Calling can be heard in unexpected ways (video link)
A trio of campus leaders who started from very different places told how they got where they are today at the 2012 Provost’s Convocation January 11.
Stephen Varvis, interim provost and vice president of enrollment management; Nayely Carlos (BA ‘08), admissions advisor; and Karen Cianci, dean of the School of Natural Sciences, spoke to students, faculty and staff during the event, the first College Hour chapel presentation of the semester, in the Special Events Center on the main campus.
The title was “Finding Your Calling: Stories from Our College Years,” and the intent was to show students how college can influence their lives, even in unexpected ways. Here are a few excerpts from each presentation:
Like some of you I knew I would be going to college. But I wasn’t sure what I would do with it. I wanted to study just the subjects that I teach now—history, literature, philosophy. I resisted being practical, and finding a major that would be sure to land a job for me.
My Christian community was at Fresno Youth for Christ, or YFC, where I directed a middle school club, and also helped organize the city-wide middle school program. I sensed early on, and still believe, that God does not always tell us what he is going to do with us. We find out along the way, often, in my case, after it is all over.
I still remember my first YFC club event. One father walked up to me with his daughter and her friend. He told me that his wife had recently died, his daughters were acting out, and he was hoping we could help. Within a few minutes, a young mother walked up with her son, a seventh grader. She explained, while holding tightly on to his hand, that he had is first experience with drugs that day, and that I should watch out for him through the evening.
This is not what I thought youth ministry would be. I discovered that God had much to teach me, and that I should expect to be surprised.
One day in my second year of graduate work, I was sitting my desk in our little apartment preparing for a seminar. I received a phone call. Kurt, my friend and former supervisor at YFC was calling to offer me a job directing the middle school program in Fresno. I hesitated for one brief minute, but then explained that I knew I was where God wanted me.
We pursue what we have a passion for, what we seem to be good at. We test the work and various opportunities that are put before us, and we trust that someday it becomes clear. You may experience a similar path. You will not know where it is leading, but you will follow, trusting that your calling will become clear to you as you walk.
My calling has been shaped by many inspirational and talented individuals. One of my mentors, Dina Gonzalez-Pina, advised CAKE (Cultural Awareness Knowledge Enrichment) meetings during my freshmen year. I learned about genocides in places like Rwanda and Burma, Christian persecution, fair trade, immigration, world hunger, poverty and God’s hope for humanity.
I devoted my time to different leadership roles on campus, seeking God’s direction and wisdom. I had planned to serve as a resident assistant when I felt called to run for student body president. Just like Peter, Jesus challenged me to trust him. I had not been thinking of Peter trying to walk on water, yet for three consecutive nights I envisioned Jesus reaching out his hand reassuring me “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”
After graduation, I did not want to return to FPU. In 2008, the recession hit the hardest. I sat at home for three months feeling like a total failure. My dad finally spoke up, “Mija, have you gotten on your knees and really humbled yourself before the Lord?”
The next day, I reluctantly took my siblings shopping for back-to-school materials. I ran into my middle school principal and his assistant vice principal. He offered me a job as a substitute teacher.
I decided to take the risk and found an unexpected joy in teaching. Many parents who didn’t speak much English made me aware of language barriers in education with comments like, “Señorita Arreola, why can’t you be my son or daughters teacher?” In addition, I served as an afterschool tutoring manager for at-risk middle school students. These students from my neighborhood reminded me of the importance of good role models.
When a position opened with Fresno Pacific University, I felt led to continue working on issues of diversity and student access to higher education. I don’t view my job as my calling but as an instrument of God’s calling in my life. The next time, you find yourself at a difficult crossroad in life, trust Jesus when he says, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”
A dean of students decided to send my application for a student life position to the biology department. That decision by a stranger in some distant room changed the direction of my life. I had entered college pre-med and majored in biology. But over the four years I became increasingly interested in the whole person, so when I graduated I entered seminary to pursue counseling. I really believed that was the end of biology in my life. Four years later, I suddenly received letter from a biology department asking if I would be interested in teaching labs. I was suddenly back in biology teaching in a newly launched nursing program.
My chair became my mentor. He encouraged me to begin my Ph.D. After taking a couple of grad courses, I received an invitation from my alma mater to go to Israel at a huge discount. Because I wanted to take a trip to Israel, I was forced to go full time in my graduate work. The year I completed my comprehensive exams, a professor left the college where I was teaching, which opened a tenure-track position. I qualified; all because the treadmill speed had been turned up two years before. The year that I completed my Ph.D. defense (also the year I got married) the nursing program, a joint program between my college and a hospital, was suddenly cancelled by the trustees of the hospital. This was the program that had created my job, drew me into college-level instruction and sent me on to my doctorate. It was almost like (hearing) “Your work here is done. You have a newly minted doctorate and it was time to move.”
I felt like I had reversed my career direction twice but looking back, I had studied the mind, biologically, spiritually and psychologically. It almost looked like there had been a comprehensive plan.
Two lessons stand out:
* Some of the most crucial turning points happened by external events. This should be a comfort. You cannot miss God’s turn in the road.
* It is really important to do what you do well. It was my biology courses that got me my first professional job four years later.
Many more stories of faith and calling are to be found at FPU, Varvis said, encouraging students to use them to shape their own lives. “Today is just a start,” he said.