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 opportunities.
We also need encouragement from each other as we live out our roles as Christ's ambassadors. I've been praying with another woman on campus every Thursday for two years.
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 introduce yourself before class at the beginning of each semester. I tell students about my particular interest in the course, my family or hobbies, and my top priority in life (my personal relationship with Jesus Christ). That's all; allow the Lord to use the statement the way He sees fit.
To illustrate, two pre-law students were in my office discussing their applications for law school. I told them everyone applying would have good grades and references, but they could draw special attention 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 in our 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.
As I look out over my classes, I don't know what's going on, but I know the Lord is doing His work. We can convey our beliefs 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 I see them as juniors and seniors, they have changed-they're not as open.
As professors, we affect so many more lives than most people do. Others in my church talk of their influence in a small office or 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 can reach them for Christ, they can in turn reach many others.
University students are at an age when they are beginning to think more on their own. 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 stop by on their way out of the classroom and, if nothing more, say, "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 heard many Christian professors say their witness is in their church. But my thinking is while others can do the job in our churches, only we can affect the lives of those in our spheres of influence on campus.