Appreciating the Significance of ‘Divine Moments’

At George Fox University, conversations about “purpose” and “human flourishing” are commonplace with our students. While we are certainly concerned with whether or not our students are adequately prepared for their chosen vocation, we are equally concerned that they understand why they are here. One of the scholars I most admire is Francis Collins, a noted scientist and one of the main individuals behind the human genome project. In addition to his work as a scientist, Dr. Collins is a deeply committed Christian. I was recently rereading his work, The Language of God, and found one story particularly meaningful.

Francis CollinsIn the summer of 1989, Dr. Collins and his college-age daughter volunteered to serve at a local hospital in the village of Eku in the delta of the Niger River. Their visit enabled a group of long-serving missionary physicians to get some rest and attend an annual conference. As he was thinking about the trip, he wrote: “I was aware that my own medical skills, dependent as they were upon the high-tech world of an American hospital, might be poorly matched to the challenges of unfamiliar tropical diseases and little technical support.”

The conditions were much worse than expected. There were not enough beds, and patients were sleeping on the floor. Their families took the responsibility for care and feeding since the hospital could not. Patients came to the hospital after suffering for many days with progressive illness – and usually only came to the hospital when all else failed. The experience was hard for Collins to accept. “It became abundantly clear that the majority of the diseases I was called upon to treat represented a devastating failure of the public health system. Tuberculosis, malaria, tetanus and a wide variety of parasitic diseases … While I was there I grew more and more discouraged, wondering why I had ever thought that this trip would be a good thing.”

One afternoon a young farmer came into the clinic with progressive weakness and significant swelling of the legs. Dr. Collins took his pulse and noted that it disappeared every time he took a breath. Although he could not confirm it by testing, he was sure that this was the result of a large amount of fluid in the pericardial sac around his heart. The fluid was essentially threatening to choke off his circulation and take his life and was probably the result of the development of tuberculosis.

Although Dr. Collins could treat the disease with drugs, the man’s condition would not improve quickly enough to save his life. The only solution was to take a large bore needle and draw off the pericardial fluid surrounding the heart. In the United States such a procedure would only be attempted by a specialist with the right equipment, neither of which were present in Eku. Dr. Collins communicated the risks to the patient, and when he agreed to move forward, Collins proceeded. The procedure was successful and Collins drew roughly a quart of blood from the young man’s body – success!

Dr. Collins noted that, for a few hours after the surgery, he felt a sense of elation. But over the next several hours the “gloom,” as he calls it, returned. “The circumstances that had led this young man to acquire tuberculosis were not going to change … The chances for long life in the Nigerian farmer were poor.”

I could imagine Dr. Collins asking himself, “Why did I risk saving him in the first place?”
The next morning Collins went to the bedside of the young man and found him reading his Bible. His condition had improved substantially. He asked if Collins had worked at the hospital very long. “No, I am just visiting.” Then he said the words Dr. Collins said he would forever remember: “I get the sense you are wondering why you came here. I have an answer for you. You came here for one reason. You came here for me!”

As he stopped and reflected, Frances Collins thought, “I was stunned. Stunned that he could see so clearly into my heart, but even more stunned at the words he was speaking … With a few simple words he had put my grandiose dreams of being the great white doctor to shame. He was right. We are each called to reach out to others. On rare occasions that can happen on a grand scale. But most of the time it happens in simple acts of kindness of one person to another. Those are the events that really matter … I was in harmony with God’s will, bonded together with this young man in a most unlikely but marvelous way.”

Often we are too caught up in the “big things” to realize the significance of “divine moments.” God placed us here to make a difference in the lives of the people we touch. Our promise is to “Be Known.” The reality is that you can get an education anywhere. But here, at George Fox University, it is our vision to provide students an opportunity to gain something much deeper – a life – to see as God sees. For a moment in 1989, in the heart of Africa, an internationally known scientist and doctor gained insight into his soul. He began to see as God sees, and he brought healing and grace to a young man who also gave him deeper insight into Dr. Collins’ own purpose for living.

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Sports and Civility

I love this Theodore Roosevelt quote (although it needs to be extended today to women) …

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly . . . 
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What Does the Future Hold for Higher Education?

It is so difficult to know what the future holds for any organization. This past week the Oregon Business Council gathered the leaders of Oregon universities, private and public, to think together about the future of higher education in the state. America has understood, perhaps better than other cultures, that advances in education are also inexorably linked to significant improvements in the economy at both a personal and broad-based cultural level. Perhaps that is why so many are concerned about the future; for the first time in American history it appears that the current generation will not exceed the educational attainment levels of their parents.
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Considering the Future of Higher Education

The Apostle Paul once reflected on the future by noting that, in this life, we see “through a glass darkly.” That has been particularly true of the state of higher education for the past five years. Since the great recession of 2007-08, American universities have undergone dramatic change and some of our basic assumptions about the future have been challenged.
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Amish Grace

Every fall the presidents of the Consortium of Christian Colleges gather to dialogue. We discuss the challenges facing our institutions and our families, and we share and seek spiritual growth as a group of Christian leaders. Ruth and I have had the opportunity to attend seven of these gatherings, and they have become more meaningful over time.
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‘Packing Light’ – Part 2

I’m not sure why I like to collect “stuff,” but I do. Perhaps some of it comes from the fact that my family moved a lot when I was growing up and having “things” seems to give me a feeling of permanence. I know you are thinking that, from a logical standpoint, that is ridiculous – things aren’t permanent. True, but when it comes to collections, I am not very reasonable.

After reading alumna (MAT program) Allison’s book I thought that I might collect “things” because I don’t really trust God. Collecting things does give me a sense of control in a world as president where I always seem to be responding to some event or crisis. I have always thought it was funny that many people believe that when you’re a president you have “control” of most of your life. The opposite seems to be the case.
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‘Packing Light’ – Part 1

OK, first a disclaimer: I need to tell you that my communications staff consistently tells me I don’t know how to write a blog – I write too much. What you must remember is that I am at heart a historian. To really tell a story takes time. So if you are one of those persons who really need to have something stated in two paragraphs or fewer, this story is not for you.

About two weeks ago I was going up the staircase in the Stevens Center and made my usual brief stop in our admissions office. I started a conversation when Mandee Wilmot asked, “Would you like a copy of my sister’s book?” Well, I really didn’t need another book to read at the moment, but Mandee was so sincere and, after all, it was her sister. So, I took the book, placed it in my bag and thought, “I will get to it sometime.”
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Taking Tara to College

This past weekend we welcomed more than 700 students to George Fox University for the fall of 2013. On Thursday evening several of us host a session with parents where we talk about their hopes and dreams and how George Fox can partner with them in achieving the goals of their student. It is never easy to leave a child at college. Although Tara is our third child (and we have done this before!) it proved to be just as hard to leave her as it was for Jacob and Rebekah.
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Thoughts on a life well lived


In our culture, death and the subsequent funerals are often hidden from view. We do not like to be reminded that our time on earth is limited. We are bombarded in the media with “visions” of youth, and many of us are constantly engaged in efforts to retain our youthful vigor as long as possible! In my case, I am addicted to running. I run most every day and it does help keep me relatively healthy. One disadvantage in my community (George Fox University) is that I am constantly reminded that the “distance” between me and the college students grows greater each year.
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Free Expression in the 21st-Century World

I have just returned from Dalian, China, where we were advancing our partnerships with several universities in the region. While I was away, an obscure video on YouTube that satirizes the Prophet Mohammad resulted in protests throughout the Muslim world and perhaps directly led to the death of the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. At the very least, the video served as a catalyst for anti-American and anti-Western sentiment in much of the Arab world.
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