Posts from the President



August 11, 2015: On addressing the inequity of higher education

In a recent article, “Achieving Equity in Higher Education: The Unfinished Agenda,” the authors name four educational goals that will accomplish the task of making higher education more equitable to all of humanity. They base their claims on 50 years of research in higher education. These goals are character development, leadership, civic responsibility, and spirituality.

The current public questions about higher education fly in the face of these goals. People ask questions about return on investment, by which they mean what is the earning potential of a university graduate versus a non-graduate. If that is the measure of a successful school the racial, social, and gender inequities of today will be perpetuated into the future.

This is because those who make the most money after university are generally those who come from fairly wealthy families. This has not been and is not always the case, but data show that at the beginning of the 21st century it is usually true. This is the great flaw in measuring the success of a school by the earning potential of its graduates or even by its graduation rate. It is not really the school that made the difference.

The best way to overcome the inequity of higher education, according to the authors, is to build into the curricula the four goals mentioned above. By doing this we are educating the next generation to adopt values that lead to equity in society. To achieve these goals, we must focus on the individual student. This demands lower student faculty ratios, caring faculty, and a strong student development program.

“By working to enhance students’ spiritual and moral growth, we can help create a new generation who are more caring, more globally aware, and more committed to social justice than previous generations, while also enabling students to respond to the many stresses and tensions of our rapidly changing society with a greater sense of equanimity.”

I am happy to be a part of an institution that has done this from its inception 91 years ago.

Providence is not the only school like this. There are hundreds of schools around the world that stress character development, leadership, civic responsibility (volunteerism), and spirituality. We might tend to define these goals differently than the authors, but the qualities they name are common to these many schools.

The article, which I read here, was a real inspiration to me as Providence approaches another school year. May the tradition of Christian Higher Education continue in the face of all sorts of obstacles!

June 17, 2015: On four types of philanthropic investment

“Social impact investing” is a term that I have encountered in my work as president of Providence. It refers to investments that make a positive difference in society and offer a financial return to the investor. A friend recently introduced me to MEDA, the Mennonite Economic Development Associates and its magazine The Marketplace. MEDA and The Marketplace provide lots of good examples of social impact investing. On the ground, a good example is micro-financing for startup businesses in poverty-stricken areas. I think social impact investing is a great concept and practice.

Another term I run across is “social impact philanthropy.” Most philanthropy makes some sort of social impact. But the term is generally used for philanthropy geared toward helping people become more self-sufficient. The old saying goes, “Give a person a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a person to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Social impact philanthropy teaches people to fish, or sew, or weld or fix cars.

I wonder if there is another term that describes a tertiary type of philanthropy. If giving a person a fish is primary, and teaching a person to fish is secondary, what do we call the tertiary level when we help a person open a fishing school, so that we feed not just a person for a lifetime, but a whole village for generations? This sort of philanthropy sees the need for cultural change that comes through understanding history, science, psychology, ethics, management, etc.

As a university president I see the need for all three types of philanthropic activity. People face disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and the ravages of war. They need immediate help. Others need to learn the rudiments of self-sufficiency in the modern world. If society is to improve, we also need to invest in the future through higher levels of education and training. All three types of philanthropic investments are important.

Let me add one more type of investment. As the president of a Christian university, I also see the need for “spiritual impact philanthropy.” I believe that at the roots of making the world a better place is the radical spiritual change that takes place in a person and a society that comes to know and worship their Creator. It has been shown again and again for 2,000 years that the gospel of Jesus Christ impacts individuals and villages and whole cultures.

In sum, it is important that we see the value of all kinds of philanthropic investments: primary, secondary, tertiary and spiritual.

June 2, 2015: On the warmth that comes with watching for and learning about God

Every year since I began bird-watching in my yard Harris Sparrows have come in the same week each spring.

Harris Sparrows spend winters in the southern Mississippi river valley and nest in the summer north of Manitoba. They are not overly plentiful and have a very narrow range. They are not found outside of central North America. They are relatively large for a sparrow. They have a longish low whistle. They are greyish-brown like the far more populous English sparrow but they have a black head, face, and neck.

I see them in my yard for about a week every year. I get a warm feeling when they show up in mid-April.

Consistency is a comforting thing. In Christian terms we call it faithfulness. We try to be faithful in our prayer and Bible reading, in our witness and church attendance.

Our God models faithfulness to us. It is a comfort to know that nothing can keep God from being faithful. We face hardships in life, and through them all, God is consistently there.

We may think, “If God were here, these bad things would not happen to me.” At the end of the day, though, when we take a long-range view, we understand that “God works all things together for good” (Rom 8:28). Note that Paul does not say, “so you feel good.” Nor does he even say, “for your good.”

God takes a large and long-range perspective on the suffering that is turned into good.

The Harris Sparrow is a bit of a picture of God. It shows up at the same time every year, but it has only been since I began bird watching and started learning about migration patterns that my heart is warmed when the Harris Sparrow lights in my yard.

It’s only when I watch for and learn about God that God’s presence warms my heart.

May 1, 2015: On “light” as both “guidance” and “joy”

Recently I read Psalm 4 in my personal time of daily prayer. One line in particular struck me. V. 6 says “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord.”

