By Rachel Fickenscher
I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where it was quite normal, if not expected, for a Lutheran student to attend a private Lutheran grade school, go on to Concordia Lutheran High School, and then finally attend one of the Concordia system colleges, especially if she was the daughter of a pastor. As I matured in age, I also started noticing an alternative trend in which LCMS conservative parents chose to homeschool their children and then send them off to a small liberal arts college such as Hillsdale. As a daughter of a Lutheran seminary professor, it only makes sense for one of these two stories to be my story. On the contrary, however, my siblings and I first attended Lutheran grade school but then went on to Northrop (public) High School and finally to the highly liberal Indiana University. What a strange choice and lack of sound judgment, one might argue! As a proud Northrop Bruin and an even prouder Indiana Hoosier, I’d like to take this opportunity to debunk the myth that public institutions of education can only cause trouble and will always lead a child to lose his or her faith. With great parenting and an even greater trust in Jesus Christ, I instead believe that attending public school creates a distinctly unique opportunity to be that “light of the world” that Jesus speaks of in Matthew Chapter 5.
Yes, as an Indiana Hoosier, my faith was tested. I had professors who were convinced that evolution was the only possible way the world could have begun. One-third of my honors freshman dorm floor was made up of loud, outspoken atheists who could not comprehend why I would decide out of my own free will to wake up at 0900 on a Sunday morning. However, this was an amazing mission field that I did not have to travel tens-of-thousands of miles to find. I did get up on Sunday mornings. I did celebrate Easter. I chose not to cuss on the regular or drink excessively. People noticed. People still notice to this day how Christians like you and I are different---chosen, special. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). In such a sad, despairing world that hardly even knows what a Lutheran is these days, it is important not to be afraid to let our lights shine to those who are lost, even if those same people take part in activities far from godly. For even Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners.
How then, you ask, can this be done successfully? How do we immerse ourselves among such sinfulness and come out stronger because of it? For starters, it cannot be stressed enough that children learn from their parents. I might be a tad biased, but I would have to say that my childhood was as good as they come. My loving parents were supportive, encouraging, and raised us with grace; congratulating us on jobs well-done, not just molding us with a list of “don’ts.” Just as Christ constantly forgives us for the wrongs we do daily, my parents would forgive our sins and move on. We went to church every Sunday and to Sunday School, not because we “had to” but because we “got to.” That is how children learn to lead godly lives. They choose out of their own free will to continue to grow in their Baptism after they leave their parents’ homes, even in a public university. This grace-filled, encouraging, forgiving parenting teaches a child from an early age that we love and trust in God above all things not because we have to but because God “first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
These same loving parents will continue to encourage their children in their faith and see to it that they are connected with a good Lutheran congregation even when they are far from home. And there are wonderful Lutheran congregations out there for students to attend. Trust me. I was certainly influenced into being the Christian young lady I am today because of my wonderful experience at University Lutheran, Bloomington, Indiana, and because of the great counsel and aid I received from Pastor Richard Woelmer, our campus pastor.
When it comes down to it, though, we are all sinners, constantly in need of the Holy Spirit’s guiding hand. Young adults at a public (and even Lutheran) school will be tempted daily to fall away, but through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are blessed with the assurance that He will do everything in His power to “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Wherever you go to school, wherever life leads you, God promises to be your constant companion, and God promises to help witness through you, whether to the atheists on your floor, or to your Lutheran friend who has recently become greatly depressed. For this reason, we should not be nervous about going (or sending our children) to the local high school or the secular public university. Instead, we should remember to pray that God will help us to make the right decisions about education. Pray that God gives you the strength to be a faithful witness to those unbelievers who are placed around you. And always remember that Christ sincerely promises to “be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
Rachel Fickenscher is an Emergency Registered Nurse residing in the lovely city of Cincinnati, Ohio. This summer she will be moving back to her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, to pursue a Masters of Art Degree in Deaconess Studies. She hopes to combine her medical training with her love of Jesus Christ in order to bring others closer to Him
Title Image: "Hänsel und Gretel" by Alexander Zick