A letter from Eric Hinderliter in Lithuania
This summer we have spent time reflecting on what we are doing as mission co-workers. There is renewed emphasis these days among those of the Reformed tradition on the integration of faith and learning. Just what is a “Christian college”? A new book focuses on concrete Christian practices.* It offers a game change approach to faith and learning: here the classroom is deemed as holy as the chapel. The focus is on the student experience in an intentional community committed to exhibiting the “good things” of a particular Christian tradition.
At LCC the recruitment of new students is taken very seriously; the college wants students to know “what they are getting into.” Nearly all admission events offer a real classroom experience. In May and June 100 high school students from Latvia, Ukraine and Russia spent a week at LCC. Most were just 16. Class sessions featured the book The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis. We wanted the students to experience the classroom where learning everyone’s name is important; all students are called on to speak because we think everyone has something valuable to contribute.
One of the three critical global issues to infuse PC(USA) world mission is: Two-thirds of the world’s people have never heard the good news of God’s love in Christ in a way that makes sense to them in their language and culture. Who will share with them this transforming love? The intriguing and challenging words are “a way that makes sense”—just how can young people from a post-Christendom, post-Soviet context “hear” the gospel in a way that they can see and understand? The LCC website declares: One of the goals of LCC International University education is for students to have an understanding of all of creation as the object of God’s redeeming love through Jesus Christ. Students explore the integration of Christian faith with all of life and they are invited to align their lives with God’s mission to renew all things. Bold words—but what does this mean for concrete practices?
As teachers we often wonder what the graduates of LCC take away from their experience at a Christian college. It has been rightly said that “any education worthy of the name has to be formative” (Smith & Smith, p. 9); this idea of formation (at LCC it is commonly referred to as "transformation") is central to a Christian college experience. Here are examples of the LCC experience, according to students:
• A 2009 graduate from Macedonia stopped by recently to talk about his work in the finance department of a Swedish machinery company. He said that the most important value in the company was integrity. Business relationships are based on trust and honesty. Integrity, he said, was a value he learned at LCC.
• Another business major from Moldova was part of an international business plan competition. What his team tried to do was to both make a profit and create social value. He was bothered that few of the other teams in the competition focused on creating value. The other teams were “just about making money,” he said.
• This summer we received this thoughtful e-mail from a 2011 graduate from Albania who is now studying in Freiburg, Germany: I just wanted to write you and simply thank you and give you a short update on how I am doing. I am doing well, thank God. I am approaching the end of what has been quite a filled semester, filled with encouragement and motivation from the Lord, filled with challenges but overflowing with blessings, and filled with just immense experience of the goodness of our God. It has been also filled with lots of hours in lectures and seminars, and of course, in the library… it is great to see how things make much more sense now. I still can't get away from my head the classes that I had at LCC and I am very thankful. I know I write you maybe a bit too often about this, but I can't express enough how thankful I am for having had the opportunity and privilege to receive such a great education and a great learning experience, a learning experience that goes beyond what is necessary to pass an exam (much of what I encounter here), but reaches the heart of the human motivation and makes it strive to learn and know more. I thank God for the classes that I had the chance to take with you and the time and energy that you invested in me.…
This is good news, the kind of appreciation teachers hope to receive. But more so, it is her last lines that tell us she learned some good Christian practices: If there is any day, sir, when you get discouraged, please remember how much people like me are and will always be thankful for people like you and your wife. All glory to God! Christian practices such as a word of encouragement are an important part of an abundant life. Teachers also need a good word now and then. “The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue; to know the word that sustains the weary” (Isaiah 50:4). It’s good practice.
So what’s next for us? By the time this newsletter reaches you many of you will be getting ready for the start of a new school year, either as students, teachers, or parents. What are important to remember are the Christian practices we are to embody: hospitality, acceptance, thankfulness, and encouragement. Even when the rich young man got it all wrong, Jesus had compassion: “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21). May our students see that look on our faces this fall.
Grace & Peace,
Becky & Eric Hinderliter
*David I. Smith & James K.A. Smith, Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Leaning (Eerdmans, 2011)
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 278