Residence: Sigma Nu
|As a child, I attended regular church services with my parents, learning Bible stories and life lessons from my Sunday school teachers. I was always an attentive and enthusiastic student, impressing those involved in my instruction, but never one to act simply for the amusement of others. During Communion I would watch patiently as the bread and juice was passed around the room, yet I never found myself inclined to partake in the tradition.
The years passed, and I consistently enjoyed success in my many endeavors - academics, the safety patrol squad, cub scouting, science fairs, and other school competitions. My life was very comfortable with two loving, committed parents and a sweet younger sister. All the while, the church thing continued, and week after week I heard the pastor speak about our need to accept this dead guy named Jesus. It was never that I had any problem with the idea of God, but a decision and personal commitment were more than I had a need for at the time.
It was during middle school that I found myself pondering troubling questions: why am I here, where are we going, and what about death? Heavy thoughts for a young mind, but never the sort of things I would consider discussing with my parents. They are wonderful people, but deep within me is a subtle but deeply ingrained streak of independence; I have always preferred to learn about things that really matter on my own. I remember instead turning to the Bible resting on my bedside bookshelf. I read through the gospels in a search for truth; I found it. What I had heard so many others speak about year after year became real for the first time in that dark, quiet room. At the age of 12, I knelt beside my bed and invited Jesus Christ into my life as personal Savior and Lord. I was alone and yet not alone. The great comforter was by my side.
It wasn't that I had reached a point of mental desperation and then grabbed onto the first explanation I could reach, because I saw still the high-achieving, happy-go-lucky kid of yesterday. Instead, I realized that the entire situation of the human race is utterly desperate and hopeless. We are sinful, fallen creatures in need of a savior, and the absolute truths of the Bible provide the most coherent, rational, and reliable basis for an intelligent faith.
What sets Christianity apart is that our messiah is not a dead guy, or just a man. Instead, he came from heaven 2000 years ago and claimed to be the Son of God; he was crucified; and then, in the miracle of miracles, emerged from the grave three days later. THE difference is that our savior is ALIVE - he has conquered the grave on our behalf, and we are offered new life through faith in him.
Having grown in my faith, I find myself more sure of what I hope for and more certain of what I cannot see. Throughout high school, the Wednesday afternoon ministry of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and church services provided encouragement from brothers and sisters, as well as contact with wise men of the faith. The summer after junior year was the first time I really talked about my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, as an FCA summer camp counselor and a student at a summer conference. I discovered myself leaving each experience more confident about the belief system I accepted as my own.
College has presented me with a host of new challenges. I meet so many young people wandering through life without true purpose of meaning, and it drives me back to the pages of scripture. I more fully realize the limitations of my abilities, and it prompts me to lean ever harder on the rock of my salvation. The great British intellectual C.S. Lewis ended his powerful work Mere Christianity saying, "Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in." He is right.
Until recently, the previous line is where the words of this testimony ended, but during the past year God reminded me that His work in our lives is very far from a one time event and our testimonies are concluded only when He decides to close this chapter of our lives. The following is the story of how I've seen God work through my first two years at college. My prayer is that this one example of the uncountable ways God is currently at work will encourage you, strengthen your faith, and increase your affection for Him.
Each break from school brings with it the difficult question from family and friends: "So how's MIT?" I imagine this is common to most college students away from home, but it has particular significance for me, because my honest answer has radically changed over the past two years. I arrived at school in August 2002, an optimistic kid with an ambitious four year plan. And some apprehension, of course, but little concern over academic or overall success. In high school, grades were a given and extracurriculars had quickly become the focus of my life: Boy Scouts, Swim Team, Jazz Band, Church, Model UN, Amateur Radio, making money, having fun, and the list goes on. I figured college would just be more of the same, with a bit more school work.
Was that ever an understatement! During the first semester I gained an entirely new understanding of the phrase "humbling experience." The sheer quantity of studying required was beyond anything I'd conceived. The homework felt nearly impossible, and only by working together did my peers and I have any chance of completeness, let alone correctness.
Sure I quickly made lots of friends and found great Christian fellowship too, but that didn't answer the daily question, of whether I belonged. More than once I found myself researching the process for transfer applications and trying to find where others who had left the Institute had ended up.
Yet even when an assignment did turn out well, it didn't satisfy. All the friends and activities and busyness and academic prestige failed to bring real peace. And so that first semester I decided on one singular goal: "Just get through." Just survive this present experience and then, Brian, you can cruise the rest of life. As is still true, I had a lot to learn. God's plan for the Christian life, I'm beginning to discover, is just a bit different.
The Christmas following my first semester was spent with relatives in California. I certainly heard the expected question many times, and effortlessly skirted a direct response. Then my great-aunt asked the question I had secretly been hoping for all along: "If you were to make the decision again, would you pick MIT." After a pause I responded, "If I made the decision again, I think I might decide differently." While not about to admit defeat, that was, again, most likely an understatement, because I was attempting to view the world through my own eyes, and from what I could see, my four year plan couldn't possibly fit, let alone allow time for the many extracurriculars I planned to be soon leading.
