Editorial Note: What’s life like on the campus of a Presbyterian Church-related college or university? Who better to ask than a recent graduate? The three winners of the 2012 Presbyterian Outlook Church-College Partnership Award have written about how their respective schools have prepared them for a life of significant service and leadership.
Whitworth University’s mission to equip students to “Honor God, Follow Christ, and Serve Humanity” is something that all graduating seniors know by heart once graduation comes. This phrase is not just a trite saying, however, but something that truly embodies the formative education of mind and heart that Whitworth students receive.
With graduation approaching in a few weeks, I feel well equipped to enter into the world “beyond the pinecone curtain” of our campus along with my friends and classmates, ready to fully live out Whitworth’s mission. This confidence in my ability to be a servant leader does not come from a naïve sense of security or the lofty idea that I “know it all” and can single-handedly save the world. Quite to the contrary, my education has exposed me to many of the world’s complex problems without providing easy answers.
At Whitworth we hear a lot about the “paradox of mind and heart” and living on the “narrow ridge,” which are both ways of expressing the need to engage with the world and fearlessly explore ideas and issues while remaining faithfully committed to Christ. Living in this tension has helped me to grow immensely and explore what it means to be a Christian in our world. The Christian walk becomes deeper, richer and more challenging when put into a global context. Choosing to be a disciple embraces a lifestyle of love and commitment to God and to all people as our brothers and sisters. It also brings us face to face with the reality of the brokenness of our world, until there is no option but to respond. The question and challenge then becomes, “How?”
The opportunities I’ve had to delve into questions first-hand have been foundational in developing me into the servant, leader and disciple I am today. After a four-month study and service program in Central America last year, I came back a more broken person and yet also more deeply whole. Lingering questions from those months continue to shape and challenge me, and I’m often left in places of deep humility, with many more questions than answers. Why is it that survivors of pesticide poisonings in banana plantations in Nicaragua still have not received anything for the incredible harm done to their bodies, families and land? Why is it that the indigenous people of Guatemala, who make up 60 percent of the population, still face blatant discrimination and oppression? Why is it that some children in Costa Rica, the most highly educated and developed country in Central America, still cannot go to school because it is too far to walk?
These experiences, among many others, broke and challenged me with realities of injustice. At the same time, many more challenged me with hope. How can it be that one of the most joyful woman I’ve ever met lives in the Managua city dump, and hasn’t seen her son in over three years because he denies her very existence? How is it that a young Honduran woman, already a mother and widow at the age of 20, can live with so much love and joy when she has no future prospects for employment or education? The love, joy and faith of the Central American people, even in the midst of seemingly hopeless circumstances, inspires me to love more deeply, serve more fully, live more graciously, and believe more profoundly.
Whitworth has given me the gift of living in the paradox of mind and heart by encouraging a response to tensions like these, rather than shying away or ignoring them completely. It has fostered a firm foundation of active faith, requiring engagement in the world, which allows me to look forward to the coming months with a deep sense of peace. I know that I will continue to see and experience things that break my heart, along with things that heal it. I also know that … the one option I do not have is to sit back in apathy.
Annie Aeschbacher, of Woodinville, Wash., graduated from Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. She is spending a year as part of the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer Program in Guatemala. Eventually she hopes to earn a master’s degree and do nonprofit work with the Latino population in the U.S.