At the risk of being accused of name-dropping, it has been “so humbling” (as they say) to be able to state with accuracy that former Vice President Mike Pence and I were invited to speak for Florida College, that Howard Hughes drove us around Half Moon Bay, that Jimmy Carter had us over for lunch, and that years ago we had a Pope over for dinner who really dug my blues guitar playlist. Never mind that the Vice President’s and my invitations to speak at FC were entirely unrelated and five months apart, that Howard is my lumber broker buddy in Livermore, California, that the late Jimmy Carter was a hospitable elder in Fairlawn, California, and that the blues-loving Pope is one Curtis Pope (aka "Pope Dawg" to the Florida College students back in the day who loved him best). Still. It has been quite the whirlwind, as “spinning” the truth always is.
When we texted our daughter, Ashley, that we were on our way to Fish Daddy's Grill House to have dinner with one of her favorite professors years ago at Florida College, her simple reply seemed apropos: "Niiiiiicccceee". We anticipated our dinner together would be the lively exchange that it was, because from personal experience I knew, long story short, that Curtis Pope is the kind of brother who was laid back enough to happily allow me to photograph him in a fuzzy, oversized purple and gold kingly crown: A picture that still makes me smile to this day. We also knew it was going to be a lively conversation because we’d finally get to meet Curtis’s sweet Mary Ann and share travel stories as well as amazing conversion stories we’d both witnessed in the course of our life’s work.
When we arrived for Bible class after dinner, I was also looking forward to hugging the necks of some special young women, Susan and Claire Gaughan whom I’d known and enjoyed since they were “littles” living in Oregon, and more recently, Claire and I had made an adventurous day of happily hunting down and photographing as many murals as we could run down all over Austin, Texas. I not only got my hugs from “my girls”, but after Bible class, Claire also introduced me to two sisters: Elaine Jackson and Cathie Bane, who are very much invested in the many young sisters of the congregation, many of whom are there as they attend Texas A&M University.
In the course of our conversation, I found the approach they were taking to mentor these young women, to be exceptionally wise. Rather than choosing a workbook or creating a curriculum to teach to the young women as they quietly listen, they empowered these young women by offering just enough assistance to make doable the young women’s own organizing and taking turns teaching one another from their own Bible studies on topics they themselves have chosen. They are encouraged to “hug the scriptures” tightly in what they present, but beyond that are given the freedom to choose the structure of whatever lesson they have volunteered to teach. At the time of my visit, they were preparing to teach one another what God says about the qualities within His own character, with each class focusing on one specific quality such as His holiness, or goodness, or compassion, as well as His righteous capacity to be jealous or angry.
I can’t think of a better approach to strengthening young adults than providing challenging opportunities like this, that grow spiritual self-reliance and self-assuredness in taking charge of the well-being of their own souls and tending to the souls of others they are learning to teach. In a conversation with Claire sometime later, I also learned that the young men at the congregation take on the same independent approach in their own weekly Thursday night classes, with an additional co-ed Bible class taught by the junior and senior male students on Friday nights. Among other benefits, these smaller group gatherings turn out to be the perfect space to develop confidence and leadership skills that will later be useful to the congregation both at the outreach efforts on the Campus at Texas A&M, and also in publicly participating in the Sunday worship assemblies and the annual Young People’s Weekend held at end of February.
When one student sees other students working hard to grow in their teaching abilities, it inspires the others to reach for the same, essentially setting up a culture of “this is who we are, and this is what we do here: challenging things”. This congregation seems to understand that where we do too much for our youth, our youth will not do much for themselves and that maturity is only attained when one encounters things that one can lift and push against in order to become stronger.
In a world where almost half of those who grow up in a Christian home walk away from their priceless spiritual heritage, these kinds of educational environments are invaluable. Even still, most young adults will need even more shoring up than this. We’ve reached the point, that in order to avoid a life of misery, every Christian student entering today’s colleges must take the time to learn to think critically, to recognize a logical fallacy when he or she hears it, and be thoroughly armed to skillfully argue against the subjectivism, relativism, rejection of reason and all the other postmodern insanity.
Long before college, wise parents set before their children increasingly difficult yet meetable, challenges --- resistance training, really, that starts in early toddlerhood when forward-thinking parents knock themselves to instill self-mastery through eliminating behaviors that in the long run can spare their descendants from suffering through the excruciating “school of hard knocks.”
Another beautiful way that this congregation helps mentor their young people, is that before the school year begins, a deacon gathers the names of the new students who will be worshipping at the congregation, and various families “adopt” a student a year or so, that is, they volunteer to be “on call” if they have an emergency and they offer support if there is an area in which the student is struggling. As the year progresses, these families introduce them to others in the congregation they might not have otherwise gotten to know, they include them in service opportunities within the congregation, and have them over for family meals. Of course in Christian love, as we help others, we help ourselves, and the rewards of these relationships often flow both ways.
What a winning combination for not only the young adults in this congregation but really anyone else we’d like to see flourish: To offer both emotional support as well as putting tools in another’s hands, showing them how to use them, then stepping back. In the end, it is of course up to these students what they will do with what they’ve been handed. Like one wise, young Jewish girl who too grew up in a cultural warzone of her own: “How true Daddy's words were when he said: 'All children must look after their own upbringing.' Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.” Anne Frank
Twin City church of Christ
810 Southwest Parkway East
College Station, TX 77840