After Christmas break, the month of January was a class-free Winter Semester, and in its arrival God showed me something about His character: He calls for trust in his faithfulness and provides his children what we need, just-in-time. Right after a trying semester, January was four wonderful weeks of college more like I had expected: some time home in Virginia, then off to a conference, back to school rehearsing with a Praise Band and attending academic seminars, finishing up with a week working in industry. The grind of classes soon returned in full force, but that month of refreshment made perseverance possible.
A month later, the spring semester was progressing surprisingly well. Grades were looking good, and I was invited to join the ministry leadership team. "Maybe I can make this work," I thought. Fortunately, God was patient and persistent, and soon I reached a low point, or more correctly, the turning point.
You see, over spring break I had joined eleven other MIT guys for a mission trip to Panama City Beach, FL. It's an event called Big Break, which draws together college students, including those of us who drove the 28 hours down from Boston, for a week of teaching, worship, and sharing our faith on the beach. It was the most amazing week of my life. The bonds of friendship, the trust, and the community was incredible. I loved the speakers, and telling guys on the beach about God's free gift of eternal life was an absolute blessing.
As I told a friend over instant messenger a year later, "I honestly feel like Big Break was a taste of eternity...everyone I lived with was sold out for God, and we had TONS of fun. We woke up, sang praises to His name, received encouragement, enjoyed the splendor of His amazing creation, sang more praises, etc. And totally loved each other. It was awesome."
But what followed was a challenge beyond anything I had imagined: the return to classes. The following week, well after midnight, I was in the computer lab programming endlessly for a big project. Finally, I'd had enough. I walked over to my friend who'd also been on the Big Break trip, and said, "Jonathan, what in the world are we doing here?? We could be out on the beach praising God and sharing the Gospel with others, but instead were stuck in this filthy lab, writing this meaningless code." Jonathan, although he understood, had no answer, so I packed up and returned to my room. I wasn't online much spring semester, but fortunately that night was an exception, and by the grace of God, my friend Min Han began a conversation over AIM around 2AM. Exhausted, confused, and desperate, I poured out my frustration, and in that moment, Min delivered the words that changed everything: "Brian, Brian, work for the glory of God." Wow. That was the answer. God had prepared my heart, brought me to a place of desperation, and spoken through Min.
I wasn't at MIT to prove my worth to the world. I wasn't at MIT to become famous and earn the praises of men. I was sent here so that I might, by the grace of God, bring glory to His name. I was put here that God's name might be more famous in this place. That's the same reason that God made each of us - it's for His Glory. God is glorified by His creation.
Well the semester turned out better than I ever dreamed possible, and I returned home to Virginia with a slowly changing perspective on life, grasping at the idea that in order to have real life, I might have to give mine completely away. Realizing I had been caught up in the great lie that somehow we can validate our existence with certain grades or the right job or enough plastic trophies on the shelf. And it doesn't work. It's never enough. Only God can perfectly satisfy the longings of our heart. But the summer quickly ended with another hard transition back to the school routine.
And yet for the first time, the college routine was different. Through the writing of brilliant authors, the friendship of my classmates, and deep fellowship with the wisest and most amazing freshman class I've ever met, God was teaching me about His plan, His love, and His grace, freely offered to all.
God often teaches me through stories, and he helped me to start understanding grace through Max Lucado's book Traveling Light. At one point he's talking about Christians who forget the source of their gifts, blessings, and accomplishments, soaking up praise for themselves instead of directing it toward our Lord, and writes, "Pretty soon we start praying like the fellow at the religious caucus: 'God, I thank you that the world has people like me. The man on the street corner needs welfare - I don't. The prostitute on the street has AIDS - I don't. The drunk at the bar needs alcohol - I don't. The gay caucus needs morality - I don't. I thank you that the world has people like me.'
"Fortunately," Lucado continues, "There was a man in the same meeting who had deflected all the applause. Too contrite to even look to the skies, he bowed and prayed. 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Like my brother on welfare, I'm dependent on your grace. Like my sister with AIDS, I'm infected with mistakes. Like my friend who drinks, I need something to ease my pain. And as you love and give direction to the gay, grant me some as well. Have mercy on me, a sinner.'" Man, that hit hard.
At the end of that third semester, I was asked to co-lead God's ministry on our campus. Now those I've known for a while can relate my difficulty with decisions. I selected a college at 2AM on the reply deadline. But for the first time I can remember, I experienced a peace and assurance in decision-making that passes all understanding. It was, "Lord I'm not prepared for this, but I guess you are... so Lord, lead on." Since then, my school life has been marked by continued affirmation that God has me at MIT for a reason. And that's the case for each of us. The type of work, location of school, or place of residence doesn't matter. I've learned that God wants to use us for His glory, and bring peace to our souls, right where we are.
That's a bit of my story: the story of how God rescued me from my sin and continually teaches me more about Himself. And God gives each of us amazing stories. Stories that illustrate his faithfulness, communicate his love, and inspire greater devotion. What's your story? Praise God.