Friday, August 02, 2019

1997 - The Year I Came to Indiana Wesleyan

It is now public that I am going this fall (2019) to Houghton College as Vice President for Planning and Innovation. I believe the Lord has brought together a number of factors beautifully toward this kairos moment in time, and I'm grateful to Dr. Shirley Mullen and the Houghton community for the opportunity.

As I am a hoarder of memories, I would like to record some thoughts on my first years at IWU, as best I can remember. I have already recorded my memories of the years 2009-2015 in Six Years a Dean: Reflections on the Founding of Wesley Seminary. I have made personal notes on 2015-the present. So here are a few memories of my first 12 years at IWU.

1. I finished my doctoral dissertation at the University of Durham, England, in late summer 1996. I was slightly too late for the August graduation, so I would walk in December. My poor father chalked up the money for three plane and train tickets, hotel, etc for us to go. He never complained. As a father I am far more aware and appreciative now for such sacrifices he made than I was then.

I spent the fall substitute teaching in the public schools of Broward County, Florida. In my naivete, I thought the universities would all give me interviews. And once I got an interview, I thought I could wow them into hiring me as a Professor of New Testament. I applied. I got no interviews. I substitute taught.

It was not a fun year. I would get a call in the morning perhaps at 5:30 or 6:00am. I would go to some school--usually a middle school. I inspired no fear. The students wouldn't listen. They wouldn't do what they were supposed to do. One day in Kindergarten music was horrible. They were all over the room and certainly not watching a movie. One day in a middle school portable a student threatened to go get a gun. He was suspended but my attempt to hold him to keep him from leaving before the bell rang triggered the escalation. In one portable for a half day, they were so loud after the teacher left, even shouting at the top of my lungs I couldn't even get out the assignment.

2. [However, there were a couple interesting moments that year to interrupt the monotony. The most memorable was when my friend Bill Patrick invited me to speak at a Bible study at his Methodist church in Winter Park. Mr. Rogers used to sun at the pool at Rollins College, where Bill adjuncted a course and was an alumnus. He invited Mr. Rogers to come hear me.

So--amazingly--I picked up Mr. Rogers in my dad's Chevy Citation and drove him to the Bible study. He even wrote a letter to one of the Board of Trustees at Princeton, suggesting they hire me! Obviously nothing came of that. :-)

In another typical Schenck moment, Bill and I drove way out of the way to Atlanta on our way to the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting in San Antonio. A friend from SWU who worked there invited me to speak to his Bible study there. Bill's favorite moment was when a quite astonishingly good looking blonde woman came up to me after the study and told me that she felt like "there is a little theologian in me wanting to get out." :-) ]

3. I received a call or email from Kerry Kind at some point. Liberia was recovering from civil war. The missionaries had evacuated some time before. They wanted to give them some sense that the church was still with them. I was single. Kerry had long wondered, especially given the fact that my sister Juanita had been a missionary to the Philippines, that I might have some future on the mission field. They had even approached me in England after David Wright and his family had left Birmingham. Might I be the coordinator in England for the missions department of TWC?

Liberia became Sierra Leone. Liberia's infrastructure was still too decimated for me to go. But I could go teach at Freetown at the Bible College at Jui. I flew out mid-January, returned mid-March. Less than a month after I left the rebels would overrun Freetown. Those days that followed were dark days for the country. In addition to the many murders there were the gratuitous amputations and removal of children from the womb.

In those two months before the height of the crisis, I would teach. I had some future leaders in my classes--communication, historical books, I think Paul's epistles. Usman Fornah was the one that stands out the most in my mind. I also came to know Abu Conteh and Warren Fornah.

Those were days of fear for me. Every night I watched the lights out my back window of cars coming from up country, wondering if there were rebels secretly among them. I feared the cobras and mombas. They had burned off the ground behind the house in which I stayed to keep them away. I was amused by the cockroaches, ants, and spiders.

One evening I was reading (it was hit and miss whether there would be electricity. They would run generators till 10pm if not) and killed a cockroach )which I knew well from Florida) in the front living space. I then watched a trail of ants from the front door fight with a trail of ants from the back door tug of war over the body. They broke it in half and both got their fill.

So a few days later I killed a cockroach in the kitchen. With a smile, I left it, knowing the ants would take care of it. Sure enough, there was no trace of it at all in the morning.

