“Will you love your campus?”

Presented at Baptist Campus Ministries Refuge (large group) meeting at Shorter University, Thursday 11 November. Thanks to Derek Hale for the invite. Credit to Paul Tokunaga for the original inspiration 20 years previous. For that matter, credit to RCF people who opened their arms to me 20 years ago this year, at the point when I needed to be reached out to the most.
And, for the record, I was told to arrive at BCM at 7:30 PM.

There have been a multitude of people telling me this week that they were looking forward to hearing me talk at BCM tonight. I have looked at them quizzically, and muttered to them “well, I suppose I better write something for BCM, then.”

I wasn’t kidding. I would like for the record to show that I started typing stuff for this talk at 6:34 PM tonight.

I hear that the issue at hand is peace, and I suppose I ought to say something relevant. The default book for me to go to for these things is Romans, and a useful text for these things would be Romans 12:9-21. So I’m going there; you can turn there with me.

But let me tell you about a guy named Paul Tokunaga first.

I’m an old InterVarsity punk. I was in a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship where I went to college (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, on the outskirts of bee-yoo-tee-full Terre Haute, Indiana [Readers who know Terre Haute know that this was a joke. This probably isn’t the most peaceable footnote to write, but while Terre Haute is many wonderful things, and was many wonderful things to me for four years, “beautiful” isn’t one of them]) between the point where I received saving faith in Christ in 1990 and 1993. One of the first things heard about when I joined our InterVarsity chapter was a missions conference at the University of Illinois called Urbana ’90. It took place over Christmas break.

For those Rose-Hulman students who were local, the trip to Urbana was short. I was from north Florida. No way I was going to Urbana.

But the guys who went came back hyped up, and they heard a lot of things that blew them out of the water, but one of those things was a message from this guy Paul Tokunaga, which blew them out of the water so much they bought a video of the talk and showed it one night at our large group, which looks a lot like you guys look now.

Paul Tokunaga is now the Vice-President and Director of Strategic Ministries for the whole of InterVarsity, and he’s done a metric ton in Asian-American ministries and toolkits for campus ministry leaders who aren’t white, middle class punks like I was. But he was one of the speakers on the Urbana ’90 program, and he was talking about his own college experience, which was back in 1971, which is the year I was BORN, so it’s ancient history for me and I don’t know what it is for you.

And this is a time when students were not only skeptical of everything going on in society around them, but they were out-and-out hostile, and on many campuses they would demonstrate and would sit in the administration building and there might even be violence if the students didn’t see exactly how things were changing to make it better for them. This is the era of Vietnam, remember. Not only did this group of students feel like the adults had it in for them, they had the body-bags coming home to prove it.

So this is the time Paul Tokunaga is talking about when he says these words about his sophomore year at California Polytechnic State University – and believe me, if I had the video of this talk, I’d show it to you, because it killed me hearing it. Imagine I’m a nervous Japanese-American instead of a nervous Pearson, as I read this.

I had converted from Buddhism to Christianity as a senior in high school. But it wasn’t until my sophomore year at Cal Poly that I really started to fall in love with God and with the campus. That year, God grabbed my heart, gripped it tight, and yanked hard. The turning point was one bright sunny afternoon. University Union, courtyard, upper deck. I was catching some rays between classes, just minding my own business. Down below, a chaotic, political demonstration was taking place, and as I watched, “Lord, these are sheep, lots of them, they need a shepherd. They need you.” As I thought what it was like to be a student, without the hope of Jesus Christ, I began to cry. It wasn’t religion that I was crying over. I had been raised on the moral teachings of the Buddha. It was for forgiveness for their sin. It was for the power to forgive other people. It was love, true love, for the unlovable, and I was crying for their souls. “Lord, can you, will you love the campus through me?”

