Places shape us. They seep into our bones and grab hold of our hearts. As much as we live our lives digitally these days and find connections in the vast placeless spaces of the Internet, the reality is we are embodied beings who are wired to shape and be shaped by specific, physical places.
Biola University has been a profound place in my life. The 65,000+ people who have been students here can surely attest to the shaping influence of this community, a Christ-centered liberal arts institution whose commitment to biblical fidelity is no surprise when you learn that BIOLA stands for the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, the original name of the school founded in 1908 by Lyman Stewart and T.C. Horton.
When I started work at Biola in 2008 I knew very little about the school, having come from UCLA and before that the Midwest and Wheaton College. But since my job as managing editor of Biola Magazine and subsequent roles in marketing and communication demanded an intimate familiarity with the university's brand DNA, I quickly learned and came to love the heart and history of the place.
I remember going to downtown L.A. one day in 2012, walking to the intersection of Sixth and Hope streets, where the Bible Institute of Los Angeles originally stood. I was there because I needed inspiration as I was tasked with writing the case statement for what would become Biola's largest-ever fundraising campaign. I needed a sense of the historical continuity of the physical places in Biola's story. The high-rise office buildings and honking horns of a busy downtown seemed worlds away from the quiet suburban campus of today's Biola. But in the moment I could feel the connection to the BIOLA of yesteryear. I could envision the Italianate structure of the original BIOLA, its two dormitory towers (at one time the highest in the L.A. skyline) featuring big, bold, neon signs that read, "Jesus Saves." I could picture the groundbreaking ceremony for the original BIOLA building, where founder Lyman Stewart said:
“Let it be our hope and prayer that from this place shall radiate streams of influence which will be a great blessing not only to the multitudes around us, but also to the darkest places of the earth.”
That visionary line, spoken more than a century ago by an oilman and philanthropist with a heart for global gospel proclamation, has served as an inspiration in our messaging about Biola. It gets to the heart of what Biola is and has always been: a rallying and radiating institution where men and women come, are equipped, and then sent out to be a blessing and bearers of Good News.
The "from this place" focus of Biola has always grounded the university in an outward-mindedness, an awareness of the broader mission of God and a recognition that the particularity of Biola's place, as lovely as it is, does not exist for itself but for how it shapes others and sends them out stronger, to serve the world and to glorify God.
Soon I will become one of those sent out "from this place." After nine years of working at Biola I am moving on to work for The Gospel Coalition. Though I'm full of excitement and hope for this new assignment, I'm also full of nostalgia and bittersweet emotion as I leave Biola. This place has been my home for a quarter of my life. It has given me so much.
From this place I received the gift of meeting and marrying my wife, Kira, as well as the gift of being able to work closely with her for seven years.
From this place I received the gift of friendship, with many colleagues who have become confidants and brothers, including four of the seven who stood alongside me in my wedding.
From this place I received the gift of wisdom, through the insights of brilliant professors, stimulating classes, conversations, conferences and lectures which sparked in me innumerable ideas.
From this place I received the gift of growth, having spent my formative twenty-something years (ages 25-34) developing professionally, emotionally and above all spiritually in a community united in the pursuit of Christ.
From this place I received lessons in leadership, having the privilege of working closely with and making decisions alongside President Barry Corey and many other godly men and women.
From this place I received the joy of mentoring and teaching students, each full of passion to grow and hope for the future.
From this place I now go, to join those radiating "streams of influence" that Lyman Stewart famously described. As President Corey says to each graduating class as a closing charge at commencement ceremonies, "It's time to go now... to the next leg of your journey, with the hope and knowledge that indeed, to live is Christ."