Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tears and fears

This morning, our pastor said some things at the beginning of the church service that totally broke my heart. I became all choked up. Throughout the service I was holding back my tears and was struggling to hear the rest of the sermon series on the Book of Daniel. Finally, when the congregation was dismissed, I went to the washroom, and cried. I had to release it.

So what did he say that hit me so much?

First, he referred to a recent study that showed that 87% of young people in evangelical churches drop out of church once they step out of high school and go to university. What's happening to our youth?

Second, he read a couple of letters from a two university students who gave an account of their experiences and challenges as a Christian in different universities hereabouts. This is where I almost broke down. The students described life at the dorm, the parties, the porn, the condoms, the skimpy clothes and what-have-you, or what-have-you-not... They also talked about the general disdain for Christianity in the classrooms.

The sadder part was when one student wrote about how university stripped her of all boldness as a Christian. She lost her voice, unable to speak out for her convictions and core beliefs. I wish I could quote the letter in full because it was very descriptive and well-written, you could almost imagine the girl being thrown into the lion's den. Fortunately for her, she found support from our church, people who prayed for her, encouraged her, stood with her during her years in campus.

I believe those letters struck a chord with many young people and parents in the congregation. For me, my thoughts shifted to my four boys who are bombarded daily with teachings and influences that undermine their Christian upbringing. My boys are in the lion's den!

I could imagine what they have to face at school, the temptations, peer pressure, the mockery of Christianity that they hear from classmates and professors... How are they holding up? Or are they holding up...

Decades ago, I was in the same situation going into one the most secular, if not the most secular, and humanistic universities in the Philippines. I gave my life to Christ when I was in fourth year high school and was just beginning to understand what it meant to be a true Christian. I did not have deep theology. I was new at reading the Bible. All I was certain about was that Christ loved me and died for my sins, and that my only hope for eternal salvation was to put my faith on His finished work on the Cross. I made that decision in July 1975.

When I entered UP, I was still wobbly in my faith. Not that I doubted having given my life to Christ, but my knowledge of deeper doctrines was not deep enough. University life scared me not so much the academic part of it, but the part where I would have to stand for my Christian beliefs and convictions against what was taught in classrooms and promoted in the academic community. I expected to swim against the tide of public opinion at some point.

I knew I would not be able to make it alone so I joined IVCF, CCC and later Christian Communicators, all Christian organizations. I needed to be in community with like-minded people. During lunch breaks we would gather for prayer and devotionals by the side of the main library, and have weekly bible studies with a small group. We held evangelistic outreaches.

Indeed, it was tough to be a committed Christian in the university. Some of my Christian peers in high school fell away from the faith in their first year of college. Others disappeared later.

It was difficult indeed, if you want to maintain your convictions. In some of my classes, what I believed about God and the Bible were questioned or contradicted, if not mocked. For me who was not the arguing type, it was hard to take that. Around the campus, there were many issues and causes going on at any time that could easily pull you away from your spiritual moorings.

It was tougher when I reached third year because I entered the Institute (now College) of Mass Communications to major in Broadcast Communications. Everyone I talked to, especially those who were a year or two ahead, gave a dire picture of the college. In fact, I heard some call IMC and the College of Music beside it Sodom and Gomorrah.

It didn't take me long to understand why my college had this reputation. First, it was the stress brought about by my course. There was nothing more stressful than putting up a "live" TV show every week while a "terror" professor sat beside you, if you were the director, screaming at our ear at the slightest out-of-focus or dead air. Then there were papers and thesis requirements that kept you awake till the wee hours of the morning. Students were going bonkers, sort of. It is not uncommon to see people in a state of near-panic, swearing, shouting, smoking... Second, the culture of our college imitated what was out there in the industry, and you know how it is in the TV and radio industry.

Shy and quiet people that I knew transformed within a year in the college. Their language changed and loosened. Their appearance changed. TV exposure does that to you, doesn't it? Their disposition changed.... If I didn't remind myself of who I was and focused on my goal of being in a Christian communications ministry some day, which has been fulfilled, I would have succumbed to the culture. The pull was very strong.

I tried to stand my ground, to keep my values and identity. Did I succeed? Not without my friends and Christian fellowship. I could not have survived alone. On our college yearbook, someone wrote beside my picture "The exception to the Broadcasting stereotype. Manages to be different without being conspicuous..." I take that as a good thing.

Today as a parent, I want nothing more for my children than to be truly committed Christians wherever they are in life. But that is something they need to choose for themselves moment by moment. They need to fight their own battles. For my two adult children especially, I can only give them occasional advice and reminders. They are past the age where I can drag them to church. They need to live out their own faith, as I did mine.

I have to keep believing and claiming the promise in the Book of Proverbs that says, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." That gives me much encouragement.

Bud and I make it a point to pray for our boys every day because we recognize that the battle is won in the spiritual realm. We believe that as we pray, God releases His power that envelops our children. They are covered.

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