We are safely home from a trip to Greenville College, my undergraduate alma mater. The college, with a total enrolment of 1,400, is located in Greenville, Illinois, a compact, friendly city of 7,000 just off Interstate 70 and fifty miles east of St. Louis, Missouri.
This is a remarkable institution of Christian higher education that has a reputation for winning the loyalty of its students for a lifetime after their graduation.
For Kathleen and me, returning to GC brings a flood of memories. We first arrived there from Toronto, Ontario, at the end of August 1951. The two of us and our nearly three-year-old daughter, Carolyn, took a Greyhound bus from Toronto to Detroit, bought a used car, and started the 500-mile trek, south-westerly.
The fourth member of our family, was a hidden passenger – our soon-to-be-born son, Donald, who arrived five weeks after we reached our destination. Everything else that accompanied us was stuffed into a suitcase and a bulging briefcase.
We had packed a few other earthly possessions into a second-hand steamer trunk and shipped it by rail. To our dismay it went astray. It was not located by the railroad company and delivered to us until late in that fall. For three months we made do with the contents of our suitcase.
How did all this come about? The college, on my solo visit just weeks before this, in mid-August, had captured my imagination. The whirlwind visit was at the courtesy of a friend who was returning his girlfriend from Toronto to Greenville. When we got there, the campus was mostly vacant and the weather hot and sticky. But from the start I experienced an engaging friendliness.
I visited the chairman of the English department, Dr. Mary Alice Tenney, who had been commended to me for her academic strength. A young employee of the college, Watson Tidball, showed me around and made the place and its personnel enticing. I had also earlier been offered a couple of tuition scholarships. Forty-eight hours later I returned to Canada a convert.
From our present “mature” vantage point, the whole venture looks to Kathleen and me like a flirtation with insanity. But there were reasons for doing what we did that were compelling to our 25-year-old minds. I had two years of college to complete and time was running out. In a real sense, ours was a move of desperation. It seemed to me that it was either now or never.
Although the first of the two years was financially precarious right down to the basic necessities of life, we look back on the adventure as a risk taken by starry-eyed youth who were trying to prepare for a lifetime of ministry. Was it a case of “God cares for fools?”
This past weekend was different. It developed as follows: Kathleen and I left our Brampton, Ontario, home on an early Tuesday morning and drove 525 miles to Downer’s Grove, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. Our son and daughter-in-law, Bob and Jan, and family live there, where they run the Bastian Voice Institute.
After less than a day’s stay there, we started out for Greenville, 260 miles to the south. The occasion was the graduation, May 23, 2010, of their daughter, Charis, and as grandparents we were going to be in her cheering section. That was to be exciting enough. But there were other invigorating moments on the horizon. I had been invited to speak to the college’s Board of Trustees, on which Robert sits, on “The Veiled Heritage of Methodism.” The reason for this was to review something of the historical roots of Methodism for the Board of Trustees of a college in the Methodist tradition. It was a privilege I embraced with joy.
In addition to these assignments, there were dinners with friends and visits with former classmates and longstanding associates. Earlier I had been a pastor to the college and town community for 13 years, and that meant pleasant re-connections, too.
The only missing element for our great weekend was the absence of Zack, Bob and Jan’s oldest. He is a medical student in Cork, Ireland. We had settled in our minds that any contact with him would have to be by Skype or telephone or e-mail.
Then, on Saturday night, when we were together, all five of us, in a hotel room, we answered a knock on the door. When Bob opened it there stood Zack, all smiles. For a moment, he seemed like an apparition. We were stunned. It turns out he had planned two months earlier to be present for Charis’s graduation even though it meant expending a chunk of his diligently earned and carefully saved resources. What a bonus this added to the weekend!
Weekends like this don’t come one’s way very often. Try to imagine the praise we offered to the Father for the joy this one brought us all.
Now we are safely back in our home in Brampton, Ontario. Things are quieter here. We have re-established our routines. But we will relive the occasion again and again, and each time we do we will be careful to remember the “God from whom all blessings flow.”
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