On March 9, 1921, a ship left the port of Naples, Italy to America. I imagine the passengers had mixed emotions as they left behind all that was familiar to chase an opportunity for a new life. A little over two weeks later, the manifest records arrival at the Port of New York.
Among the immigrants is a young man who is processed through Ellis Island. He passes a physical health exam, answers NO to the questions of being an anarchist or polygamist, gives an address – 2364 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn – as his residence and is set free to find his way in the city of New York.
The following years were marked with hard work and sacrifice. He had to have grit and determination in a place that was so far from the familiarity of home. He had to create a new sense of home.
After a year in America, a young lady catches his eye. It is not her beauty that initially attracts him. It is the fact that she is carrying not one, but two trash cans down the steps of the brownstone where she lived to the street. Impressed by her strength and work ethic, he decides to take a chance and knock on the door. This is the beginning of a love story that grows into a family with 6 children, the youngest of which will eventually be my father.
My grandfather, Angelo and his bride, Maria, were both immigrants. Searching for a new life, they came to America. Life in America was not easy. It was defined by hard work and sacrifice. Tragedy struck when Maria passed away from an illness, my father was nine years old. Angelo lives to see his youngest son get married but dies soon after. I was the first grandchild born after his death, ironically on his birthday.
The memories that are painted in my mind come not from an eyewitness account, but from the telling and retelling of stories of the many people who loved my grandparents. Their children and grandchildren who had the opportunity to go to school, become professionals, serve in the military, raise their families, and enjoy a better life because of a sacrifice made on their behalf.
We, the generations that follow, continue to keep that Legacy alive.
130 years ago, a group of families arrived in Keene, Texas, with a mandate to build a school. A parcel of land was purchased, and this group of pioneers began building. Documents show that families piled into a few houses and others lived in tents while constructing the first school building and dormitory.
Soon, Keene Industrial Academy was launched with 56 students. Students were asked to bring their axes to school, and they earned $6-$8 a month clearing land to help pay their tuition. The history of the school over time includes hardship. Fires destroyed buildings, war hit America, civil unrest erupted, but the mission of this place provided endurance. The campus evolved with the introduction of plumbing, electricity, the telephone, typewriters and eventually computers, the internet, and other modern technologies we now enjoy.
Keene Industrial Academy became Southwestern Junior College and then Southwestern Adventist College and now Southwestern Adventist University.
The Legacy of Southwestern is not in the improvements and changes made over time, but in the mission that remained, even as times changed.
In one document from the 1940’s, the nursing department organized a student nursing association with the tagline “Service, not serve us” – Let it not be lost that our current tagline is “Knowledge, Faith, and Service”
We are continuing this Legacy IN a new generation, but FOR the same mission.
But how is Legacy Lived?
A Legacy is not created with one BIG Life altering decision to chase a dream. Those types of decisions come from Faith. Hebrews 11 begins … “Now Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
By faith, Abel brought God a better offering
By faith, Noah built the ark
By faith, Abraham travels to the “promised land” even though he didn’t know where he was going
By faith, Sarah bears a child well past childbearing age
By faith, Abraham offers his son as a sacrifice
By faith, Moses’ parents hid him after he was born
By faith a decision is made to follow a calling for our lives. Seldom does making that decision result in a smooth path. More often, on the other side of that decision comes work, persistence, and sacrifice.
A Legacy is not created with one BIG decision. Instead, it is created by the daily choices, made by faith. It is the persistent, difficult, and sometimes seemingly insignificant, small actions that result in a lasting legacy.
Hebrews 12 paints this picture for us.
We, a community, are each other’s witnesses. We are called to throw off anything that hinders us and run, with endurance. The word endurance does not define a sprint, but a marathon. The word endurance means we are in it for the long run. We will experience shortness of breath or injury, maybe we will stumble and have to find a way back up. BUT we will also experience the runners high and the encouragement of a community cheering us on and the beautiful sight of the finish line – where Jesus is waiting for us.
He is waiting for us at that eternal finish line because he went before us and ran the race first. Jesus was the pioneer! He cleared the hardest path and endured the cross so that our race would include a victory. A victory that He earned! That is the Legacy of Jesus. And because of that Legacy, he asks us to consider him so that we don’t become weary and lose heart.
We are HERE today by faith. Southwestern Adventist University IS a part of our life story and we will be a part of the legacy that continues.
What will that Legacy look like? That depends on the daily steps that God is asking us to take.
What talents are you called to develop? What trials are you willing to endure? What decisions will you make while running the race before you? Will you cheer for the person on your left or your right who is running their race as well? Will you throw off the things that are slowing you down and focus on the finish line?
How will your days be spent? Will you take the time to learn something new, make a friend, help a stranger, answer your calling to serve God? Will you engage with others and create community? Will you remember that life takes endurance?
Just like our ancestors who immigrated to America, the pioneers who arrived in Keene, the Heros whose stories shaped the Bible, Once we confidently decide to take that BIG leap of Faith, be prepared, the path will not always be easy…
But, if we really want to Leave a Legacy, we are called to Live a Legacy.