A story about how February’s “snow-mageddon” illustrated the character of students at Ouachita Baptist University, and perhaps a spiritual insight as well.
By my estimation, only 5% of the country’s university students have had a fully in-person experience this year. Ouachita is one of them. At times it’s been wearisome, and I sensed this among our students by mid-February. And then it started snowing. And snowing. Ultimately, dumping 16 inches on campus.
Most faculty and staff couldn’t get to campus, so learning continued by Zoom from students’ residence halls. Students also immersed themselves in the biggest snowstorm of their lives. The famous ravine on campus became a sledding hill. While students didn’t have sleds, they were creative in finding sled-like instruments such as cafeteria trays, laundry baskets and inner tubes. Ironically, the snowstorm enlivened them and was just the antidote to the accumulated pandemic weariness.
The snow ended on Thursday morning, and it presented a new challenge: clearing essential walkways for students to safely navigate campus, knowing that as the snow melted, it would freeze at night making for slippery and injury-creating paths.
Lisa and I moved here five years ago from northern Indiana where 16 inches of snow was common, but we had the tools to clear the snow. Understandably so, Ouachita didn’t have the snow-clearing machines. Compounding the challenge, the snow also prevented most of our facilities staff from getting to campus.
What to do? Well, we realized we had 1,500 students, and we located 50 shovels. I found my unused snow shovel in the garage and made it to campus with some other colleagues. We sent an email to all students that went something like this: “As you can, between classes, come find a shovel and together let’s clear the snow.”
Not surprising but gratifying anyway, all day long those shovels stayed busy. Students – individually, in friend groups, men and women – shoveled. And shoveled. Most for the first time in their lives.
Some worked by their residence halls. Others around their academic buildings. When the day was done, essential pathways on our campus were cleared down to the concrete. We joked among ourselves, “The first 12 inches were easy, but the last four inches were hard!”
As the day concluded, all kinds of snowmen emerged around campus as well as a few snowball fights. We were tired, the campus was safer, and there was the satisfaction that comes when we labor together for a larger goal.
Our students won’t forget the snowstorm of 2021. I won’t forget how they responded to a simple email to help clear the campus. Yes, the clearing was important. But it was their genuine, instinctive, voluntary service to one another, to care for their campus and classmates and on behalf of their professors, that I’ll never forget.
May I also suggest a spiritual insight? One of my mentors is the late missiologist Ralph Winter who, in 1974 at Billy Graham’s Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, introduced the concept of “unreached peoples” that transformed the approach to missions.
I remember a conversation 20 years ago with him about the Great Commission task and how sometimes it felt overwhelming. He replied something like this: “The size of the task must be considered in terms of the resources available to meet it. For example, there are 900 Bible-believing churches in the world for every unreached people group.” This made the Great Commission seem more attainable.
That conversation came to mind for me while we were shoveling snow. We didn’t have the typical snow-clearing tools or the staff who could get to campus due to 16 inches of snow. But, we had other resources: 1,500 students and 50 shovels. And the task that seemed overwhelming that morning didn’t seem so large when the day concluded.
Christians, whatever our challenges – and there are many – let’s not be overwhelmed. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the partnership and resources of cooperating churches known as Arkansas Baptists, let’s be encouraged that the Lord can do more than we can imagine.