Last Sunday afternoon, I watched our grandson Zachary walk across the platform of the Greenville College field house and receive his B.A. degree, magna cum laude. Greenville College is located in Greenville, a small midwestern city of 7,000 in Central Illinois. It’s about 250 miles south of Chicago, and Zach has attended there for four years.
It was a joy to greet and congratulate Zach, degree in hand. He has been a gift from God to my wife and me from his earliest breath. His parents, Robert and Janice Bastian, have shared him with us generously, and he and I are close. His next stop is medical school.
That the greeting took place at Greenville College only adds luster to the moment. The college is a small Christian institution affiliated with the Free Methodist Church. It has a total enrollment of approximately 1,400 students. Both the college and the city of Greenville have a mystique that still draws us.
And well it should. Fifty-eight years ago my wife and I and our little two-and-a-half year-old, Carolyn, arrived in that same city where I myself hoped to complete the final two years of a bachelor’s degree. We had arrived there more by risk and daring than by good sense. We were cash-strapped from the start, and the first of the two years was especially precarious. Most of that first year we lived hand-to-mouth, on the brink even so far as money for groceries was concerned.
But we came under the influence of several professors, the memories of whom we cherish to the very present — Professors Tenney, Kinney, Tidball, Brentlinger, and others — men and women who themselves were teaching there as a calling and who seemed eager to share their own academic conquests freely. Classroom experiences were enriching and private conversations memorable.
Then, after three years at Asbury Theological Seminary and five years of pastoring in British Columbia, it was back to this same Greenville community, in 1961. We were invited to return as pastor of the Free Methodist church there, across College Avenue, from the college. The return introduced us to another 13 years of the special Greenville qualities. We came to know administrators and faculty, scads of students, community people, businessmen, and farmers from Bond County.
Our three children were marked by Greenville and the college, too. They went to public school, high school, and college in Greenville. They made lifetime friends there. Although two of the three returned to Canada for their professional lives, we see in all three the conservative influences of the midwest and the Christian influences of Greenville College. And in our moving about as servants of the church, Greenville has been as much a home to us as anywhere we have lived.
All this comes flooding back whenever we return to Greenville, as we did last weekend. The campus has changed — it’s bigger, prettier, with more educational facilities, dormitories, and parking lots. But the spirit of the place seems much the same. And it’s obviously still giving, to students like Zach, quality opportunities to dig for and discover truth within a Christian perspective.