The Questions Economics Can't Answer

Professor uses economic crisis to raise questions with Mexican colleagues.

The collapse of the economy is a very serious problem," says Walter Lane, right, "and I don't want to make light of it. But there are some questions that economics can't answer. Photo by Ted Wilcox

In football, they call the term an "audible." A play is set, and then is quickly changed before the action starts.

Professor Walter Lane was scheduled to give a lecture to the economic students at a branch of Tecnologico de Monterrey, arguably the top university in Mexico. Then the night before his lecture, the audible came.

Professor Lane, who goes by "Dub," (a nickname based on his first initial) received a request from the Tec students that he discuss a different topic -- meaning he would have to write a new speech.

In only a few hours.

 "I was thinking, Oh boy, how am I going to do this?" he says.

This lecture was about more than just teaching economics. He hoped that it would encourage some Mexican students to begin a relationship with God.

Why Dub Needed to Be Punchy and Tactful

As a Christian professor, Dub has been involved for the past 25 years with Faculty Commons, the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ that reaches out to academia by encouraging professors as they make Christ known to colleagues and students.

Dub's purpose for visiting Mexico City was to help create opportunities for the local Campus Crusade ministry, using his status as an American professor.

In Mexico City, Christianity is not a prevalent idea on the college campus -- only 46 of the 400 universities have Christian groups, and there are few Christian professors.

That's why Dub knew his lecture needed to be punchy and tactful.

The students wanted to hear about the crisis of the United States economy and its effect on Mexico -- an incredibly relevant topic.

But how would he tie in his faith, without it being too preachy or forced?

After dining on arrechera, a tender Mexican steak, he retired to his room to work on the talk. But he made little headway. His thinking was cloudy.

Why Dub Became a Professor

As a college student, Dub saw that his career path wasn't so clear either. While studying economics and math at the University of California -- San Diego's graduate school, he dismissed the idea of becoming a professor.

But when he began teaching a course for his program, his love for molding the minds of students quickly surfaced.

He also noted that many students went through college without having a Christian professor. A follower of Christ since he was 8 years old, Dub was disturbed by this and wanted to meet this need. He insists Christian faith is relevant in academia.

"I believe that Christianity answers life's questions in an intellectually responsible way," he says.

When he started teaching at Texas A&M University, he got involved with a few professors in Christian Leadership Ministries, now known as Faculty Commons.

When Dub accepted a teaching position at the University of New Orleans, he sought to gather his fellow Christian professors together. He also started traveling internationally with Faculty Commons, having gone on 11 different trips, from India to Lithuania.

Tomorrow's Uncertainty and Yesterday's Success 

This was his 5th trip to Mexico, and he knew the students would be a tough crowd -- statistics show they are largely uninterested spiritually.

As it neared 11 p.m., Dub still struggled for clarity. After praying, he drifted asleep, his thoughts torn between the unprepared lecture and the success of the previous day.

Yesterday, Dub visited the northern Tecnologico de Monterrey campus -- there are 4 branches in Mexico City. Thus far, no Christian ministry exists there. Dub spoke in 2 economics classes of a Christian professor named Jesus Tellez.

"In Mexico it is often difficult to say in a free way that we are Christians," says Professor Tellez. "Certainly sometimes we have fear of being fired from the university."

"Before we came, I don't think [Professor Tellez] knew there was such a thing as a Christian faculty," says Dub. "As far as he knew, he was the only Christian professor in Mexico, or even in the world."

Not only did Professor Tellez gain a vision for ministry in academia, he also agreed to help students start a Christian group on his campus.

"The way Professor Lane gave his speech gave me ideas on how I can talk to the students about God," he says.

3 a.m. Inspiration

At 3 a.m., Dub awoke, suddenly inspired. A structure crystallized in his mind, like a blueprint. He finished the lecture by 5 a.m. and then fell asleep again. He awoke at 8 a.m groggy, but ready.

After an hour-long commute -- short by Mexico City standards -- Dub made it to the campus in time for the 11 a.m. lecture.

Walking along a marble walkway, Dub marveled at the neatly manicured hedges and mammoth chess-piece statues -- symbolizing themes like excellence and honor. He knew this was a prestigious university.

He strolled into the economics building and entered an auditorium-style classroom, where 20 economic students curiously observed this bearded American, eager to hear his perspective.

What Happens When Uncle Sam Sneezes

Dub began his presentation with a video about Hurricane Katrina and its effects on the New Orleans economy -- a topic he knows well. Using no shortage of economic lingo, he began discussing how the economies of the United States and Mexico are inextricably intertwined.

He referenced the familiar adage, "When Uncle Sam sneezes, Mexico catches a cold."

He rolled smoothly through the talk, as if he prepared for it weeks in advance. Then he moved into the crux.

The Crux of Dub's Message

"The collapse of the economy is a very serious problem, and I don't want to make light of it," he said.

"But there are some questions that economics can't answer, including, 'Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?'"

Then Dub explained what it means to be a Christian through his personal story, while the students listened attentively. He had earned their attention.

"He seemed like a genuinely happy person," says Emilio Cuilty, a 21-year-old economics student. "It made me think, maybe he has the answers to finding happiness."

"Personally, I'm not religious," says Arturo Sanchez, 21, the leader of the student economic organization that invited Dub to speak. "I don't believe in anything. But Professor Lane's talk made me want to investigate Christianity."

Later in the week Arturo attended a Christian church with a friend.

"Before, it was 'No, never,'" he says. "Now it's, 'Why not?'"

The Beginning of Faculty Commons in the City

Another high point of the trip came later in the week, when Dub helped gather a group of 8 Mexican Christian professors in a restaurant, to discuss how they might influence their campuses for Christ.

This could be the beginning of a Faculty Commons group in the city.

On the campuses Dub visited, students are more open to Christianity, some professors gained a vision for ministry and one professor even agreed to help start a group on campus.

Clearly, God used Dub to create opportunities in Mexico City, but the full effects are yet to come.