Several dozen good friends. . . most that I haven’t seen for years . . . will be gathering tomorrow for a 35th reunion on the campus of Geneva College. I won’t be able to be there due to a prior commitment. But the event has served to stir up my continued gratitude to God for giving me the gift of four years at Geneva College. In fact, this isn’t even a reunion for my graduating class. But 36 years after I graduated, I still treasure friendships with the class that followed.
“Good friends” and “haven’t seen for years” is a bit of an oxymoron, I know. But these are friendships that run so deep because of shared experiences. . . and they somehow wind up being timeless. In many ways, our time together seems like just yesterday.
All this has set me to thinking this week about the obvious hand of God as He has directed my life in such clear ways. As I’ve said before, I’m deeply grateful for three institutions that have shaped my life, my family, and my ministry. . . . Geneva College, The Coalition for Christian Outreach, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. This divine direction became clear in the summer of 1973 when my parents and I took a couple of long drives to check out the two colleges that were at the top of my list. . . both beginning with the letter “G”. Each of those visits were fine. But on a lark, my dad mentioned after one Western Pennsylvania college visit that he had seen another “G” college advertised in the back of a Campus Life magazine. “We’re only a half-hour or so away,” he said. “Let’s drive down.” And so we did. While I had never heard of Geneva College, that visit wound up turning me into one of those fortunate kids who drive away from the school knowing with certainty, “Yep. This is the place.”
The next year I arrived on campus knowing absolutely nobody. Four years after that, I cried with friends as we shed our caps and gowns and departed for the rest of our lives. Now, I look back and continue to file those four years at Geneva in one of the folders that sit in “The Best Years of My Life” drawer next to folders marked “Marriage,” “Children,” “Massachusetts,” “Ministry,” and more. I am so grateful.
What is it that made my college years and experience so good? There are too many things to mention. But highlighting the list are things like community, friendships, professors who loved Jesus and loved me, spiritual nurture, learning to frame all of life in the unfolding Biblical drama of redemption, learning how to learn, dining hall conversations, independence, the transition to adulthood, and discovering what it means to submit my life to the Lordship of Christ. My college experience was so incredibly positive, that I have wished it for everyone I love. I told someone the other day, “It was almost magical.” God clearly picked me up and put me on that campus. And when I left, I was a markedly different person from when I had arrived. The divine Potter had me on His western Pennsylvania pottery wheel.
I know that for those friends who will be reuniting on campus today and tomorrow, the story is the same. We’ve talked about that over the years. We were there at a special time of spiritual revival. That’s a whole other story. Again, that makes me even more grateful to God.
As I talk to kids today, I lament the fact that so many don’t have a similar experience. The tyranny of the urgent or choosing online educational options limit the chance to experience deep community. Maybe the passion for taking advantage of the gift of college. . . determining to make the most of it. . . just isn’t there. Or their college years are never seen in the larger context of choosing to live within God’s grand narrative for all of life. I pray that this will change. I know firsthand just how awesome it can be.
So, to all those who made sure that Geneva College was doing what it was doing forty years ago this year when I arrived on campus, thanks again. Your work, your passion, and your mission made a difference in this guy’s life. I hope that I have represented you and the Christ you serve well.
And to my friends who will be on campus this weekend, enjoy yourselves! And if you happen to hit up the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe. . . eat one for me.