Overcoming obstacles – the story behind the story
By Richard Spillman
This is a story about apparent defeat followed by ultimate victory. It reminds me a little of the story of Joseph when the enemy tried to destroy him but God used the means of Joseph’s destruction to raise him to the heights of power. What happened to me at work was not nearly as dramatic but it is, at its heart, the same story.
I taught at Pacific Lutheran University for 35 years. In the Spring of 2006, I committed myself to dedicate the first 5 minutes of each class to share a story about how God was working in my life at the time. I told my students that while the technical material we were going to cover in class was important, it was not nearly as important as their relationship with God. During that time God gave me a fresh story to share during each class session.
Then in October 2007 a student complained and I was called into the chairs office. He told me that I must stop because my contract contained a clause which, in effect, said I could not preach in class. If I didn’t stop it would be grounds for dismissal. It didn’t make any difference that this was a “Christian” school or that faculty were free to ridicule the Gospel all they wanted and did without consequences. I checked and he was right, the small print in my contract, which I must admit I had never read, forbid any religious instruction in my classes.
I was faced with a dilemma. Should I continue to talk about God or should I honor my agreement and stop. I decided that I would not be a good witness if I did not keep my word, so I sadly stopped. I had no idea of the miracle God was about to perform.
The surprise ending to this story was set in motion months before I was ordered to stop talking about God in my class. Earlier in the year, the University sent out an email to all the faculty announcing that PLU had received outside funding to develop “service-learning” classes in which students would be required, as part of the class, to volunteer in the community. The university had enough funds to support four such classes and invited faculty to apply. At the time I decided I could revamp my privacy class to focus on the lack of privacy in the homeless community and have my students work with organizations that served the homeless. I had no idea the impact that decision would have and the way it would produce an amazing victory for Christ.
I learned that my course was one of the four selected for funding under which I received “bonus” pay for teaching the class. The University was very excited about my proposal because it was the only one to come out of the sciences. They had expected that “service-learning” classes would be limited to the social sciences and the humanities. My first such class was scheduled to begin in January 2008.
Suddenly, the same University that threatened to fire me if I talked about God in class was now paying me to speak about God in class. I could now talk about how God was working in the homeless community because that was part of my class proposal. But that was only a small part of the victory. Now the students had to go out and work directly with the homeless of Tacoma. Just a few blocks from school was a Christian organization called the Crossing. The Crossing provided clothes, showers, laundry facilities, food, and prayer for the homeless. It needed volunteers and I suddenly had 15 students who needed a place to volunteer. It was a perfect match. Now, rather than just getting a short 5 minute story, most of my students would spend 3 to 5 hours a week at the Crossing watching God work. They would have stories of their own.
In fact, I asked the students to keep a journal of their service time which they handed in at the end of the course. I only began to realize the full extent of the miracle God had performed when I read those journals. He touched the lives of my students in a way that my little 5 minute stories could never have. One young man took four days to work up the courage to approach one of the homeless clients at the crossing and engage in a conversation. On that day he wrote in his journal “I am beginning to feel like there is a purpose for me.” By day six this student began to think deeply about his belief in God. He decided on that day that he would start to pray for the homeless and for the work of the Crossing. Another student was amazed at the power of God to change lives. She wrote, “I realized that these people [the volunteers at the Crossing] were changing lives around by believing in them and teaching them about God and the power of prayer.”
Two students talked about the prayer they received from the workers at the Crossing. One was a Chinese student who had very little knowledge of God yet she was so moved when Garrett, one of the pastors at the crossing prayed for her. She ended her paper with “God’s blessing be with us.” The other student that was moved by the prayer he received wrote, “Marcia prayed for me because of my lack of faith and prayed that God would show Himself, and guide me to pray and worship Him as my Lord and Savior. The more I came to the Crossing and talked to others that worked there, the idea of religion didn’t seem so far out of reach for me. This is something I’ve struggled with for awhile now, and I feel that with some time and help from people like Marcia and Garrett, I can overcome my stubbornness towards religion and find my faith in God to become true.” By the end of the class a number of students had either accepted Jesus or rededicated there lives to serving Jesus.
Across the board, the lives of my students were changed far more than they would have been by my little 5 minute stories. When I was ordered to stop what I was doing I felt powerless and hopeless. Little did I know that God was ready to explode in my classroom. What the enemy had tried to destroy had instead multiplied 10 fold. I really learned to understand what Joseph meant when he told his brothers as recorded in Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result.”
Richard Spillman is a retired Computer Scientist who typically writes Christian non-fiction (The Passion of Job and Do What Jesus Did both available on Amazon) as well as a Christian blog http://www.spillmanrichard.com . His latest passion, however, is Christian fiction. His first novel, Awakened, is waiting for a publisher to pick it up. He is represented by Jim Hart of Hartline Literary Agency. The story asks the question: “What if Lazarus didn’t die a second time?” He was led to write it after avoiding being kidnapped by ISIS in the Philippines and then receiving death threats (to behead him in standard ISIS fashion) during the rest of his missionary service there. Besides the blog he is active on twitter: https://twitter.com/awakenedtrilogy and instagram: https://www.instagram.com/spillmanrichard/ where you can see pictures from his missionary travels around the world.