God is always surprising our world by starting large things in small places.
Who would have thought to make the Children of Israel the centerpiece of His plan for engaging humanity rather than one of the major world empires? Who would have thought to send the Savior of the World to the tiny village of Bethlehem rather than the metropolis of Rome? Who would have thought to start the Protestant Reformation in a small church in Wittenberg rather than any one of the large Medieval abbeys? Who would have thought to ignite the Wesleyan revival in a chapel in Aldersgate rather than the Cathedral of St. Paul’s?
Houghton College is one of those small places where, for 132 years, God has been doing very large things. In the 1880s, Mr. Willard Houghton, a farmer in the small canal town of Houghton Creek, New York, felt God’s calling to “fix up the world” for Jesus Christ. He saw a world challenged by poverty, inequality, violence and addiction. He believed that, through education and the power of the Gospel, the world could be changed. It is that conviction and that imagination that have been the hallmarks of Houghton since its founding. Since 1883, God has been using Houghton to invite and prepare “small,” ordinary people to live “large,” extraordinary lives that they never imagined possible.
I first came to Houghton in 1966 when my father was hired to teach Bible and philosophy. Even in junior high, I knew this was no ordinary place. Houghton had connections to every corner of the world. On any given Sunday, there were people in the church from all over the globe. (Today, over half of Houghton’s faculty have lived or worked for part of their lives outside the United States.) Houghton was full of opportunities to expand my horizons. There were concerts, lectures and athletic events of all sorts. There were older adults who cared about young people and were willing to invest in us. There were big questions—always inviting me to think more deeply about my faith and how it connected to the real world.
Not surprisingly, after six years in the community, I chose to attend Houghton College.
It was at Houghton that I discovered my calling—what God wanted me to do in the world. It came, in part, through discovering my love for history. It was also because my faculty mentor gave me opportunities to do things I’d never thought possible—speak in public, offer a tutorial to younger students in Western Civ. My faculty mentor saw potential in me for college teaching and administration that I would not have seen in myself. It was through Houghton that I first travelled overseas, starting with a January term in Rome, Athens, Cairo and Jerusalem and followed by a summer missions program to Belgium. It was at Houghton that I had opportunities to serve and lead that prepared me for future possibilities I could not have imagined at the time.
Since 2006, I have had the privilege as Houghton’s president to see the Houghton story written again and again in the lives of alumni and current students. While each story is different—shaped by each individual’s gifts and personality—the pattern is the same. An ordinary but aspiring student with potential is, enlarged and transformed by a Houghton education, making an impact for good in the world in a way that the person had never imagined possible.
I invite you to see yourself in the Houghton story—to imagine the large life that God might be calling you to in this place.
Grace and Peace to you,
Shirley Mullen, Class of 1976