All the World's a Classroom
As a 21st century global citizen, a student at a secular university, and a worker in the circuit of campus ministry who lives in an urban(ish) culture, I live a very cerebral life. The bulk of my daily tasks is done in front of a computer and my brain is always doing this funny activity called thinking. Even my service activities in campus ministry are mostly cerebral.
While intellectualism has its rigor, if not balanced with other aspects of life, it can exhaust one to the very core, no matter if that intellectualism comes from academia, work, or ministry.
Since I first was introduced to campus ministry about 8.5 years ago, I’ve participated, undergone training, led, and taught others to give Bible studies, prayer meetings, visitations, and organize events. These components have made up the bulk of campus ministry activities that I’ve experienced thus far, and they have revived many out of spiritual slumber. But I have come to believe that this branch of ministry still lacks a very important component in its participants’ spiritual walk: service.
Yes, all of the aforementioned components are a form of service. But what I mean here is simply doing good for humanity and exercising compassion for the human family.
I think we already do some level of service in campus ministry through our investment in students, in friendships, and in mentor-mentee relationships. Yet the human family is much wider than just the campus community; it extends to the entire geographical span of our planet, as well as those in the past and future of this world. Perhaps, by reaching out to the greater sphere of humanity, our campuses will be more revived too.
It is not the abundance of your meetings that God accepts. It is not the numerous prayers, but the rightdoing, doing the right thing and at the right time. It is to be less self-caring and more benevolent. Our souls must expand. Then God will make them like a watered garden, whose waters fail not. (Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church Vol. 2, p. 35,36)
There are certain aspects of our character that will never be developed unless we go out and serve others as God wants us to do. Our souls must break through the wall of self and feel a tender sympathy for humanity that is not mere sentimentalism. This is what our Divine example, Jesus Christ, did on earth. He went about doing good.
Wouldn’t it be something if all campus ministers have the perfect symmetry in character development, becoming holistic human beings and holistic Christians? What would it look like to have a generation of students who love God supremely and love others as themselves? After all, the two greatest commandments are not mutually exclusive. As it has been sung before, “To love another person is to see the face of God..”
GYC 2011 in Houston, Texas was my eighth GYC, and I think it was the one at which I had the most fun. What made this GYC drastically different than any of its predecessors? This time around, instead of attending the conference, I was volunteering. I’ve volunteered in the past, but not to the extent that I would miss most of the meetings and seminars. This time, I really volunteered. And I don’t remember ever being so refreshed returning from a GYC conference.
My favorite part about volunteering at GYC was the part where I could work together with like-minded young people, with my favorite people in the world. I’d do any project with these ones. And not only I could work together with them, I could work together with them physically in one place. There’s nothing that can replace the synergy of a team other than being together. And the team that made up the Presidential Hospitality Department (PHD) at GYC 2011 was top notch! I’ve never seen such seamless and efficient execution of both planned and unplanned tasks.
Since I’m located in a place far away from most of my spiritual peers, this ability of working in a team is something I highly crave. It boosts my mood and quality of my work when I can do them with people. It is even a source of spiritual struggle when this doesn’t happen. In fact, this was the case the last few months of 2011. I was simply tired, not of working, but of working alone.
With that background, volunteering for PHD fulfilled perfectly my spiritual need. I needed to work more than I needed to sit in sermons or seminars. Being involved in service is the practical aspect of spirituality and it is equally (if not more) important than the theoretical. In fact, this practicality suited my day-to-day existence. Being in a working cycle, where I cannot rely on protracted amount of vacation time anymore, I can’t rely on breaks to get spiritually charged. I need to learn to find spiritual refreshments during the intense demands at work.
Most times, at least for me, when I think of spiritual needs, I think of the need to be fed through prayer, Bible studies, sitting in seminars or sermons, or being spiritually nursed by older and wiser mentors. And when I think of service, I think of it as a less important and optional aspect of my spiritual life, because in this case I am on the giving end instead of the receiving end.
I’d like to submit that service is a spiritual need. Working, getting physically tired from running around doing errands, taking care of other people – all of these are spiritual feedings. I experienced it first hand this GYC – gaining more refreshment by giving.
So, for all GYC attendees out there, I highly recommend volunteering at GYC, or anywhere, as a matter of fact. Volunteer at church, in the local communities, and engage in service. You need it!
Among my few metanarratives for 2011, one of them is attributed to books. In the beginning of last year I set a target for the number of books I wanted to read (80% of the books I own but haven’t read). That number came out to be 53. I ended up reading only 34 books in 2011, a number I can live with. Most of these books were read on the shuttle, train rides, and airport travels, and a small portion of stealing time here and there during meals and whatnot.
These printed friends of mine have been the most loyal companions in 2011, most gentle teachers, and most exciting travel buddies. In the absence of human companions, I’ve found many a friend in the authors of these books. In the last four months of the year, when grad school bulldozed over my life and basic necessities such as food and sleep were barely met, I clung on even more tightly to my books as an effort to keep at least one thing pleasant in my life. Somehow, I ended the year with an even more voracious appetite for reading than usual, reading 5 or 6 books in the week preceding GYC 2011.
I suppose it’s silly to express gratitude to inanimate objects, but in this case, a tribute to books is in order. What would my life be without them? They were my escapades from rough realities, they took me to places that I would probably never visit, and introduced me to people I would never meet. They expanded my horizon beyond the perimeters of my own world, and I owe a great deal to anything or anyone who has that function in my life.
In 2011, I traveled by foot across Afghanistan with Rory Stewart. I sat at the feet of Solomon and marveled at his wisdom through Ecclesiastes and its commentaries. I savored the brilliance of Ellen White’s Education beneath the shadows of Honduran hills and mountains. Amy Carmichael introduced me to the dear children she took care of in South India a century ago. With Condoleezza Rice, I went into negotiation rooms around the world and saw a glimpse of how history was made. I rode the thrill of Obama’s presidential campaign in the last election cycle with David Plouffe, and learned more about my home country from reading about the life of Stanley Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother.
Some authors can, as it were, cast a spell on me with their writing styles. I laughed with the best author in present-day Adventism (Clifford Goldstein) in his Mules that Angels Ride. Pramoedya Ananta Toer, effectively transported me to early 20th century rural Indonesia and told me stories of the children of the revolution. C. S. Lewis’ English beautified a common, yet profound topic in the human experience, the Four Loves. And finally, I was spellbound by Heschel’s ingenuity. “To become aware of the ineffable is to part company with words. The essence, the tangent to the curve of human experience, lies beyond the limits of language.” (Man is Not Alone, p. 16) Upon reading these words, my jaw dropped and I had to pause and regain composure from disbelief that someone actually penned such a beautiful sentence. Heschel was a genius.
When I was little I used to watch a Japanese anime called Doraemon, which was the name of a robotic cat from the future that had a magical pocket from which it could pull out cool, impossible gadgets. One of its staple gadgets was called the “Anywhere Door” that could open up and transport anyone to anywhere the person wished to go. To me, books are my “Anywhere Door.”
All the world’s a classroom.