Each year (since 2001), Christian professors at Oklahoma State University personally deliver welcome gifts to their new faculty colleagues.
In addition to a custom coffee mug full of coffee, tea, and chocolate, the gift includes a couple of books: the practical volume How to Make Tenure by retired professor Dr. Rae Mellichamp, and Mere Christianity, written by Oxford and Cambridge professor C.S. Lewis.
The card with the gift from the OSU Fellowship of Christian Faculty and Staff notes, “We desire that you see success in the academy as well as in other areas by achieving an integrated and balanced life.”
Faculty Commons staff Gary and Gena Hellman designed these welcome gifts to be conversation starters. “American professors are some of the most influential people in the world,” Gary explains. “We hope our gift will begin to break down that false caricature they have developed about Jesus.”
And it does. One professor, who had rejected Christianity as unintellectual, read Mere Christianity and it awakened his soul. He eventually became a follower of Jesus.
Another professor moved on after a few years from OSU to a university in another state. When he ran into a professor from OSU’s Christian faculty group at a conference, he made a point to tell him that he had read the Mere Christianity he received in his welcome gift. And he now was a Christian himself.
One of our goals at Faculty Commons is that every professor will know another professor who truly follows Jesus. New faculty welcome gifts help us make those introductions.
“If I just had one student come by my office each year to say thank you, that would be enough,” a Penn State University professor told Faculty Commons staff Ashley Holleman. Then he added, “However, I never get that student.”
Instead, professors hear from the whiners and complainers: the student who got a grade he didn’t like, the one who needs a reference–tomorrow–for grad school that she really doesn’t deserve.
Last semester was different at Penn State; more than 40 Cru students handed their professors this invitation. The students explained that Cru was a Christian group on campus and was hosting the dinner to thank and bless professors.
Most of them–37 of them!–said “yes” and enjoyed a beautiful four-course dinner at a classy hotel near campus. The Cru students ran the evening. Over dinner, the students told the others at their table of six what they appreciated about the professor seated next to them.
“This was the scariest part of the whole evening for us,” Ashley remembers. But the awkward silence he feared never materialized. Instead, conversation flowed throughout the room as the professors relaxed and enjoyed the evening. Many on-going conversations about spiritual topics were launched that evening.
Two senior students spoke briefly to the whole group about their gratitude and their personal faith stories. “It was so cool to see the gospel presented in such a way that professors could understand it,” Ashley tells us. “It really was meaningful to them.”
Clearly, it was. When they were dismissed, no one left. The conversations continued as God led these Christian students into the real lives of real people (their own professors) who need a real Savior.
And the professor who longed to hear one student thank him? He was content. After dinner, he told Ashley how much it meant to have an entire evening dedicated to that “thank you.”
We were delighted to host our old friends Dr. Bill and Lisa Miller on our last day of ministry at the University of Bologna. We met them while Bill was finishing his PhD in political philosophy in Dallas. For the last seven years, Bill has been serving as a Christian professor in Prague, Czech Republic.
I met Bill and Lisa’s night train from Munich and took them to meet our UNT student team. These American students had been meeting and talking with Italian students about spiritual issues all week long. They listened intently as Bill explained how difficult it is to explain the good news of God’s love and forgiveness to an agnostic or atheist European:
- Europeans view Christianity the way Americans view communism–as a failed ideology.
- It takes 3-5 years for a European to decide to truly follow Jesus.
- They need to hear the gospel several times before they truly understand it.
- It’s crucial for our UNT group to maintain their new friendships and keep the spiritual conversations going over social media.
After lunch, we settled into a coffeehouse in the university quarter, where Bill and Lisa spent the afternoon with two UNIBO students.
Eva, a Czech student from Prague, queried Bill about Christianity and political philosophy.
Bill discussed the challenges of being a Christian professor with PhD student Fabricio, who will soon complete his degree and go home to teach at a Brazilian university.
After dinner with our team of Texans, the Millers enjoyed (what else?) late-night gelato with the UNT students before catching the night train to Vienna.
The back room at Lab 16, an eatery in the university quarter, was packed with students who wanted to practice their English conversation with our group from America. We expected 30…more than 60 people came! Daryl was trying to get out the door for a breath of fresh air and kept running into new Italians who said, “Where are the Americans? We came to talk to them.”
We connected our new friends with the 7-person team of Americans who live in Bologna and work with Agape Italia year-round. They are scheduling one-on-one conversations with the University of Bologna students through their Facebook page. As you can see, it is already up to nearly 1000 “likes”!