I was involved in the InterVarsity fellowship, and there were some awfully nice folk in that group of about 60 or 70. But in terms of being a force to be reckoned with on campus, we were pretty harmless. Then several of us naive underclassmen, Billy, Alexis, Pam, Mark, and others, caught a vision, and the vision was that God sent his only Son to live and die for Cal Poly. We wanted more than anything, more than great GPAs, more than a stunning resume, more than a mate to marry, even more than a winning division II football team, we wanted to see Cal Poly, the whole campus, wrestle with the greatness of Jesus Christ. We wanted to reduce the population of hell and we wanted to increase the population of heaven. We wanted Cal Poly to look like the kingdom of God.

We didn’t have a blueprint, or any king of grand scheme. We started right where we lived, literally. We shared with our roommates our popcorn poppers, our sweaters, our letter jackets, we also tried to be good listeners and compassionate friends. We studied with classmates, and when it seemed right, we explained the relationship between Jesus and business ethics, Jesus and animal husbandry, Jesus and theater. We were involved in all kinds of campus groups. Some of us joined Tomo Dachi Kai, the Japanese club. Guess who? And we challenged segments of the campus with racial injustice issues that rang true with the gospel.

Six of us became writers and editors for the newspaper, the Mustang Daily. We helped build honest journalism into the fabric of the paper, and in return we were given incredible freedom to report from a Christian perspective. The Lord was growing our fellowship in size and in boldness, and we could join with the apostle Paul when he said, I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. Our identity was now in the Lord. He, not letter jackets, was giving us our identity and worth. “Lord,” we asked, “how can we love Cal Poly even more?”

The fall of my sophomore year I met with the college president. These were violent times on California campuses. “Sir, I’m a Christian, and I’m committed to non violence and peace on campus. If there’s anything I can do to protect Cal Poly, feel free to call.”

Several months later on a Sunday afternoon I was working hard on a nap. It was the eve of a potentially violent major campus rally. It was Mayday 1971. It was the day in our history when the radicals of our country were committed to shutting down our entire country. “Paul, this is the president. About that rally on Thursday, I’m scared. What do you think I should do?”

Is this a dream? Wait a minute, I thought. You’re the college president. You’re supposed to have the answers. I am just a sophomore. The president asked for the Christians, not the National Guard, to protect his campus. If we said yes to the college president, we were putting our lives in danger. But we had gone too far. By that point, we were victims of love. We loved Cal Poly too much to turn our backs on our campus. No longer was the campus our adversary. It had become our friend. And we had become its lover.

Thursday came. We were ready. The auditorium was jammed with over a thousand students. There I was, aisle seat, third row, leaning, ready to lurch forward to grab the mic as soon as the radical leader yelled, “Let’s tear apart the administration building.” Oh, Lord! Pudgy, Japanese Americans with thick glasses and acne. We don’t usually do these kinds of things. But, if you’re in it, I’m in.

Our biggest guys were ready to block the exits. More importantly, over a thousand fellow Christian students throughout California were praying for us. By the end of the meeting, Tom Hayden, who is generally a rousing speaker, had literally put some students to sleep. Our God Reigns.

Paul Tokunaga went on to talk about how much that time transformed him and how, as he moved from random sophomore swept up in a genuine movement of God to a junior and senior moving towards excellence in a vocation God kept reminding him of that vision, and how much he would love that campus. I’ll link this talk on Facebook. Read the whole thing. The punch line at the end still kills me.

But the question at the end is what haunts me, and what I hope will haunt you, because it’s so important. What will your legacy be to your college? What will you be remembered for after you’re gone? Jesus loves your campus. Will you love your campus? Jesus died for your campus. Will you die for your campus?

Will you love your campus?

Romans 12:9-21, and I use the New English Translation for these things:

Love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another with mutual love, showing eagerness in honoring one another. Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

“Live in harmony with one another.” “So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” That sounds easy enough. But the instructions for how to do that surround the commandment, and what do they have in common?

They involve giving ourselves up.