It reminds me of a song by Craig and Dean Philips that I often sing on the way to campus. I sing (to the Lord, only when I am alone!), “Lord, let your light, light of your face, shine on us. That we may be saved. That we may have life. To find our way in the darkest night. Let your light shine on us.”

Light is a common metaphor in the Bible. In Psalm 4:6 I think it has two meanings.

First, the prayer is for guidance—guidance in the darkest night and toward salvation. The salvation here is from that which troubles us most deeply. Often what troubles us is our sense of the unknown, or of lost direction. Sometimes it is relational troubles or spiritual troubles. Sometimes our trouble is physical or emotional. So when I pray for God’s light for Providence I am praying for our salvation from what troubles us most.

The second meaning of light in this passage is joy (see v. 7). This is also my prayer for Providence just about every day. I pray that we would experience joy in our work and in our lives. There are lots of things that work against our joy, things like illness, uncertainty, minimal resources, less than amicable relationships or pressure to “produce.”

We sometimes think that joy should come to us naturally because we are Christians. But because of the things that work against joy it becomes necessary for us to fight for joy.

Fighting for joy is a matter of recognizing the enemies of joy and renouncing them—we refuse to let our lack of resources, or health, or certainty, or positive relationships, get us down. God is bigger than all these enemies and He will prepare a table for us before them and anoint our heads with the oil of gladness (Psalm 23). Fighting for joy is also a matter of “working out” spiritually—i.e., reading and memorizing Holy Scripture, singing, worshipping with God’s people, praying and contemplating our Creator and Saviour.

So I encourage you, don’t give in to despair. Fight for joy! It does not come easily.

Joy is part of the light we bear in the world. Christian joy is one of the weapons in God’s arsenal for expanding the kingdom in a world desperately in need of more than happiness. A world in need of lasting joy.

March 26, 2015: On the North American church’s need for revival

I am convinced that the North American church needs revival.

I have had the good fortune over the years of being able to study various evangelical revivals, from the magisterial reformation of the 16th century, to the Weslyan revival and the first great awakening of the 18th century, to the Layman’s prayer revival of the early 19th century and its manifestation in Europe as Le Réveil, to more recent smaller scale revivals of the 20th century (in which God saved me).

I have learned that revivals are a work of God. They cannot be humanly manufactured (as was the second great awakening under Charles Finney, which quickly resulted in “the burned over district”). God chooses when and where revival breaks out, how it spreads, and its effects on the church and society. So there is nothing we can “do” to make a revival happen.

So the North American church needs revival and there is nothing we can do to engender it. But in the study of revivals there are two factors which are apparent in all of them. There are people who pray and there is the intense study and preaching of the Holy Scriptures. Every revival I listed above that has had a lasting effect has had these two characteristics.

The results of revival are an influx of people into churches devoting themselves to live for Christ and an uplifting of society in general. Most of all, revivals magnify the Glory of God among the nations. But revival begins with prayer and the Word. Intense prayer and Bible study is no guarantee of revival, but, historically speaking, there have been no revivals without them.

I have recently begun to pray for revival in Canada, and as I go to preach at various churches I pray that God might use his word to light a spiritual fire in people’s lives. I would be most pleased if God used Providence as one of the starting points for revival in our land.

If you are reading this you probably have an interest in Providence. Would you join me in beseeching God for a revival in our land in our day?

February 23, 2015: On the “four crucial years”

I was put on to a book at the meeting of Presidents of Christian Higher Education Canada last November. Steven Garber wrote The Fabric of Faithfulness in 1996 and published a second, expanded edition in 2007. Although it is getting old, I read it at just the right time for me and my work.

The book encapsulates Garber’s theory substantiated by his research about people who endure in the Christian life. He defines endurance as the weaving together of beliefs and behaviour in those whose lives exhibit Christian character from early on to the end of their lives.

He notes three characteristics of such people.

First, they develop a Christian worldview that can address the challenges of our pluralistic world. Second, they have a mentor or a few mentors who model this worldview. Third, they unite with a body of people who are committed to living out this worldview.

His (and other's) research shows that these three factors most often develop in people's lives when they are in their twenties, and particularly while they are in their post-secondary education. Some people have called these "the four crucial years."

It seems to me that these factors define what we are trying to do and be at Providence.

We talk about worldview in terms of Christ-centeredness. According to Hebrews 1:1-3 Jesus is the prophet of these last days through whom the definitive word of God is spoken. Jesus is the great high priest who makes purification for sin. Jesus is the king of the universe, the perfect representation of God, through whom and for whom all things are created and sustained.

With Christ at the centre as prophet, priest and king we address the many issues in our pluralistic world.

Our faculty serve as mentors who adopt and exhibit this worldview. They not only commit to teach from this perspective, they also commit to live lives that exhibit the lordship, forgiveness, acceptance, love and purity of Christ to students and the world.

Our community also commits to explore what it means to have Christ at the centre. Students, faculty, staff and Board all agree to live by our Covenant of Community Life. The Covenant calls us to live for Christ and to be witnesses to him by our words and deeds.

I am the first to admit that although we have some measure of success at fulfilling these commitments, we sometimes fail. Nevertheless, we have set our course and we are moving in the right direction.



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