Wednesday, January 27, 2010

37 That's What Faith Must Be

Shortly after returning from England but before the school year started, an event occurred which at first initialy really helped my faith; in due time, however, it really shook it. I was at church doing my pastorly duties when a bit of a commotion started in the lobby. It turned out that two brothers, just barely adults, had hitchhiked all the way from an unstable region in Southern Mexico to come to Angwin, a trip that just taken just over a week because they had felt that God had told them that they were to attend PUC. They had left with very little money, illegal status in the country and a great trust that God had called them to this school. I don’t recall why they felt PUC in particular (there are several schools closer to them in the Adventist system) but they had made it all the way to my church and now they were telling this great story in my lobby.

I was fascinated by this story, by the profound leap of faith to trust that God had called and that he would provide. The church family had various reactions: most were moved and wanted to help out in whichever way possible to help their dream become a reality, some were skeptical and suggested that this was very manipulative. The brothers stuck around, heard my sermon and then I invited them home for lunch. Few people I’ve ever met said things with the strong assurance that they had; at times the older brother (clearly the driving force) came across as arrogant and stubborn but one would assume that to leave home and country to carry on such a big gamble you would almost have to be. They had nowhere to stay so Shannon and I lent them our couches and gave them our food. Because they were staying at my house and I was often gone from home doing my pastorly duties, they spend their evenings with Shannon who felt much sympathy for them and was bothered by the fact they might have to go back. They were from an area full of not only poverty but conflict, instability and violence. She got to know them better than anyone else did and she was able to exercise that gift which has always been one of her best assets, seeing past the surface of people. She could see past the older brother’s arrogance to see that it was simply the way he demonstrated his faith in God, people, in life itself. The tools in his box were all big and blunt, not lending themselves to fine detail work but his sincerity was in the right place. The younger brother had a more quiet approach, definitely a follower but still believing quietly that doing the right thing, trusting, reaching out, leaping out was worth the risk. Landing on your face was the risk you had to take if you wanted to fly. They even had the complex addition to the formula that their English left much to be desired but they believed full heartedly each and every obstacle could be overcome. Shannon quietly dubbed them the miracle boys.

Since I had previously worked with the recruitment office, I set to work at trying to make things happen and set up appointment with the financial office, the recruiting office and even a couple of the vice presidents to try to make things happen for them. The reactions here were more “realistic” as PUC cost nearly 20 grand a year including tuition, books, room and board. The brothers were willing, wanting to work as much as possible to earn as much of that as they could. Everyone appreciated the story, even admired it but they kept passing the buck to someone else, recruitment officer to recruitment director to the financial advisor etc. Perhaps the worst reaction at all was from the academic dean, Ileana Douglas, who stated that who did these boys think they were, thinking that they could show up as beggars at our school and have us provide for all their needs. I argued with her and said that it wasn’t who they thought they were but more who they believed God was, but her practical nonsensical approach quickly shut down conversation. She was a business minded approach woman and she made no exception in this case. I implored with her to meet the brothers in person but she said she had nothing else to say to them (they had been to most of the appointments but she had made it clear she would only meet with me). PUC, like all Adventist schools, billed itself as a refuge for faith, a place that existed for the purpose of teaching God’s way to His people. It was a place of higher education but that education had a principle of conviction about God being the most important thing. Like all things of religion, it still had to live in the real world but that conversation with her made it feel like PUC was entirely a business.

We tried a couple of more meetings but the older brother’s abrasive personality was rubbing a few people the wrong way. Between that and the overwhelming financial realities, it quickly became evident that this dream of theirs was simply going to stay very evasive and not going to come true. Because I had become their advocate and had tried to help them make their dreams come true, the school was kind enough to let me be the one that bore the bad news to them. At this point they had so little money left between them, the school generously offered to pay for their greyhound ticket back and gave them some money for food along the way. They left it up to Shannon and I to get them to the greyhound station. One of them gave their traditional sweater to Shannon as a thank you and shortly after we left them, Shannon cried quietly for them. I personally was rather disturbed by the fact that their adventure had not worked out and prayed extensively about it. I spoke with friends about it and even led a conversation about it at church, trying to let the faithful help me balance how God and his people had failed the miracle boys so massively. Of course that wasn’t everyone’s interpretation but it was mine and I proposed it as such when I began the conversation. What had they done wrong other than believe? Of course I had no way to know that God had actually called them to PUC since he didn’t tell me. The answer that annoyed me the most then was the fact that if God had actually called them, he would have made it happen. While I understand the elegant simplicity of this proposition, you can’t have everything that works out be God’s will and have everything that doesn’t work out not be His will. Besides being too convenient, there are plenty of things that work out very poorly that I was not ready to posit on God. The counter argument that some things were the devil’s influence was again too simplistic for me because the argument essentially ended up being that what works out the way we like was God’s will, what we didn’t like was where the devil won.

Like many things in my life, I never found a way to reconcile the miracle boys story with my faith in God. Maybe it was because I had been an immigrant who had also come illegally and had so much of my own life work out so well. Maybe it was because the older one’s abrasive personality while more edgy than mine was just as less likely as I to state that faith has to have big repercussions in our lives. I have no idea what happened to them or what their failed adventure did to their faith but it shook mine up. In a world where people’s religion or their belief in God requires nothing more than weekly attendance at a meeting and occasional checks, they were willing to uproot and take a gigantic risk in both the travel and in what it would take to get into the college. God’s people and His school said just go back to your poverty and your war torn region; not one person even offered to help them find a job to save up money. The equation was too complex for them and so the miracle boys received no miracle but at least PUC gave them some t-shirts to take back home.

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