The following is adapted from a print piece published last fall.
When your children announce they want to pursue a Bible college degree, how do you respond? With pride? Skepticism? Excitement? Concern?
Gary and Sharon Simpson have plenty of experience with such announcements. Of their four children – Kate (24), Matthew (22), Jonathan (21), and Bennett (19) – two have enrolled in BA programs at Columbia Bible College. Kate recently graduated with a degree in Intercultural Studies and this fall Jonathan starts his second year as a Biblical Studies major.
In the Simpson family, Bible college might seem an obvious choice. Gary is the lead pastor of Broadway MB Church in Chilliwack, BC, and Sharon is the Director of Marketing & Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Place, a Christian-run seniors’ campus in Abbotsford, BC. When the Simpson children were born, their parents were serving on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Power to Change). They lived what Sharon refers to as “lots and lots of great adventures,” prayerfully raising their own financial support, opening their home to hundreds of University of Calgary students, and going on summer missions assignments.
It’s easy to assume the Simpsons would be delighted about Kate and Jonathan’s desire to pursue Bible college degrees. On the one hand, they were indeed pleased. “We had them all dedicated to God as babies,” Gary remembers, “and that meant something to us. We meant it whole-heartedly.” Commenting on one of his deepest hopes for his children, he goes on: “I want my kids to have a heart calling to be obedient to God.”
On the other hand, they are certainly familiar with the challenges facing young adults in the current economic climate. Gary and Sharon experienced their own tough times as a young couple fundraising their ministry salary. Money was often tight. Others around them weren’t experiencing the same challenges. Not everyone understood their chosen lifestyle. “Sometimes we felt like we were journeying alone,” says Sharon, “and fear took over.”
[pullquote]“We want our kids to find something that is deeply meaningful,” Sharon remarks, “that has an eternal impact… that at the end of their lives they don’t look back at with regret. And whatever we can do to clear the path for that – that’s how we want to do it.”[/pullquote]
But Gary and Sharon also had faith-sustaining moments to look back on. In Calgary, they experienced answers to prayer: finding a house they could afford close to campus – something so impossible-sounding that their care group refused even to pray for it. Grocery gift cards and frozen turkeys showed up on their doorstep in time to host Christmas dinner. God provided. Students’ lives were being changed by the gospel. Life was rich too.
“There have been lots of times,” Sharon shares, “when we thought it would be nice if life was more stable, and that a certain kind of career path or finances will guarantee that stability or remove fears. It doesn’t work that way. Life throws curve balls.”
Gary agrees. He remembers giving his life to Christ at twenty-one. Despite a high-paying job, he felt unsettled until he began to follow Jesus. “I was making a lot of money and I was totally lost,” he explains. “I wasn’t satisfied with what money could buy me.” Reflecting on how God is the only true constant in life, Sharon remarks, “Every single person is going to go through something challenging in life… and you want your kids to have a solid foundation. That, to me, is the stability.”
So when Kate declared her intentions to pursue a BA in Intercultural Studies at Columbia, Gary and Sharon were firmly supportive. “We want our kids to find something that is deeply meaningful,” Sharon remarks, “that has an eternal impact… that at the end of their lives they don’t look back at with regret. And whatever we can do to clear the path for that – that’s how we want to do it.”
Over the next few years, Gary and Sharon watched with joy as Kate’s faith deepened and her ministry and leadership skills grew. One memory stands out – a family dinner where they heard Kate share a Christian perspective on marriage and family. They listened with astonishment as a confident, winsome Kate responded to questions from all around. Her answers were thoughtful and relevant. Classes such a World Religions and a cross-cultural internship in Guatemala further honed Kate’s ability to engage with people from all backgrounds.
(Kate giving alumni address to an audience of 350 friends of the College.)
“It has developed my own faith,” Kate says, referring to her time at Columbia, “and helped me discover gifts and skills I didn’t know I had.” Some of those skills turned out to be a knack for camp ministry. Kate spent her college summers volunteering at Camp Likely on BC’s Quesnel Lake. Two surprises were the result: with camp and church match bursary programs, Kate graduated with almost zero student debt. As well, Camp Likely offered her the position of Camp Director when she graduated – an incredible opportunity for leadership experience.
(Kate in her role as Camp Director at Camp Likely.)
Jonathan, Kate’s younger brother, shares his sister’s passion for people and hopes to teach Scripture one day. After a short-term Youth with a Mission program, he decided he was more suited to the academic environment Columbia provides. In contrast to his high school years – where academics were a chore – Jonathan now loves nothing more than long discussions about what he’s learning. To Sharon and Gary, this is a welcome bonus. Other parents have shared how challenging it is to engage their children on spiritual issues. These days, Gary and Sharon’s children regularly launch into faith conversations at the dinner table.
And Gary and Sharon’s other two sons? They are proud of them as well. Matthew has a bent for business and Bennett loves the outdoors. Neither is sure of what they will do yet and that is fine with their parents. Gary is clear on the fact he doesn’t believe in dividing vocations into “Christian” and “non-Christian.” Instead, he gives this advice to every one of his kids, “Be educated. Know the gospel. Know where you can impact people for Jesus. God’s going to guide you. We need salt and light everywhere. Go for it.” It’s advice that makes you confident all four of his children will live lives that are truly significant. ■