. Stiller, president of Tyndale University College and Seminary

When asked about how Tyndale is doing something unique in the lives of people, the MacDonald family comes to mind.

Brian Stiller

Gary MacDonald and I first met at Youth for Christ in the 1970s. He became a Christian and married Denise. Both graduated from Tyndale: Gary from the college and Denise from the seminary.

Their son Andrew earned a degree in business from the university and now works for World Vision. He also met his wife at Tyndale. Their daughter Amy is on staff in our development office.

This family loves what Tyndale has to offer: academics with a number of majors, a diverse and Christ-centred community, gifted and caring faculty, and respected degrees that prepare students for meaningful vocations and ministry.

I can’t think of a better investment for a family to make than in the lives of their children. Other universities and schools prepare people for careers. At Tyndale our goal is to prepare skilled and dynamic Christians ready to serve in the world. That is why I suggest it is in your interest to consider Tyndale for university and seminary education.

More anecdotes at www.faithtoday.ca.

Originally published in Faith Today, January/February 2009. 

Used with permission. Copyright © 2009 Christianity.ca.

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