Carol Valentine has taught English at Marshall University in West Virginia for 27 years. She and her husband, Rich, have two daughters. She has been faculty advisor for Christian student ministries on her campus in addition to regularly helping sponsor evangelistic events for faculty.
As Christians, we tend to be "forgetful hearers." We hear sermons and read books about developing an eternal perspective, but when we become involved in the details of teaching, grading papers, research, and attending committee meetings, we may tend to forget that "God milks the cows through us" (Martin Luther).
How can we develop a mind-set that sees beyond the details of this world to the substance of the next? More specifically, how can we influence our campus for the Lord? In our offices, hallways, and classrooms we can make a difference if we ask the Lord to provide opportunities to identify ourselves as Christ-followers. I personally try to take every opportunity I can to communicate God's love. I pray every morning on my way to school that the Lord would use me and that I would be alert to those opportunities.
We also need encouragement from each other as we live out our roles of ambassadors of Christ. I've been praying with another woman on campus for two years every Thursday. Since I feel called to my position, I don't want to retire until there is someone to take my place.
C. S. Lewis once wrote, "There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan." We should view our students and colleagues in light of eternal options.
One way to nurture that view is to give an introduction before class that includes a personal testimony. A possible approach: tell students your name, education credentials, particular interest in the course, something about your family or hobbies, and then end with a statement about your top priority (your personal relationship with Jesus Christ). That's all; allow the Lord to use the statement the way He sees fit.
Recently, the Lord provided a unique witnessing opportunity for me. Two pre-law students were in my office discussing their applications for law school. I told them everyone applying for law school would have good grades and references, but they could draw special attention from the school through their letter of application. I told them that once I had worked on a document for five years before I was satisfied with my first sentence.
Of course, at that point I had their complete attention. After telling them the first sentence, I went on to recite the entire document-my testimony-and they were very interested.
It's a life of suspense; we don't know what's going to happen next. We just need to be ready to take whatever step is called for at the time.
Because my name was included in a faculty evangelistic ad we had in the school paper, a student from my class came by my office to talk about Christ. I began to meet with the student regularly, and eventually she prayed to receive Christ with me.
In another case recently, I met a young man who told me I had influenced a student for Christ when I taught Paradise Lost by Milton. I taught that work 26 years ago. I imagine myself looking out over my classroom with invisible glasses on; I don't know what's going on, but I know that the Lord is doing His work. We can convey our beliefs even through our general attitude and manner.
The Christian world view is not the dominant one now. It's important to seek to influence our world for Christ because the campus environment continually tests students' faith, if they have any at all. I can see it in my freshmen-they're more open to the gospel as newcomers. Yet, when they come back to me as juniors and seniors, I can see changes in them; they're not as open.
Students are ingesting the dominant world view of humanism in their classes, and the atheistic and agnostic professors make fun of Christianity. We desperately need voices that will speak the truth.
As professors, we affect so many more lives than most people do. When I meet with others in my church, they talk of their influence in a small office or a neighborhood, but I have relationships with 100 students a semester, plus faculty. These students are the teachers, lawyers, business executives, and leaders of tomorrow. If we could reach them for Christ, they can in turn reach many others.
University students are at an age when they have broken away from their family and are beginning to think on their own more. They will never be in a place with so many people their age again. It is important to confront them with biblical truth at that time in their lives.
Our living testimony is also encouraging to Christian students. Whenever I speak about my faith at the beginning of the semester, I can see their faces light up. Sometimes they'll stop by on their way out of the classroom and say, if nothing more, "I liked that talk." Once, I had a student go straight from the classroom to the nearest telephone, call her father long distance, and exclaim, "I have a Christian professor!"
I've spoken to many Christian professors who say their witness is in their church. But my feeling is that others can do our jobs in our churches, but only we can affect the lives of those in our spheres of influence on campus.