June 14, 2013
Sometimes we are the last ones to see our own circumstances clearly. During our recent trip to China, we met a young Christian professional who heard about Houghton College. She felt God calling her to be a worship leader within her Christian community and thought that Houghton might be a place where she could study theology and music. Her desire was not so much for a credentialed degree but for the training that would enable her to lead her community in China into deep Christian discipleship.
For a range of reasons, this one conversation may have been the most powerful moment of my time in China. Seeing the Great Wall was inspiring. The Terracotta Warriors of X’ian were even more wondrous and puzzling than I had imagined. But in a trip that included many memorable occasions and unforgettable conversations, this one conversation affected me the most in thinking about what it means for Houghton to engage the world in our mission as a Christian college.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, it was amazing to sit in a hotel lobby in Beijing, to pull up the Houghton website on an iPad and have it look the same as it looks in my office in Houghton, New York. This brought home to me the fact that, ready or not, we as a college are “out there” for the world to see. Whatever we put on the website, we need to be thinking about how this plays and translates around the globe.
Second, I was struck by the hunger of this young professional woman for the opportunity to study Scripture, worship, and theology at a deep level. She had a good job. Her English was excellent. Finances were not an issue for her present or her future. But she felt a desire for more. Sometimes searching for the right English word, she described how she had come to realize her prideful approach to her faith and her leadership role in her small church. “I used to think I knew all the answers,” she said, “like the Pharisees.” She wanted to be in a place where she could focus completely on study — and wondered if Houghton could be such a place.
Third, she was delighted to hear that Houghton welcomed students who were not just 18. Apparently it is not customary for students in China to go to university once they have gone beyond the typical age for university entrance. It reminded me of one of the most unusual and best aspects of American higher education — that we have opportunities for “late bloomers” and training for second careers. That is not taken for granted in many contexts around the world.
Fourth, when we described the Houghton chapel service where students have the opportunity to worship together with a congregation of approximately 1,000 people, she started tearing up. That was something that sounded too good for words. I could not help thinking how much we take for granted this privileged freedom to worship together as an educational community.
Finally, she shared that just the weekend before, she had been praying that the Lord would open up some new opportunities that would help her imagine a future that was not the one being pressed on her by her relatives. She gave cautious expression to the fact that learning about Houghton had come as a light of hope — that there were possible opportunities out there that she might not previously have known about.
I don’t know what will ultimately result from this conversation. It is not easy for someone her age to get all the paperwork to come to the states for an undergraduate degree. I am praying for her and for the other young Christian convert whom we met quite circumstantially — or providentially—depending upon your theology.
I wish she could come to Houghton. I think she would benefit from Houghton, and she would also enrich our community as we seek to become ever more a lively crossroads for preparing globally engaged Christians for the church and the world of the 21st century.
Whether or not I meet her again in this world, she gave me the gift of a renewed appreciation of the privilege to study and to worship in this place called Houghton College.
Grace and Peace to you on this beautiful June day.
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976