September 3, 2015


Six years and tens of thousands of dollars ago, I wrote a column in these pages about what I expected of the Adventist university to which my wife and I were just then delivering our firstborn son.

Like all pre-navigation instruments, it was a mix of both wariness and idealism, for who could know whether the turn-by-turn directions would lead him to the Slough of Despond or finally through Immanuel’s Land? I couldn’t see the off-screen parts: the late night—midnight—phone calls in which he would wrestle with daunting assignments due by noon, or the vivacious, beautiful young woman he would discover there, and love and wed. And yet I wrote, all eager that my son would find the challenge—and the value—I had found in Adventist higher education.

Somewhere, most likely in a Target bag or box of sundries waiting for a move, there is an artificial sheepskin indicating that he ran the race, that he finished the course. Two years post-graduation, he is now finishing a seminary degree, and soon will stand where I once stood to open Scripture week by week and learn to love the flock he has been given. His younger brother, just one year behind, is just one year from finishing a doctoral degree in physical therapy from the same university. My lumbar region, just above my wallet, is already anticipating the pain relief I have pre-paid.

Six years along, I count myself among the satisfied, not only that the tuition payments are coming to an end, but that the things I most desired for my sons all happened at their Adventist university. I wanted them to wrestle—and they did—with authors and with teachers who unsettled all the narrow certainties that limit adolescence. I prayed that they would sing the words of Isaac Watts while also finding faith through modern hymns that never get included in a hymn book. I wanted them to grapple with the grace I learned from Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as with the nihilism so on display in Nietzsche. I yearned for faithful science teachers who could sketch a universe still larger than they knew—and a God much greater than His universe.

These things I paid for—and they got—not neatly bundled or in a flawless fashion, but built, like faith, one stone per day upon the altar. More lastingly, they found a set of dedicated mentors at their Adventist university who pour their love and wisdom into other people’s children to nurture faith and stimulate a godly curiosity. These are the unsung heroes of the place, and I have learned the discipline of praying regularly for those who walked beside my sons upon the path. There is no paycheck large enough to thank the talented who teach and sweat and pray and serve to help the young find Christ’s celestial city.

Expectations are inevitably part history and part prophecy. We write from our experience, and trust the future to a Lord who keeps His promises far better than we know. My story is that Adventist parents are right to have high expectations of the colleges and universities we operate—and ought to say so when high goals are met.

This I do, with gratitude.