Monday, August 8, 2011

Thoughts on Moody, Martyrs, and my Alma Mater

I just finished the book A Martyr's Grace by Marvin Newell. It's a book filled with the stories of the 20-some Moody Bible Institute graduates that have been martyred.

It was an interesting read. Marv Newell was overseas with my family when we first got the Papua, and his son was the crush of half the girls in my 4th grade class. I didn't see him again until we both started Moody our freshman year of college, and I found out that Marv was (and still is?) a professor in Moody's graduate school.

The book is written simplistically so that kids can read it, but I bought it so that I could read the stories. My sophomore year Bonnie Witherall, a Moody alum, was killed in Lebanon by a Muslim shooter upon entering the clinic in which she was a nurse. It sent shock waves through the student body. Moody is known for being a school with a singular focus on training people to go into full-time Christian ministry and for emphasizing cross cultural Christian work overseas. Since so many of us were planning to go into that sort of work, it was really sobering to realize that for Bonnie it ended in death. Her husband Gary came to Moody a month later and talked in chapel. It was quite an experience to sit and hear his story and his emotion, and there was a strong response from the student body. I was among hundreds who sat in silence and tears and prayer for at least an hour after the chapel ended and we were dismissed.

I was struck reading the book that Bonnie was one of very few of the Moody "martyrs" that are what I think of as a "martyr". She was certainly killed for being a Christian and a representative of Christianity. Most of the people profiled in the book (I would say) were killed for other reasons, often related to their being Americans rather than Christians. They were in China for being a Westerner during the Boxer rebellion or the Communist takeover. They were killed in Africa during anti-colonialist uprisings for being white-skinned and thus associated with colonial power. They were killed in East-Asia for being American during WWII, and killed in Vietnam for being incorrectly associated with anti-Communist forces. Some were just robbed or attacked but not related to their work or identity at all, it just happened to happen while they were doing missionary work.

Not one of them was the classic martyrdom that we think of, in which someone is asked to deny their faith or be killed. Only a few were killed specifically for their work as Christians. One woman was raped, mutilated, and killed for being a part of a mission community that opposed female circumcision in Africa.

All of this is just after being called up by people working on putting together stories about Moody from Moody alum. They asked for stories from my "PCM", which is Practical Christian Ministry. All Moody students are required to be involved in some sort of ministry during their entire time at Moody. I replied with a story and they responded with a call and then an extensive interview. It seems I'll be used in some promotional material.

This has all prompted me to ponder again my thoughts on my alma mater. I've been pretty cynical about Moody Bible Institute in the years since graduation. Part of this was simply my own angst and early 20's questioning and semi-rebellion. Some of it I still agree with - while I was there, Moody was taking steps out of being entrenched in some pretty legalistic lifestyle ideas about what "Christian" colleges and students should do and not do. The rules were contradictory, a hangover from conservative fundamentalism, and ultimately distracted from what WAS good, which was ministry and theological education.

Now that most but not all of those rules have been changed, what do I think about Moody? I am so thankful for the relationships I built there, I still believe I had some absolutely excellent professors, and despite all snarky comments from other folks, I loved the idea and my experience in the PCM program. So, I suppose I appreciate Moody for what it  uniquely is - a school attempting to train young adults who want to go into careers that are full-time specifically Christian ministry. This is a very narrow focus and so it isn't useful for most folks, but for those who fit that goal, I think Moody is actually a good school that is getting better and seems to be identifying and fixing its flaws. I hope that continues. I hope that Moody doesn't try to be a Christian bubble shielding itself from the world, but a light, emanating love and truth into the city and world without being defensive or judgmental.

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