Boats on the Water: A Reflection from the Mid-Level Professionals Retreat
By Eric Fehr
Every year, student development professionals look forward to students returning, but dread August. August brings a busyness that is unmatched through the rest of the year; often called a blackout month, August brings less Sabbath, more late hours, and worry that we have forgotten something during the planning process. We face down three weeks of student leader training, event planning, second-guessing events already planned, re-planning events in light of our doubts, residence hall move-in, frustrated new students and parents, launching welcome week, helping students find their rhythm with classes, involvement, study, and rest … August is a lot.
But August is over. August 2019 is now in the past, and we’ve made it.
With the rush being done, I have finally had the opportunity to reflect back at the summer and more particularly the Mid-Level Professionals Retreat that I was fortunate to attend before the 2019 conference hosted at Wheaton College this past June.
Our group reflection on Mark 4:35-41 stands out to me in particular. In this passage, Jesus has just finished teaching the crowds and has departed to go across the Sea with his disciples. They depart with other boats departing with them. A storm comes up suddenly and the disciples are terrified, and Jesus is sleeping. Frantically the disciples wake Jesus up, asking him if he even cares about them. Jesus responds by calming the storm and questions their faith.
We meditated on this passage, read it together several times, worshipped Jesus, and discussed how the passage impacted us. What stuck out to me the most then, and what still sticks out to me now, is that it was not just Jesus and the disciples on the water. “There were also other boats with him.” Suddenly the picture changes from seeing the single boat tossed to and fro on the waves to a group or multitude of boats on the waves—everyone seeking to follow Jesus but falling into the danger. I wonder what the people in the other boats were feeling or thinking. They didn’t have Jesus physically in the boat with them—was there doubt about why they were following someone who had led them into danger? I would be interested in being in those boats to see what was going on. But we aren’t given that information or part of the story. We just know that others were there as well.
Higher Education, particularly Christian Higher Education, is amid a storm. We are boats in the water together, seeking to follow Jesus and His purpose for our institutions, but floating on the deep, chaotic waters of the unknown. Some of our boats seem to be taking on water as we face dropping enrollment, increased institutional costs, and retention of students. Some of us are bailing the water trying to stop from being overcome. Others are frantically seeking to stow our sails to ride out the wind and waves. Some have already floundered and are lost.
The past three weeks have brought this back into focus for me as many of us have struggled through the hard beginning of a new semester. We are all in the same storm. There is not one boat but many on the water together. We often forget each other during the storms, both big and small. But let us look to each other in the tough times like August. And let us remember each other during the larger storms like the falling enrollment and retention numbers across Christian higher education.
Our staff has committed to praying together twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30 a.m. During these times we are praying with and for each other, our students, our professors, our enrollment and retention efforts, our University leadership, and our futures. But we are also praying for the other boats on the water. We are praying for you.
I would like to invite you to meet us on the water. Join us as we pray for our students, colleagues, and futures as a family. Jesus is not surprised by where we or our institutions are. He is not surprised that we are nervous and scared about where we are going or whether we will survive the storm. He simply wants us to be people of faith and to look to Him.
He will take care of the rest.
Eric Fehr is the Director of Student Engagement at Ohio Christian University and serves on the ACSD Social Media Team. He earned a Master of Science in Education: Student Affairs Administration from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.