Driving home from Spring Break with the Missouri Campus House was a bewildering experience. Never before had we felt so at home, so loved and immediately accepted in a ministry setting. We longed desperately to be hired – to escape Muncie, to be given a fresh start – but Brad remained cagey about extending an offer. Despite the fact they had been searching for almost two years and we filled almost all of their stated hopes for the position, he was worried about his Board. He simply could not predict how they would react.
Would they take issue with my past mistakes? Would they cut off the hiring process due to finances, or ask for more candidates to review? Or would they suddenly decide they hated all of the things?
They took option D in case you were wondering.
The next couple months were spent in a sort of holding pattern. Almost as if the one week return to ministry never happened, I went back to substitute teaching, Mikala to babysitting, and our relational ceasefire continued as both knew this was unsustainable but hoped our term in purgatory would end soon. I might have doubted the experience entirely had it not been for the continuing conversations with Brad, who seemed interested in growing our relationship while sharing the movement (or lack thereof) with his Board of Directors.
Apparently, they were not only trying to hire a new staff member but also move their weekly midweek gathering to Sundays – which made the Directors anxious that the Campus House was losing its mission as a “campus ministry” and trying to turn itself into a “church.”
You know, since “two or more gathering” wasn’t a thing . . .
And I’m sure the fact that five of the seven men were elders at the local church and stood to lose potential college students from their services had nothing to do with it.
Anyway, for months we remained in Indiana, hearing reports of contentious meetings where Brad lined up respected and successful campus ministers speaking to the effectiveness of Sunday services in this context while the Board made a “biblical” case for why such a community could not be considered a “church.”1 We started to get nervous. Even if this worked out, would we want to be in such an unsettled environment? But Brad assured me that in all his years, these men only showed up for major decisions, then left the ministry to its own devices for the day-to-day.
Well obviously everything worked out (for the short term; the Board never entirely dropped the issue even after Brad left two years later), and we scheduled a Skype interview with a portion of the Directors. They grilled me on everything, from my schooling, ministry experience and philosophy, and hermeneutic, to the affair and toxic staff atmosphere in Muncie, and I answered everything (even regarding the affair) to their satisfaction. Early that May, almost five months from my first contact with Brad, we were finally extended an offer of employment. As with many parachurch ministries, our salary was a mixture of guaranteed pay and support raising, but they probably could have offered me a job mucking out a pig pen and we would’ve taken it, so eager were we to get out. So we put the house we’d only owned for two years up for sale, packed up our belongings, and I drove a moving truck between Indiana and Missouri for the second of three times in my life.
Our time at the Central Missouri Campus House began in some ways eerily similar to Muncie: living in the building’s third floor apartment, we participated in a small Bible study with third semester students, got acquainted with our new town, and basked in the newness of a fresh start. Yet in other, deeper ways, things were strikingly different: there was wholeness in the way the staff interacted that spoke less of Brad’s love for leadership culture and more of their community’s vision as shalom bringers. A spirit of respect and friendship permeated the office, accompanied by a sense of depth in every action and an earnestness in their approach. The students were eager to learn and encouraged to apply the critical thinking skills they learned in class to their faith.
We threw ourselves into the new opportunity, rebuilding our lives, marriage, and ministry. We learned to love our students and fellow pastors, even looking forward to staff meetings (what!?). Though we were still too close to our past to fully appreciate what we’d learned, we nonetheless began to notice a subtle shift in the way we approached students. There was an ease, a depth (dare I say “wisdom”); a soft grace permeating all our interactions as we learned names and histories. There was a long way yet to go for Mikala and I, but at least we were safe from our past.
Or so we thought.
For though we were physically removed from the struggles and temptations of our past, reminders were only a click away. And grief does not recognize state lines.
1. I believe those proof-texts are in II Opinions.↩