I went to a college founded by..Presbyterians. But clearly they had long since left. We were actually on Playboy magazine's top 10 small college party schools, a fact which I am sure would have dissuaded my parents from encouraging me to attend if they ( or I ) had known it. I started out eager to be all.. prelaw, sorority, lots of invites to parties, but good ( or at least decent) grades. I was told by lots of adults that I would make a great lawyer. I wasn't really sure about that, but in the corporate go-go world of "near Pittsburgh" in the 1980's you better amount to something. I still attended church- at the Presby church next to my dorm, Church of the Covenant ( which we called Church of the Convenient because you could roll out of bed and make the 11 o'clock service). I went to church many but not most Sundays with a fellow Presbyterian guy who was gay, but I was good cover. I kept in touch with my friends from youth group, but since we were all scattered that became hard. Even harder was what happened with my best friend.
This was a time before fax, email, cell and the internet ( I know -hard to imagine). We wrote. She was at Wheaton College where she had to sign a covenant of conduct. I off-handed mentioned a cute guy I went to see a movie with. His name clearly indicated he was Jewish. It was REALLY just going to a movie.
The letter I got back was a lecture about the light and darkness mixing. How every social context could lead to a romantic relationship. My soul was clearly in danger. She wanted to write more but she was leaving to do street ministry in Chicago. Repent!
And when I came home for Christmas that year, they all knew.
OK, but I brushed it off. And I loved the Church of the Covenant. Great people who really wanted to talk to the college kids. They held a study break every term at midnight with caffeine and munchies the entire four years I was there. Now that I am older and I recall how old they were, this was really hospitality ministry in the extreme for some of them. I have never forgotten their witness. Most, if not all, of us would move on. They were just being Christ's presence. I had faith that there was more to the story, but I was also living the college kid life pretty hard my first year.
My freshman year I had signed up to take Russian. I also took a January term trip to the Soviet Union ( now defunct). My dad had been in military intelligence and I almost did not make it through customs, but I did. Lots of great experiences with the people, and I was absolutely awe-struck in the Orthodox churches and a monastery that I visited. We visited an iconography museum with the largest collection of ancient icons not in churches. I found myself drawn in to the icons. Time seemed to stop. Everywhere else around me though it was clear that life for the "American tourist" was vastly different from the average Ivan on the street. Went to visit dissidents and we drank chilled vodka, smoked my American cigarettes and listened to bootleg music while arguing politics. The next day I was sneaking money to the monk in the monastery from the group because with my traded-for silver fox hat I looked most "Russian."
Every Sunday that I went to the Church of the Covenant I went with the guy who needed a good cover. By the end of our first year he was depressed. Over the summer he committed suicide. Hard funeral. The only one that had been harder was a guy in my senior class who dropped over dead of an aneurysm two months before graduation. But that was a different kind of hard. In the fall, I just couldn't bear the questions from the well meaning Church of the Covenant ladies about where he was. So.. I found reasons not to go. My home church was becoming less like the church I knew in some shifts of theology and I was always working or picking up extra credits in the summer.
By the time I was in my junior year, I went back to the Soviet Union. This time packing Cyrillic language Bibles which made it through. More sneaking money to the priest. While I was there I had a cyst develop and rupture at the base of my spine that I never knew I had. There was not time to take me to the "Tourist" hospital. I went where the regular people would be sent. Without an interpreter because she was to stay with our group. Tested out my Russian. There was a changing room which had cubicles and shower curtains just like the old public swimming pool. I was told to take off my clothes and wait to be called. I had a small towel the size of a handtowel. When it was my turn to go to surgery, I did my best to cover up with the small towel and walked through a room full of other undressed people waiting for surgery.
Turns out that since the surgery was considered not internal, there was no anaesthesia. Which it would have been nice to know-the vodka would have been a blessing. Not sure how I lived through that. But there was vodka after for sure!
Made me really wonder about the others. There is a Russian word "borba" which means struggle. It was clear that every day these people lived with that word. Who knew how long they had waited just to get care and I was going ahead of them. I felt so unworthy.
Worked for a Congressman in the summer after my junior year and had become very involved in Republican political work. Started traveling to DC alot to help the Reagan Revolution which seemed right at the time. Tried to decide between pursuing further study in Russian and an intelligence job, or law school which I was told I was made for. Although I was still a person of faith ( after all, what idiot takes banned Bibles in a suitcase and gets past the guys with guns for kicks?), church was kind of just an afterthought because there was not a real group to attach to when I was home.