I was 18 when I first walked on to the Columbia Bible College campus for new student orientation.
Filled with nervous anticipation, I approached the registration table. A young woman smiled and called me by name. Stunned, with no time to dwell on how she could possibly know my name, I was whisked away to my new home.
While standing just outside the building, I met my residence assistant: petite, short hair in two perfect ponytails, glitter across her cheeks. I was inwardly disappointed, for she was the beautiful camp-counsellor type and I had no idea how we would ever connect. I wondered that day if it was all a huge mistake.
My initial plan for one year of Bible college morphed into a four-year degree. In my final semester, I sat around a table with my closest friends, faculty and staff who had gotten to know me best, as they shared their insights for my life. At Columbia, we call this “a senior discernment,” a process for all students completing their degrees.
My chosen contributors commented on my strengths and growth areas, and dreamed of the future with me. They asked, “If you could change anything from the past four years, what would you do differently?”
Hundreds of memories flooded my mind: my first class presentation; praying for healing with friends; a fight with a housemate; volunteering at a local church; the first conflict I had to mediate as a residence assistant; spontaneous camping with friends one cold March; co-leading a mission trip to San Francisco; arriving early to school for student leadership training.
I answered honestly. I would not have changed a thing. Each moment in Bible college provided opportunity to acknowledge who I was, to seek my Saviour and to prepare me for the next step on his path for me.
This last fall marked 13 years since that nerve-wracking first day. I am thankful we have a God who works in mysterious ways, for in the last six years I have lived with that “perfect” residence assistant and her husband, and become “auntie” to her three beautiful children. Needless to say, we connected.
In my current role at the college as associate dean of students, I am honoured to receive invitations to students’ senior discernments. As I attended the most recent ones, I had to smile at their stories.
They came to Columbia with ideas and expectations, and God took those and made the experience rich. They shared how they had grown in understanding of the Bible and in their critical thinking skills, how their internships had challenged their book smarts by testing their street smarts, how they had met one another and grown in friendship, and how being part of a community like Columbia’s offered space to make and learn from mistakes.
I was relieved to know that my experience was not an anomaly, but in fact one that continues today. While the course offerings might change, the buildings are rebuilt and the people move on in life, the core of what happens through a Bible college education remains the same.
Kathleen Doll is associate dean of students at Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, B.C., from which she graduated with a degree in caregiving/counselling in 2004.
--Posted Jan. 29, 2014