The Best People I Know

In terms of both solvency and sanity, I feel that my life these days is hanging by a fragile thread. For four years I have been teetering on the brink in both of these areas. (As for the “sanity” part, there are those, I’m sure, who are convinced that I have teetered a lot longer than four years, but that’s another post.)

My best friend in all the world (aside from my wife) said to me the other day, “From a purely human point of view, you have ample reason to be really angry with God.”

While I acknowledged the wisdom in his observation, I did not share with him the fact that some days I am really angry with God. And the more I try to make sense of my circumstances, the angrier I become, until I hear that unmistakable “thwiiiinnnnnggggg” which tells me that I need to step back and cool off, because the tension on the sanity thread has almost reached the breaking point.

After he made that comment, I sat down to think about why it is that I have not totally surrendered to the impulse I sometimes feel to throw in the towel on the whole “God thing.” Or why I have not said to all those people who constantly encourage me to “hang in there”—”Hey, you hang it in your wall locker!”

It’s not simply the truth that, when I became a believer, God the Holy Spirit took up residence in my body, so that, try as I might, the power of God at work in me is greater than my human desire to renounce my faith. That is all very true, and I am grateful that it is, but there is something else at work too.

And it’s not just that, despite some unpleasant factors in my life right now, I must acknowledge the obvious: I have good health, I have a wife and a daughter and a grandson who love me and whom I adore, and I have some really great friends, like the one I referred to above, who care about me and pray for me regularly. It’s even more than that.

The New Testament book of Hebrews (author unknown) reminds us of a profound and unavoidable truth in chapter 12, verses 1-3.

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The phrase, “such a great cloud of witnesses,” in verse one probably refers to that list of great “heroes of faith” which the author records in the preceding chapter. But I like to think that he (or she) also had in mind the faithful believers to whom we relate on more than a superficial level. People who care about us, look up to us, and watch carefully to see how we respond when life serves up something bitter or painful or unjust. People who trust us and rely on us to set an example of faithfulness and constancy irrespective of our circumstances.

In my case, if I define “great cloud of witnesses” in those terms, by far the largest contingent in the witness cloud would be the hundreds of students who took one or more of my courses during the fourteen years I served as a member of the faculty at Rosedale Bible College. It is to them, with gratitude and humility, that I dedicate this post, and in their honor have I chosen the title. They are some of “the best people I know.”

Rosedale Bible College is a tiny, two-year school in central Ohio, owned and operated by the Conservative Mennonite Conference. (If you are interested in the story of how I came to be associated with RBC, click the tab marked “Spiritual Pilgrimage” at the top of this post, and you will find it there.) Most of the students are Christian believers from the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition. Most (but not nearly all) enroll right out of high school, sometimes mainly as a way of gaining a little time to think about what they want to do with their lives.

Unlike other Bible colleges which sprang up in the early- to mid-twentieth century, RBC has never been “vocationally oriented.” Most students enroll in order to take courses in Bible content, theology, Christian education, missions, music, etc., but generally without an expectation that they are preparing for vocational Christian ministry.

Owing to the specialization in its curriculum and to the fact that the school lacks “regional accreditation,” its credits are not readily transferable to many state universities and other liberal arts colleges. This means that most RBC students enroll with the full knowledge that, if they plan to complete an undergraduate degree in another school, their RBC credits may not transfer and, therefore, the time required to complete their education will be extended. That fact alone says a great deal about the quality and character and dedication of the students who attend RBC.

When I embarked on a career in vocational Christian ministry more than forty years ago, I never envisioned that any portion of it would be spent as a member of a college faculty. I never taught in any school besides RBC, so my experience is limited to a very small segment of the American college-student population. And I have not been in the classroom since 2008, and things have changed since then, even for RBC. But those disclaimers notwithstanding, I was privileged to have in my classes some of the finest human beings I have met in all of my life.

That is not a comment on RBC as an institution or me as a teacher. It is a comment on the quality of the homes and the parents who produced young adults of such stellar character and admirable devotion to Christ and His kingdom. Some of those homes sent two, three, or more students to RBC, and each one was a quality product. As a parent myself, I know the challenges associated with parenting, and when I reflect on the consistency and integrity exhibited by so many of my former students, my respect for their parents knows no bounds.

I’m not looking backwards through rosy-tinted glasses. Some of my students were (to borrow a phrase from my grandfather) “real knot-heads.” Not all of them were academically astute, but many were. Not all of them could make it at an Ivy League university, but very many of them could.

The students I had in my earliest years at RBC are now parents themselves and well-established in careers. Most are active in church life. Some are pastors and missionaries. Some are scholars and teachers. Some are farmers. Some have gone into medicine and health care or other professions.

Many have completed their undergraduate degrees, several at my own alma mater (which makes me particularly proud). More than one has earned a doctorate. Several have gone on to well-known and academically rigorous graduate schools and seminaries. At least one is even preparing for Holy Orders in the Anglican Communion!

But even more significant than all their accomplishments is the over-arching and undergirding fact that these were, and are, just really good people. Both individually and in the aggregate, they touched my life in profoundly important ways. I owe them a debt of gratitude which I shall never, in this lifetime, be able to repay.

I am grateful, too, for Facebook, which has made it possible for me to stay in touch with so many of them.

I miss them all, and I miss the experience of teaching them in the classroom at RBC. God brought that chapter of my pilgrimage to an end four years ago. So far, in His infinite wisdom, He hasn’t fully shown me why. But because I know that my students are still watching me, I keep trusting Him, in hopes that, sooner or later, I will understand.

In the meantime, I take immense satisfaction from the memories of my years at RBC and from the reports that continue to come to me of God’s faithfulness in the lives of my students. They are the best people I know.

To them I say, “Thank you so very much. Go on, now. Make me proud.”

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3 thoughts on “The Best People I Know

  1. Just as you rejoice in these wonderful students, I have every expectation that countless hundreds of them rejoice in the many clearly-thought-through truths you shared with them. More so, how pleased God must be with your faithful service to Christ and His Kingdom.

  2. Funny you talk about hanging by a thread. You introduced me to Brennan Manning, whose writing undid my faith to the point that I felt like I was hanging by a thread, but simultaneously realized the thread was God himself.

    I was also prompted to read Blue Like Jazz after seeing it in your office several times. I figured anything that occupied your shelf was worth checking out. It was Donald Miller’s writing that sparked a passion in me to write.

    If we’re the best people you know, you might have something to do with that.

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