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Walls, Fences, College and Calling


My friend yelled to me from the end of the hall. She was sitting on a table and her knees buckled as she tried to stand and greet me. Her face bore the expression of agony that she normally makes when in distress. Besides her usual dramatic expression, the fear and anxiety in her voice was too real to doubt.

“What's wrong?” I asked, walking up to her.

“I got a B- on the Organic Chemistry exam,” she said with a tremble in her voice.

Organic Chemistry is one of the most challenging courses at NYU. It is known to axe many who hope to go on to medical school. And now my friend—who was a year ahead of me and very bright—was facing the death knoll with her B minus.

“Maybe the professor graded it wrong,” she blurted out in an effort to give herself hope. “Maybe I can go to his office and…and….” Her voice trailed off as she started to hyperventilate. She stumbled to me for a hug, and then I witnessed something that I hadn't seen her do before—she began to cry.

For my friend, this single exam grade determined her future. Her dreams of attending medical school and getting a well-paying job seemingly hung on this class. What else could she look forward to?

As I tell this story, there are many more stories like it rushing into my mind: a classmate weeping to herself because an internship did not accept her, my fencing teammates in hospitals because of alcohol poisoning, and another who needs counseling but is on the waiting list. I have witnessed plenty of brokenness—from very intelligent students to competitive athletes—people who have so much going for them, who have numerous opportunities for success and fame, and yet have setbacks and situations that unravel their lives in an instant.

Within the library at NYU, the inner balconies are laced with an elegant design that spans from the second floor to the twelfth. However, the awful truth is that students in past years have purposefully jumped the railings so that the school had to build intricate suicide-prevention walls in response. At Cornell, the beautiful gorges that once brought awe to students on their way to classes are now lined with fences—another tragic result of several student suicides. Is this what attending university is about?

What is the point of college? For many of us, college is meant to be a time for students to explore and learn. It is a time when young adults begin to find how they can contribute their talents and knowledge to improve their community and impact the world at large—and it is a time when they can advance society in medicine, economics, education, engineering and politics. College is where dreamers learn to redefine reality and where the human mind and heart mature in thoughts and character. College is supposed to be a place for growth, empowerment and inspiration!

Another friend of mine, I shall nickname “E,” decided one night to end her life. The pressure was too overwhelming, and her friends were too stressed themselves to notice the dire situation. At the last moment, E saw an invite to a meeting—a Christian group named InterVarsity was hosting a free sushi dinner. “Well, if I'm going to have a last meal, it might as well be a good one,” she thought. That night at the gathering, she got more than a last meal of sushi—she got the hunger in her soul fed. E had her life transformed by the story of the Gospel. She was told that Jesus loves all of us, and He desires us to live free from the burden of being a perfectionist, free from grades being the measure of our competence, free from the fear of failure, and free from an uncertain future. Because E came to know Christ, these things no longer control and drive her, because no matter what happens, she is loved by the most powerful being in the universe, and He promises her a life far more worthwhile than the one she was trying to achieve on her own.

It is true that in my years at NYU, I have seen brokenness and heartaches. I have seen desperation, hate, and fear rule in many lives. Conversely, by serving in NYU's InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I have also observed love, forgiveness, patience, hope, and peace in the lives of those who have Jesus, especially when they face difficult struggles and painful disappointments.

When I first started my undergraduate study, I was preparing for a career in medicine. I finished my first year on the President's Honor Roll while competing as a varsity athlete in fencing. By my third year, I was accepted into NYU's accelerated Bachelor-Master program and was made captain of my fencing team. In comparison to others, I experienced minimal stress. I was on track to be successful and wealthy. But just as students who struggle in school have to wrestle with life issues, so will successful students eventually have to examine their purposes, albeit asking the questions later than those who have had difficult lives. As graduation approached, I started to rethink what was important, what would make an impact, and what would be lasting. At the end of all my education and even my life, what is it that will matter? What was God telling me that matters?

I realized that:

I love it when a student asks me how they can reach their friends and invite them to start a new life.

I love developing students as leaders, teaching them how they can love their fellow students skillfully.

I love to strategize and think of new ways to reach the student body and to interact with them in loving conversational engagement.

I love to invite and guide students to live with Jesus for the first time!

Months later, as I took the first steps in applying to become a staff worker with InterVarsity, I became convinced that full-time ministry was indeed what God was calling me to. A week after being interviewed, I was offered a full-time position to lead the Asian American InterVarsity fellowship at Cornell University. As if to affirm me, the current staff workers there—along with some Cornell alum—emailed me soon after my appointment, saying they had been praying for three years for someone like me to come and lead the fellowship! I am excited to help transform students, renew the campus culture of Cornell, and lead students to become world-changers after they graduate.

Today, before I go to Cornell, I am searching for people to partner with me spiritually and financially. Although it is a difficult process, I rest in knowing it is God who has chosen me for this task, and I am looking forward to the day when I lead students to freedom in Jesus.

(Stephan is a provisional staff appointee with InterVarsity, and he hopes to finish his Masters at NYU in the next year.)

Article Link: http://ccmusa.org/read/read.aspx?id=chg20160105
To reuse online, please credit Challenger, Jan-Mar 2016. CCMUSA.