This past weekend, my alma mater granted two honorary doctorate degrees at their commencement ceremony. When I saw the recipients of these awards, I smiled.
Ivor Jenkins, a South African anti-apartheid activist, was the point-person for a study tour I took of that country months before the first free election in 1994. He guided us through our weeks there, opening doors for meetings with political and religious leaders and experiences with the South African people that proved life-changing for me. I am a different person because of that trip.
I met Brenda Salter McNeil my freshman year at North Park, and it was a conversation with her over lunch after she spoke in chapel one day that most deeply influenced my decision to not transfer: “God has something he wants to do with you here in this community,” she said. At the time I was only beginning my involvement in mentoring youth in that community. She spoke truly of what, years later, would become my most transformative ministry experience: founding a comprehensive community youth outreach based on North Park’s campus. I am a different person in ministry today because of her prophetic counsel.
What strikes me as I write this is how little we actually see or know about the impact our words and time have on the different people we meet. I think about my teaching and speaking opportunities and the individuals who seek me out for conversation or counsel; I think about the guest groups we host here in South Central; I think of the many interns who share a season of their lives with us here and I am reminded that every one of these can be used by God in that Ivor Jenkins/Brenda Salter McNeil/”I’m a different person than I was before” kind of way. Not because I am special or great or because our church is so amazing, but because God works that way.
What a burden and privilege that is.