4. I did not mean to write so much about Sierra Leone. [1] There were two Seventh Day Adventist missionaries in Freetown at the Wesleyan house who hosted me on some weekends. We were some of very few missionaries in the country. The former ones had been airlifted out in the first half of the crisis. The weekend they were going to take me up country to Makeni, the rebels went back into action, and I would never make it up country.

I did not have a lot of money, I think $200 for my time there. In those days I found it difficult to tell anyone no. I gave one Wesleyan pastor $50 to buy a sewing machine. I paid another woman to cook lunches for me to get the experience of SL food and to help her. Let's just say I didn't find goat meat particularly desirable and quickly shifted to food without meat. Cassava was good, although I guess has cyanide in it. I remember a few years later when a number of children in a school in the Philippines, I think in Mindanao, died because it wasn't prepared correctly.

I was a bit shell-shocked from all the requests for help. I was afraid I would run out or have an emergency need I had not saved enough for. I remember flinching when a boy asked me for money at the airport. I was relieved when the plane's wheels left the ground--no more asking.

5. I had spoken to my England friends David Fox and Rachel Leonard about meeting at the Champs Elysees at the Arc de Triomphe at noon on the day I would return from Africa. My plane landed in Brussels and I must have scheduled a layover of a couple days. Again, this must surely have involved some of my dad's money, athough I had been working in the public schools. Surely he must have given me a credit card.

I arrived in Brussels and rented a car. I drove to Paris. I was there at the Arc de Triomphe. I don't know how long I waited. Probably not too much more than an hour. What should I do? They were not there. It wasn't a sure thing, just one of those "if you're there" things. There were no cell phones.

Tubingen it is. In spring of 1995 had spent two months in Tubingen in the kellar of Frau Michel, Otto Michel's wife. I had friends there--Christoph Lorentz, Reinhard Schmolz, Gottfriend Eberspeicher. It took almost all day but I got there by evening. The next day I was able to find them and spend time with them. Then it was time to drive back to Belgium. I went through Luxembourg so I could say I'd been there.

I believe it was on that trip that a man approached me at a rest park asking for a ride. It was against my desires but again, I had difficulty saying no. We conversed in German for a little while. My German was not excellent, but I jokingly would say that I was fluent in "meeting new people" conversations. It was almost an hour into the trip, I think, that we both realized that neither of us was actually German. I think he was Danish.

6. I had also arranged to make a stop in Indiana on the trip home. In late March I somehow managed to get to Elwood, Indiana, where I met with Bud Bence at a Jim Dandy that is long since gone. He was the chair of the Division of Religion and Philosophy. There was an open position in New Testament. Someone, perhaps Kerry Kind, had told him about me.

It was a feeling out conversation. Bud had been Dean at Houghton during a crisis involving a professor there who, like me, had studied with Jimmy Dunn. He was concerned that I would lead to similar conflict at IWU. He asked me questions about inerrancy and such. I don't remember the exact contents of the conversation.

He has referenced the lunch from time. He has mentioned me being honest about my own questions. It seemed he was both cautious and yet interested in me. I could tell in his mind that hiring me would be a risk. Once bitten, twice shy.

I also remember him saying that they tried to hire "thoroughbreds." That is, he liked to hire people who could teach a variety of courses, not just individuals who had a narrow specialization in just one subject. I of course liked that. I would almost teach anything if I were allowed.

7. He must have been enough relieved by our conversation that the Division brought me back up for an interview. By this time I was very happy and grateful to have an interview. I had no real desire to move to Indiana in general, although it was the state of my birth and family history. I had passed on IWU for college, although Tom Sloan had done his best to recruit me. I frankly did not think much of it academically. We had all joked when Barnes renamed it a "university."

I remember presenting on Paul's background in Judaism. I had recently read Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey's Portraits of Paul (1996). That was one advantage of Sierra Leone--reading. I had read most of N. T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God there. I remember Bud asking me a great question--if circumcision was how men converted to Judaism, how did women convert. I remember fumbling around for an answer--by marrying a Jewish man, for example.

I never felt like I thought well on my feet for these sorts of interviews. They were always a great challenge. Over time I have built up a repertoire of opinions and experience that make such conversations easier. But I still often feel that "on the spot" struggle when I appear before committees over curricula and such.

