A Chapel message that’s not to be forgotten
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
If you’ve lived a little, you probably have lost touch with more than a few people. They moved on. You moved on. Life changed. It just happens.
But keeping in touch with people who need your help is central to Christianity, and Grand Canyon University President Brian Mueller passionately addressed that subject Monday morning at the first Chapel of the new academic year, which drew to GCU Arena the largest Chapel crowd in its history — more than 7,000 students and staff.
Mueller talked about how the University has made it its mission to do everything it can to give a neighborhood that time seemingly forgot a new era with a positive destiny. He emphasized that it doesn’t happen unless students are just as devoted to the cause.
“What has happened here in the last couple years has been transformative on this campus,” Mueller told them, “but you have made an unbelievable impact because of your willingness to embrace this forgotten neighborhood. … People are watching that and they’re wondering, ‘What is it about those people? What is it about those Grand Canyon students?’ And it’s having an impact.”
They see those students going into west Phoenix and other Valley areas in need and providing all manner of community service, from Habitat for Humanity to inner-city schools to homeless shelters to rescue missions to ministering to children in local parks. They see happy faces, eager to serve. They see Christianity at work — and it can be hard work.
Mueller said he read several books this summer about the early years of Christianity. He noted that right from the scene in Matthew 28:1-6, at a time when Jesus’ disciples were wondering if they had given up everything for nothing, it was made clear that they indeed would continue to give and often would get little in return in this life — in return for a much greater next life.
That message carried through, Mueller said, to Romans 6:3-5, when Paul’s letter says we are united with Christ in death, to 1 Peter 1:3-7, which reminds us just how much adversity there will be for Christians.
In those days, the adversity often was in the form of extreme diseases that would kill wide swaths of the population. Mueller told the story of how two plagues in the Roman Empire in the first 250 years after Christ’s time on Earth resulted in many people, even family members, often being sent away to die.
“They were forgotten,” Mueller said.
But not by Christians, who would take care of them even if it meant a death sentence for them, too. It’s no different, he pointed out, from what needs to happen today. It probably won’t mean giving up your life, but it means donating at least part of it.
He told the story of how his 86-year-old mother practiced her faith for years by going to a nursing home — while raising eight children — and seeking out the residents who were most abandoned.
He book-ended his talk with the story of Kayla Mueller, the aid worker from Prescott who was kidnapped by ISIS in 2013 and has been abused and tortured ever since. When her capturers showed a video of her, he said, her mother noted that her eyes told the story of her determination to stick with her beliefs.
“There was a clearness in her eyes and a clarity in what she was doing that was unbelievably impactful,” he said.
There is a direct correlation to what GCU is doing in its neighborhood. Mueller closed with an eloquent summation of the University’s mission and students’ role in it:
“This side of town is not forgotten anymore. It’s not forgotten because you brought Jesus here, not in what you say, not in the preaching that you do, not in the sermons that you give. You brought Him here in the way that you have embraced forgotten people. That’s Christianity. That’s Christianity! And whether people agree with us or not, they can’t resist that.
“You’ve made an incredible impact, and my prayer is that this year we double down on that with the Habitat program and with the public school program and with the programs in the park. Sometimes individually you don’t get a chance to understand the major impact you’re making in doing those things, but you are.
“We’ve come here to study hard and to learn and to make friends and to give it our best effort and to have a great time, but my prayer is that you will get from this, in your participation in this, an understanding that Jesus makes an unbelievable difference. Not only can He transform your life, He can transform an entire community. And He’s doing it.
“Thank you very much for doing that. I have to believe that as God looks down here, He said, ‘I’m impressed with the new buildings and the new classrooms and the new laboratories and the new athletic facilities and the residence halls, but that’s not what GCU is all about.’ GCU is all about remembering forgotten people. Christianity is all about remembering forgotten people.”
● For a replay of Mueller’s talk, click here.
● Next Monday: No Chapel (Labor Day holiday)
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.