Attentiveness: The World in the Classroom - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: The World in the Classroom

“Professor, yesterday my church was attacked by gangs, and it was destroyed and partially burned down. We are now meeting in homes. We are thankful that no one was injured, but we don’t know what to do now.” A student who is a pastor in Haiti was having a hard time focusing on reading about reform movements in the high Middle Ages and the destructive path of the Mongol Empire from the Pacific to the gates of Vienna.

I was in Charlotte over the weekend to lead an intensive two-day course on those topics in primarily a “networked” (online) context. When teaching networked courses, we try to bring as many people as possible together in person (we had five in person in Charlotte) and otherwise stay connected and personal with the twenty or so who attend via Zoom. Since most of the students are working in some type of ministry, we encourage them to apply what we are studying to their local ministry contexts, though sometimes, as in the case of this Haitian pastor, the local context comes crashing in. Later that Friday night after class, the same student sent me a note apologizing for crying as he was sharing about the calamity that had befallen his church. I was hardly aware of his emotions at the time, but, as a class, we paused and prayed for him and for his church.

In that same Friday night class, as we were talking about the primary source readings from the Middle Ages, a young woman on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) who worked with university students shared why her favorite reading was Bernard of Clairvaux’s “On Loving God.” (Good choice.)

She explained: “In fact, this had such an impact on me that I had some of my InterVarsity students read it this past week. There have been many protests regarding the situation in Gaza and Israel on campus. Students were asking what might be an appropriate Christian response at such a time. I had some of them read Bernard of Clairvaux and this gave them some clear guidance.” This seminary student then explained that the college students she had been engaging decided that the loving thing to do would be to provide water, snacks, and fruit—along with prayers—to the protesters and attending police. Later Friday night I received a picture of the “refreshment stand” that had been sponsored by these IVCF students. On the sidewalk they wrote in large chalk letters, “FOOD, DRINKS, PRAYERS.” 

Bernard’s writing, a Christian document from about 1130, was speaking meaningfully to university students in 2024 who are seeking to be faithful to Jesus amid campus unrest. We paused and prayed for these Christian students and their witness on campus.

During our final minutes of class on Saturday afternoon, a student living in Turkey asked the class to pray for six of his Muslim friends. He had invited them to come to his church’s Sunday worship service for the first time. In class, we had studied about the rise of Islam, the theology of Allah in the Koran, and we were even studying the Crusades! And here was a student pondering how to effectively reach these Muslim friends, now able to do so with a better understanding of the history of Islam and the history of Christian-Muslim relations. We listened, and then prayed for his friends.

In between these sessions, I took the “in-person” students to a delicious Greek lunch. While coming back in the car I found out more about one of these students who is preparing to be a missionary to Japan. She has started her education “networked” in Charlotte but will be moving to Hamilton to continue her preparation in person.

In reflecting on this past weekend, it struck me how the academic study of Christian history came to life for these students, prompting what became an emotional class, and one that was deeply spiritual. By God’s grace, it was amazing and humbling. I came away so thankful that with all the disruptions in higher education and despite all our challenges with technology, God continues doing a new thing in forming Christian leaders. It brought to mind Paul’s prayer in Ephesians:

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19).

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.


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