The interview proper took place at the Hostess House over lunch. I remember a couple questions Keith Drury asked. One carefully had to do with homosexuality, since I was single at the time. The other had to do with diversity, although that word wasn't used. If there were another candidate who had roughly the same qualifications as I did but was a woman, who would I hire? I said I would hire the woman. And of course they did. :-)

I also met with President Barnes, the final interview moment in the process. One of the first things he said was, "Now your father has certain questions about how we fund raise?" I smiled and said, "No, that would be my uncle Eugene." Uncle Eugene was known for giving generously to many causes. He also had that Schenck impulse to critique things.

I remember a strange encounter also with the former Chair, who had just stepped down. He didn't participate in the interviews but I ran into him sitting in the dark (as I recall) in a small office in the middle of the suite downstairs. He said he voted for me, or some such. I knew of him from a seminary friend who had done the MA with him, Glenn McGrady. Glenn has since passed, but he had such self-confidence after studying preaching with him. "See this table." What was funny was that while Glenn had a heart of gold, I really did not think him a likely minister.

8. One day not to long thereafter I remember getting a call during supper. I remember going to the kitchen to talk to Bud Bence on the phone. Duane Thompson had decided to retire. He had also been Division Chair at some point in the past but was mostly a philosophy professor. They weren't sure whether they would move forward with philosophy as a requirement or not but needed someone to cover philosophy at least for the following year. Was I interested?

You bet I was. I loved philosophy, even if I wasn't really qualified to teach it. It was just a one year contract. I sensed they were testing me, to see if I would fit or was a trouble-maker. I was over the moon to have a job.

[1] Here are some other interesting tidbits of my time in Sierra Leone:
  • I found out after I left that one of the key workers for the Wesleyan Church in Freetown secretly had another wife up country. Apparently, the issue of polygamy was still alive and well. 
  • Interesting conversations on female circumcision. One person told me that most all of the women I would see, even in the church, would be circumcised. Not sure I believe him. There was a ceremony one night I heard moving further down the Jui peninsula that may have been a female circumcision ceremony.
  • I had three offers of marriage while I was there, two through an intermediary. One uncle told me that "If an American woman marries an African woman, that would not work well at all. But for an American man to marry an African woman is a dream.
  • The heat was devastating for running. I ran a little on the main road with a young man who put me to shame. Was trying to run three but very difficult.
  • There was a sports day. I ran the two mile race for one group. I was in last for most of the race. Someone on my team who had never run before had lapped me. But then he suddenly veered to the side and threw himself on the ground. At least I beat him. I think they ridiculed him for losing to me. :-) 
  • the churches and class, sermon illustrations about resuscitation versus resurrection, shaming into conversion story, evangelism in Freetown, paradigm shifts about civilization, one meal a day for most, Krio, Timne, and class. Easter Monday on the beach and sunburn, "I the God do not change," having fun with planes, airports as liminal zones


Martin LaBar said...

Interesting, and amazing, history.

John Mark said...

These little snippets of information make you intrigued, and wanting more. Thanks for this brief account of some or your own history as well as sharing with us insights into the larger narrative of hot button social issues and what have become perhaps thorny theological issues--or maybe we are past some of that now. I'm too far removed from the academic community and environment to know. I resonate with one thing you said: I have a mild learning disability and don't ever think fast on my feet.

As an aside, I called my favorite professor ever at MVNU; it's possible you might know him, and he told me (this was weeks back) that his position was eliminated due to budget constraints, and there will no longer be any philosophy classes taught there. I was surprised, and told him I thought we needed the pursuit of philosophy more today than ever. Shortly after I got a mailer asking me to donate to help build an athletic building, or field. I have come to nearly hate sports, since they are taking people out of church more and more these days. I never got past introductory level classes; I think I liked him more than I actually liked studying philosophy. I wish you the best at Houghton. I don't know much about the place, but have had a grad from there working for me, beginning around 2003. The school has a very interesting history, though as usual I have heard only the famous anecdotes, such as using local river rock for buildings, and the joke about being 30 miles from the nearest sin.

Jeremy S. Myers said...

I’m sort of curious as to how your view of the academic stature of IWU has changed over the years. You didn’t attend there because you didn’t think much of it academically. I’m assuming your views have changed some. Why and how? I’m hoping to read some of that in coming episodes��