One of the things I love about our La Sierra University learning community is that we come from all parts of the world. We represent a vast array of countries, backgrounds, languages, religions, experiences, academic programs, departments, and schools. Yet we are all, individually and corporately, part of one university—a university in which each of us plays a unique and important role.
Last summer, my wife, Deanna, and I joined a group of our Honors students and their professor, Dr. Suzanne Mallery, and her family in Istanbul, Turkey. It was a remarkable opportunity to spend time with our students—Alisha, Cidnee, Hew, Nerlin, Rachel, and Ron. Rarely do
I get to spend this much time with one group of students, and I loved it.
As part of their curriculum, our Honors students have an international study experience. For the past several years, it has centered on Turkey, a nation at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, with both Christian and Islamic heritage. One of the memorable experiences we shared that week, as we sought to understand another culture, was attending a Sufi worship service.
Dr. Mallery explained that this order of Islam was founded in the 13th century by the followers of Rumi, a mystical poet and great Sufi master. Sufis seek a close relationship with God, and for Rumi, it was best achieved through chants, prayers, music, and a whirling dance.
As visitors to the monastery, we sat on the edges of the room while a large congregation of men crowded around their spiritual leader. Soon he began to chant, and it was not long until rhythmic music and the chanting of the worshipers filled the air.
Eventually a group of dervish devotees entered the hall. They were dressed in long white robes and wore felt hats and black cloaks. They bowed to each other, then knelt and removed their cloaks.
One by one, they began to spin. “Whirling dervishes,” as they are known, believe they represent the moon, and they spin on the outside of the master, who represents the sun. Spinning on his right foot, the dervish holds his hand palm-upward to receive God’s love. It flows through his heart and down the left arm. Dervishes view themselves as conduits, channeling God’s love outward to the rest of the world.
The following day we met with the gentleman who had arranged for our visit. He is a friend of Dr. Mallery and himself a dervish. He spoke of the love he hoped we had experienced, and then he said, “You will never forget this experience. It will fill your dreams.”
In a sense, he was right. Even now, I can see these men dressed in white. One at a time, they were released by the master and began to spin, each in his own way, with movements slightly different from those around him. The master made certain that proper distances were maintained so that each would be able to spin unhindered. Together they created a visually arresting whole—orbiting within a galaxy of worship and praise, embracing the world.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul reminds us that each of us has a particular gift and function within the community. Here at La Sierra, some of us are teachers, others students. Some of us support the important work that takes place in our classrooms. Some are pastors and counselors. Some cook and clean and care for the lawns. Some open up the gym, and others make sure the Internet is working. Some of us do research, write papers, and give assignments, and some of us grade those assignments.
We have all been given something to do, and every job, every role in this university is important. And, like the whirling dervishes we saw in Turkey, when we do this together, when we give it our very best, we create a magnificent community. Together, we are One University Changing the World.
The author of Ecclesiastes encourages us never to forget that “Whatever our hands find to do, we are to do it with all our might” (Eccl. 9:10, NIV). The author of Proverbs has similar counsel: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (Proverbs 16:3). Some of those plans, when brought to fruition, may change the world.
There are innumerable ways in which the people of La Sierra University are changing the world right now. In the pages that follow, you will meet some of them. As you read about them, ask yourself these questions: What are you committed to? What plans burn in your soul? What wakes you up in the middle of the night? What fills you with anticipation? How are you going to change the world?
As you find your answer and commit your energies to the Lord, you, too, will be part of One University Changing the World.