Yesterday we renewed our friendship with Milli (in the middle), a medical student from Bosnia who we met last summer. On the left is Gwen, one of our team members. She teaches art at an elementary school in Dallas.
We enjoyed cappuccino and conversation with Milli at Cafe Zamboni, the coffee shop where John Grisham wrote his novel, The Broker. From left: Ceil, Milli, Gwen, Jamie and Leah, a senior at UNT.
This photo speaks for itself–Delizioso!!
As I write this, Daryl and I are sitting in the Apple Store in Bologna (one of two Apple Stores in all of Italy) praying for the UNT students on our team who are in the university quarter meeting Italian students.
We are working with a team of five Americans who live here year-round. We meet together each morning for worship, devotional, and training. Then each afternoon our American students split up in teams of two or three to meet Italian students, make new friends, learn about Italian culture, and (when possible), have conversations in English about spiritual issues.
The piazza that serves as a lunch spot in the university quarter:
UNT students Grethe and Leah:
Jamie in Piazza Verdi:
Italian students are generally eager to meet Americans and practice their English. Yesterday Emily and Alicia (one of the Americans who is here long-term) met a young woman who wanted to learn how to know God personally. They had the privilege of telling her, using an iPhone app that explains the gospel in both Italian and English.
Thanks for your prayers! More later…
We’ve written before about the annual Symposium that Christian professors and laypeople in West Lafayette, Indiana host at Purdue University. This year’s event features a debate between renowned Christian apologist William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg, an atheist and professor of philosophy at Duke University.
The debate will take place Friday February 1, 2013, 7:00-9:30 pm, in Elliot Hall of Music at Purdue University. Most of us can’t make it to Indiana for the event, but…
You can watch this debate live online! Faculty Commons’ director at Purdue, Corey Miller, explains the possibilities here.
What a great opportunity to gather friends, seekers, students to view a debate on the greatest question of life. For information on how to access the live webcast, contact Corey through the Symposium website here.
A Chinese graduate student pointed to the unfamiliar foods on her plate and asked me, “Which one of these is the stuffing?” Twenty-two Chinese students from SMU were gathered in a professor’s home to sample our traditional Thanksgiving dishes and hear the story of this quintessential American holiday.
This ministry to Chinese graduate students, launched by a professor in her living room over ten years ago, was christened Guanxi (which means “connection” in Chinese) when it was adopted by our church in Dallas.
A team of volunteers provides weekly “English Corner” classes to help the students master this new language and learn American customs. I match the students with American friendship partners recruited from our church.
Because they are raised in an officially atheist country, most Chinese students are curious to learn more about Christianity during their time in the U.S. At our Thanksgiving and Easter group parties, we teach them about the God to Whom we are thankful, and the Savior whose sacrifice paid for the sins of the whole world–including theirs.
We already have cause for thanksgiving this season. One of the students who arrived in the U.S. just a few months ago is now a believer in Jesus!
Rejoice with us, and have a blessed Thanksgiving!
Are you, like us, moved by the vivid photos of the devastation in the Northeast from Hurricane Sandy?
Would you like to provide tangible help to those who are most in need?
Cru’s Here’s Life Inner City ministry has already built a network of 100 partner ministries in New York City. These groups are ready to distribute urgently needed food to families whose neighborhoods have been wiped out by the storm.
Just $36.71 will provide a Box of Love in Jesus’ name, with more than enough food to feed an inner-city family of six.
Click here to join us in showing Jesus’ loving care to needy storm victims.
Carving pumpkins is a novel activity for Chinese students. But they plunged into the fray with relish and produced some remarkably detailed creations that put most American efforts to shame.
Our Guanxi Ministry to Chinese grad students at Southern Methodist University hosted a fall picnic for our new Chinese friends this past Saturday. In addition to carving pumpkins, we introduced them to caramel apples and football. Nearly 30 students attended, taking a welcome break from their rigorous study schedules on a beautiful fall day.
Most of the students have only been in the US since August. Guanxi hosts a weekly gathering called “English Corner” in which we teach American customs, a story from the Bible, and help the students practice their conversational English. They took turns describing their pumpkin creations to the group.
Please pray for our next gathering on November 18th. We will meet at an SMU professor’s home near campus for a Thanksgiving feast. The students always enjoy trying our traditional American Thanksgiving foods. And we will have an opportunity to tell them about the origins of the holiday, including the God to whom we are thankful.