A Journey to Christian Higher Ed
Nazarene higher education is part of my heritage. My grandparents graduated from Point Loma, and my parents, aunts and uncles graduated from Northwest Nazarene University. Both my parents worked for NNU when I was a kid. I basically grew up on campus. I attended athletic events, participated in sports camps and worked various summer jobs. When I began considering colleges in 2004, my sister was a homecoming princess in her junior year as an English major at NNU. Despite this legacy, attending NNU held little appeal for me. It was too familiar. I wanted something different for my life. When I considered colleges, NNU was not high on my list of options.
At the time, what I could not articulate was that I struggled with faith. A few years before my senior year of high school, a bad experience with our family church left me bitter and angry toward God and organized religion. Christian higher education was too closely linked to painful memories. I thought attending a state school would provide literal and figurative distance from my past.
Also contributing to my college choice was the fact that I was a gymnast and competitive cheerleader. I had been on nationally-ranked teams and was told I could make a division-one college team. I wanted to fulfill my potential as an athlete, so I applied to several large state schools in the west. One was the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
In April of my senior year, I attended the UNLV cheerleading tryouts and was thrilled to make the first cut and the second. At the end of tryout week, I had achieved my goal—I made the co-ed cheerleading team as a first-year student. I was excited to participate in the athletic program. The basketball team, in particular, had a storied history, and after my high school graduation, I spent the summer imagining the electric atmosphere during basketball season.
In mid-August, I showed up for training camp. It was not long before I recognized the only warm part of the experience was the 120-degree weather. My imaginary big-school experience was a mirage, nothing more than the fancy of a young idealist. I had a terrible experience with my roommate; the coach was intense, the team lacked cohesion and the campus was cold and impersonal. I had one friend. In short, I was desperately alone.
It was in this time of desolation that the Lord found me. I felt the Holy Spirit urging me to release the image of myself as a college athlete. It was devastatingly difficult. Because I was angry with the Church and with God, my only discernible identity was wrapped up in athletics. I didn’t know who I was otherwise. However, the Spirit was insistent, inviting me into a relationship and telling me it was time to move on.
At that point, I began to consider NNU. I knew I was in deep need of the community NNU offered. The Lord started to demonstrate how badly I needed spiritual guidance. So, I applied to NNU and arrived as a transfer student shortly afterward.
It wasn’t long before I recognized the transformative nature of NNU. The liberal arts taught me what it meant to be an educated Christian person. In the classroom, I was shown Christ in ways I hadn’t experienced before. My professors held me to high standards and encouraged my intellectual potential. Through this experience, I realized that I was gifted in more than athletics.
In particular, I noticed a difference in how literary texts were treated in Christian higher education. At NNU, works like Beowulf and The Pilgrim’s Progress were deeply enriched by the perspective of Christian professors. Studying the Great Awakening in history classes revealed fascinating links to my Nazarene heritage. At UNLV, Christian themes in early American and British texts were tolerated and, at times, disdained. The professors at NNU honored the Christian nature of the texts, explaining how reformation theology impacted authors like John Milton and the Great Awakening shaped the American evangelical ethos.
In addition, as a part of the liberal arts core, I learned about classical philosophy, rhetoric and biblical interpretation. I joined the University’s choir and became close friends with other choir members. I grew closer to the Lord and began considering whether I was being called to a career in academia. My identity became richer than I imagined as a high school senior. I was more than an athlete. I recognized that I was made in the image of God, called to a life of Christian service.
I graduated from NNU in 2009 with a degree in English and a minor in history. When I was offered a position on campus four years later, I quickly accepted the job. I didn’t know what the Lord had planned for me at the time, but I knew I was supposed to be at NNU. In the ten years I have worked at NNU, I completed an MA and Ph.D. in English and joined the faculty. I know that the Lord led me here, and I am humbled to have an opportunity to contribute to the transformative power of Christian higher education in the lives of my students.
Dr. Catherine Becker, Associate Professor of Language & Literature