My son is a junior in high school and he is starting to ask himself some important questions about his future. He will be meeting with a “Career Exploration Coordinator” to help him identify his unique skills and how they will translate into a college program and finally a career.
I honestly think this will be a great exercise. This is how we help our kids succeed, right? We ask them, “What are you passionate about?” “What makes you happy?” We encourage them to find a career that allows them to make money doing what they love.
As adults, it seems we often view higher education in a similar fashion—as a means of personal or professional fulfillment. Often we pursue higher degrees in order to fulfill specific personal or vocational goals. Those who elect to return to college are often making the decision to gain a promotion or because they feel that they have plateaued in their current position. When we no longer feel fulfilled in our careers, we seek to reinvent ourselves and look to education as a means to do so.
As followers of Christ, I wonder if our relationship with education should look a bit different.
During my Multicultural Counseling class this past semester, we read a book called “Empty Hands,” by Abigail Ntleko, which caused me to reexamine my view of education. In this autobiography, we meet Abigail, a young girl in Eastern South Africa who grows up to become a notable aid worker during the South African AIDS crisis.
Abigail’s relationship with education is admirable. She fought her entire life to be educated, and she appreciated the opportunity in a way that I will never fully understand. The knowledge and skills she pursued were tools to meet the needs of the community. It was amazing to read about the way she continued to pursue higher education, even after becoming a nurse, in order to better help those in her care.
For Abigail, education was not for personal gain, but a way to serve and to empower her community.
When she saw areas of need, she extended her education to include the areas of study that would allow her to meet those needs. She received training in pediatric nursing to better assist the children in her care. She trained in psychiatric nursing in response to the special needs of the children she adopted as they grew to adolescence. She even trained in ophthalmology when she began to encounter eye problems! Outside of the nursing field, Abigail saw how the South African church was being affected by segregation and trained to be an Anglican lay-minister.
This woman didn’t simply attempt to procure the services that her community needed, she took personal responsibility for them and used education as her tool. The concept of “Ubuntu” is discussed frequently in the book. This is the South African notion that “I am” because “we are.” This can be a very foreign concept for an isolated Westerner. Thinking this way really changes the focus of education. I am becoming equipped, so that my community may benefit.
Reading about Abegail Ntleko’s relationship with education was particularly impactful for me as a counseling student. We have chosen a “helping” field, so there is an assumption that we are pursuing higher education to help those in need. The desire to make a difference is easily lost, however, when we enroll in an academic program. Our desire to do well is often driven by the affirmation that comes with good grades. Our goal is frequently degree completion rather than finding our role in God’s creation. If we are truly seeking to help others in their pain and brokenness, then it is important to remember that our education belongs, not only to ourselves as students, but to those who we will one day serve.
More importantly, our education and the work we will do in the future belong to the One who brought us here and who has called us to serve.
This past weekend, GRTS celebrated as 69 students graduated with various degrees in ministry and counseling. Around this time of year, those of us who haven’t finished our programs can find ourselves feeling envious of those who graduate. As grades come in, it is easy to put our value in grades and in our GPA. As our fellow students graduate and begin to pursue God’s call on their lives, let us also focus our attention on who has called us to pursue seminary education.
What am I doing here? I am here because God has put a burden on my heart to walk with the broken and the lost. I am here because I know that I need the knowledge and training to do this well. I am here because I know that God’s truth is the source of transformation and healing. I am here to be a part of a community. I am here because education is worship.
Why are you here?