It’s not just living with one another, but being devoted to one another. All I can think of when I hear devotion is my grandparents who lived in Palmetto who would wake up so early every morning, often at the same time, and who would share breakfast together, and talk together, and then open the Bible and the Upper Room devotional book together and read it and pray together. They smiled so often. They were so kind to people. And they were kind to one another first, and they started each day in devotion first and foremost.

Is our commitment to the people we live around that deep? How often does an obnoxious noise interrupt your sleep – or, if you’re taking a sophomore science course, your study? Do you remember that person is your brother or sister? When you get interrupted by a person with a problem, do you give them that time that they need, or do you consider it a burden? Do we rejoice in hope? Do we endure in suffering? Sure, we pray for people when they show us a need – but do we persist in prayer?

“Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.” First, Paul would show up here and insist to us that we don’t have a clue what that statement means, and if you doubt then read Paul going off on the Corinth church in 2 Corinthians 10-12. Paul knew from persecution, and Paul did practice showing mercy to the people who would throw him in prison. What do we put up with here that even approaches that?

And when we do walk into a situation that’s unfair to us, do we practice showing grace even in those circumstances? How many professors have you talked about behind their backs lately? (And if you think those of us who are faculty are innocent here, you think way too highly of us.) Do we thank God that we have the ability to give over time in our life for learning and thinking, and do we thank those who are providing here for us, or do we curse the small difficulties? And if we curse the small difficulties, then how do we expect to manage the big ones?

“Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly.” It’s tempting to put people in classes here and call one group that’s not like us lowly, while everybody who looks like us is haughty. Who is in your circle of friends? Do you reach out across social groups on campus, or do you remain in your own little clique?

There are absolutely amazing people on this campus who nobody knows about, because they don’t naturally reach out to people who don’t look like them and people who don’t look like them don’t reach out. If Jesus Christ died for this campus, he died for this whole campus, not just the people in your dorm or the people who play your sport or the people in your major. Do you act that way? Or do you keep to yourself? (And again, I’m pointing the finger at myself here too; how often do you see a science professor outside of Rome Hall?)

Let me put this even more starkly. It’s so easy to feel like, just because we’re on a Baptist campus and it’s understood that Jesus Christ is in the mission statement of the institution, that there’s no need to reach out to people and there’s no need to show Jesus Christ day in and day out. But I will tell you I know people who have been here and who have left this place broken-hearted at how these Christians act and how much they never want to be like what they found at Shorter. That’s a hard truth to bring to the table, but it is there.

And in that truth is a challenge to us: if Jesus Christ died for this campus, if he died for the people on this campus, and if he calls us to be his hands and his feet, then we are to be the ones who love this campus and prove to those people that Christians are people far beyond the cold, the intolerant, the unloving.

It’s 7:25 PM, and I need to get downstairs. But as I’m finishing this up, a song called “In The Light” by Charlie Peacock comes up. You’ve probably heard the song, but recorded by some jokers called DC Talk. Charlie Peacock’s bridge is a little bit different than the Christian-radio version, and it’s hilarious that it comes on right now:

Is there such a thing as a man of peace?
If there is, then a man of peace I want to be
I will need your help if I am ever to be that
If I’m to lay down, to lay down, to lay down
Then I’ll lay my life for my brothers and sisters
I will need your help
Jesus, I need your light forever shining bright

That light is the light of the world, and it’s what we were commanded to show. Do you remember the Sermon on the Mount? “You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.”

Paul Tokunaga’s words still haunt me. I heard them so long ago, and they have never left – when I think about where I’ve been and what I’ve become, much of the genesis of that transformation was hearing those words. I pray they haunt you as well.

What will your legacy be to your college? What will you be remembered for after you’re gone? Jesus loves your campus. Will you love your campus? Jesus died for your campus. Will you die for your campus?

Revised on 4 August 2015 to add a link to video of Tokunaga’s talk – and a thousand thanks to Intervarsity twentyonehundred for making it freely available. I’m not even kidding, I may have shed a tear of joy seeing it again.