Over the past week, the last 9 words of the introduction to the TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, have rung in my ears, “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” None of my colleagues in higher education has ever seen their campuses so quiet. At no time has higher education seen a dearth of face-to-face classes, athletic games, student association activities, faculty and staff meetings, alumni homecoming celebrations, banquets, fieldtrips, internships, and more. Even with the eerie silence on our campus, I have seen firsthand a boldness among our faculty and staff that I have not witnessed before. It reminds me of the expression, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I have seen a strengthening of commitment, a doubling down among employees to boldly go where they have not gone before. This is what I have experienced over the past week.
1. Last Friday, our Chef converted his parking area into a drive through. An invitation was extended to all faculty and staff to pass through the parking area between noon and one. Administrators donned with masks and gloves handed out boxes of food that included a delicious homemade meal of salad, entrée, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, dessert, and drink to say thank you to the faculty and staff for their service to our students during these difficult times.
2. I found a small box on my desk with a label saying, “God’s Promises for Ken”. When I opened the box, there were probably 100 Bible promises on small slips of paper, all personalized with my name on it. The first one I read was, “Come to me, Ken, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30. I later learned that several other faculty and staff members received similar personalized promise boxes. One of our nursing faculty members had provided each of these special gifts.
3. Social media connections have never been higher and the bold intentionality of our staff and faculty has been amazing. Being a private Christian college with our University family desiring to live by faith, our daily Bible study (Lifehouse) continues. Our four main worships services are well attended online. Around 11:00 a.m. each day, faculty, staff, and students have provided short video and written devotions to encourage the Southwestern family and brighten their days.
4. Our VP for Financial Administration came to me with a bold idea of continuing to pay our student workers who were no longer able to work. The decision was made to make this a reality for our students this semester, knowing that this would assist them and their families during this very difficult time.
5. Three weeks ago, the staff at Southwestern Adventist University decided they wanted to reach out to every student every week. There is no better way to determine how our students are doing than by talking with them personally. On Monday, we each receive 15 student names. I, like the other staff, have enjoyed my conversations with students, praying with them, answering their questions, and passing on specific concerns to those who can help. We have learned how some students are enjoying their zoom classes, one had a baby so taking classes from home has been a blessing, some are caring for their younger siblings who are home from school while their parents work, and a few have shared that one of their parents has lost their job. We have experienced students who are responding with their own prayers and encouraging thoughts to lift up the spirits of the staff.
6. Although unable to go on their spring break mission trip to the Navajo Nation, the Navajo Mission Team sent $1,000 worth of supplies and gift cards to a community center in Fort Defiance, Arizona. This allowed the community center to provide basic necessities to families and to provide activity bags to children who are sheltering in place on the reservation.
7. Our Director of Advancement was touched by the plight of some our students, and launched a new initiative, “Fighting Food & Housing Insecurity Fund.” This program aims at securing funding to assist students who are struggling financially and restocking the shelves in our food pantry so we can continue to meet the needs of our community students.
It would be very easy during this pandemic to do nothing, but that is not who we are. We understand that we have a calling to use our gifts. I like how 1 Peter 4:7-11 says it.
“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
It is a privilege for me to work alongside individuals who love each other deeply, who desire the good of others, who give generously of their time and resources, who use their gifts to be of service to others, and who boldly go where no one has gone before.