Why I Study

The expression people give me when I tell them, “I’m still in school” is a mixture of concern and pity usually reserved for small children who have lost their way in a shopping mall. Yes, I am still in school. I went to school in Chicago, Moody Bible Institute, a top-notch kind of place. I spent four years studying the bible and finished my undergrad. Then I came here, to G.O.D. int’l, and I went back to school. But let’s get this straight—I didn’t return to school because I wasted four years in a catatonic stupor, popular among youths today. The opposite is true. I showed up to class both sober and attentive, and I pursued my academic work with the kind of rigor that usually lands one a friendless table at the cafeteria; Not only did I actually visit the library, I could have located most of the reference books blindfolded.

So why did I return? Has it been worth it? Or has it been filled with the kind of mind-numbing superfluity that a second undergrad seems to imply?  I was, after all, educated. I knew polysyllabic words, and I could deploy them deftly in a written sentence or verbal communiqué. I would have been the darling of any cocktail party. Why go back? Let me answer this question with a story:

On Benjamin Reese's trip to Central Kenya, he visited an area of extreme drought.

When I was in Africa for the first time, our group spent time in an area that had been affected by a severe drought. I was walking with the leader of the trip, Gregg Garner. I turned to the him and asked, “what would you do about this—this drought?” He responded with a sigh, the exasperated sigh of someone who has to answer an uniformed question about an incredibly complicated issue. Then he said some things I can’t remember. It was something about the need for agricultural development, irrigation techniques, and then something about something else I didn’t understand. I stopped listening about half-way through: I slowly realized that he wasn’t so much addressing my question, as helping me understand that I had a lot more to learn.

Serving people, it turned out, is an enormously complicated endeavor. It sounds as easy as taking plates to a table, but it’s not. You have to know what the needs of the people are. This requires a good deal of attentiveness. To be honest—and this is severely embarrassing—I wouldn’t have even known I was in a drought-affected area if Gregg hadn’t pointed it out, as if the foot-deep dust and failing crops weren’t signs enough. I didn’t even see them. Noticing problems that affect other people is simply not taught in your standard self-centered, achieve-your-own-goals type education.

Which brings me to an important point: My lack of knowledge wasn’t the problem. It was my mindset, my whole way of being in the world, my whole matrix of noticing and interpreting data. I was walking through a drought-affected area, with suffering all around me, and I didn’t have a clue. I might as well have been wearing binoculars and a safari hat and saying things like, “oooo, look at the natives.

On Reese's trip to East Africa, and later trips to Latin America, he has been able to assess the needs of impoverished communities. Here, Reese spent time teaching in a primary school.

But, how do you correct a mindset? Which, by its very nature, is hardwired into a person, residing somewhere below conscious awareness. There is a reason the Apostle calls for a transformationof the mind. Transformation: It’s a word worth considering. After all, the Apostle could have called for a mere, mental adjustment. After my trip to Africa, after Gregg helped me see what I wouldn’t have (or refused to have) seen, I knew I needed more than information or technical knowledge, I needed transformation. I had been learning a lot, but it had all been filtered through a skewed lens. Now a new world was coming into focus, and I saw how inadequate this kind of education could be.

This kind of transformation is the goal of our education at G.O.D. It’s what makes our educational process so long, so difficult, and so incomprehensible to the watching world. I was academically adept, but I hadn’t developed the emotional or spiritual chassis to properly carry what I had learned, and what I needed to learn. In order to develop this framework, however, you have to put into practice what you learn. When I was at school in Chicago, I took classes—then I lived my life. My teachers weren’t checking to see what I was doing with the knowledge they had given me, and I didn’t know how my teachers lived either. They could have been weekend-hellions for all I knew.

Though Reese has already obtained a biblical studies undergraduate degree, he finds the education offered at the Institute for G.O.D. International essential for confronting a world of need he didn't previously know.

When Jesus railed against the educational institution of his day, he told the educators, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46). It’s easy to focus on the first part of this rebuke, as we tend to find unnecessary rules so reprehensible. Thus our oft-irrational fear of “legalism” (Though we usually misinterpret this concept and apply it to all the laws of the bible­as in, “oh, you think I should love my neighbor? Don’t be legalistic.”). It is the second part of Jesus’ reproach that I find more interesting, more incisive. The teachers of the law weren’t helping the people live up to the education they were receiving. In other words, they didn’t give the people a framework by which they could actualize what they were learning.

Let us imagine after visiting the drought-affected area, Gregg turned to me and said, “Well, the Bible says we should help those in need, right? Okay… good luck.” Maybe I would have tried to do something: I did, after all—my ignorance and unconscious arrogance aside—desperately want to do good in the world. But let’s be clear: I would have been completely ruined. If I was being realistic with myself, I would have said something like, “I appreciate the suggestion, but I have no idea what I’m doing, and—quite honestly—I’ve got pools of fear and emotional problems the size of, like, oil reserves.”

Contrast this with the educational mode that Jesus took. Jesus walked with his disciples, allowed them to make mistakes, and then continued to teach them. Thankfully, Gregg and the Institute he founded has taken this approach. Serious problems arise when we bifurcate life from education. People wonder why I’m still in school. But, I’m not just in school. I’m living life, and living a life of service requires a continual process of growth. As I learn, the burden becomes heavier, and it’s then I’m glad I have others to help me bear it. The Institute is not just a school. It’s a place where we put into practice what we are learning. And it takes time. Believe me. There is a reason the Word of God is likened to a seed. It takes time.

When someone asks me ”why are you still in school?” and they give me that look that says “avoiding adult responsibility, aren’t we?,” I sometimes get bothered. But, then I remember a much more profound question.  I remember the kind of problems that exist in the world, and I imagine someone turning to me and asking, “what are you going to do about this?”