Yale students believe “nonsense?”

  • by Susie Richardson
Photo by Gary Nomura

“The notion of God is absurd and out of place in this world.” This statement pretty well summed up Alex’s (Yale ‘14) theological perspective as his freshman year at Yale got underway. His early religious upbringing in Cleveland, OH had failed to satisfy. At 16, questioning the reason for his approaching confirmation, he was simply told, “We’re part of the Church – it’s what we do.”

Three years into Yale, Alex’s skepticism had hardened into passionate opposition. “My girlfriend gave me Hitchens’ God is not Great for Christmas,” Alex wryly noted, “further convincing me that religious beliefs are destructive and ought to be eliminated. I’d already read The God Delusion, and had decided that I wholeheartedly agreed with Richard Dawkins.”

As 2012 gave way to 2013, however, cracks began to form in Alex’s world view. “Katie, a friend in my dorm, used to bring me cookies leftover from Cru meetings. Though I often told her that her beliefs were stupid and idiotic, she continued to graciously interact with me.” Through Katie, Alex got a glimpse of Cru at Yale.

“I was shocked to see so many Yale students believing this nonsense.”

Simultaneously confused and intrigued, the computer science major found himself visiting Yale Cru online, just about the time his junior year came to an end. “I clicked on the ‘About Jesus’ page, planning to chuckle over foolish Christian beliefs.”

What happened next, Alex describes as ‘surreal to talk about.’ “God intervened. I was inexplicably convinced that this was true. And I prayed the sinner’s prayer.”

With some guidance from Katie, Alex began to devour the Bible, especially Ephesians, reading it over and over. He returned to Yale after his summer internship with Microsoft, ready to dive into Cru, even attending their Fall Retreat.

“We all were standing there, arm in arm, singing How Great Thou Art. I thought,

‘These people are like a bunch of hippies, yet there’s no substance abuse – just living in love. I’m not used to this.’”

But Alex spent a good deal of his senior year getting used to it. He dove into Christian books (“If you haven’t read Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, you’ve got to go read it.”), into the Bible (“I was getting weirded out by the blood and barbarity in the Pentateuch, so Katie steered me toward Romans to better understand the law.”), and into church (“It took me a while to figure out that church was more than just showing up for Eucharist. Healthy community … pastors who love God … extraordinary!”).

Alex ended his time at Yale having decided to participate in Cru’s summer mission in East Asia. It wasn’t an easy decision. Calling his Microsoft manager to see if he could delay his start date, Alex was relieved to hear him say, “If this is important to you, it’s important to me.” Yes! One hurdle cleared.

With mission funding accumulating from Alex’s internship savings along with contributions from other Microsoft employees, another looming hurdle was Alex’s family. They strongly objected to “forcing one’s beliefs on others,” their concept of Cru’s intent and approach. Alex struggled with a version of this as well.

“At first, breaking societal norms for the sake of getting the gospel out WAS hard for me. But I got over it.

Even when I was called ‘stupid’ for my beliefs, I thought, ‘It wasn’t that long ago I thought the same thing.’”

Alex also saw the Lord move in remarkable ways, recalling one philosophy student who’d concluded that self-sacrifice was the highest expression of love, though he’d never seen such a thing. The young East Asian asked Alex, “Do you think anyone has ever loved like that?” Alex gave him a New Testament saying, “Here is an account of just such a Person,” excited anticipation filling the student as the two parted ways.

Such an immersion into missions has carried over into Alex’s new life in Seattle. “There’s work to be done in this city,” said the Ivy League alum, having developed significant relationships within his church’s small group network, people he can link arms with in ministry.

As Alex sees those around him lulled by idols of career success, prestige, and money, he’s convinced these are the real “Delusions.” Alex declares, “I know these things can’t completely satisfy because I’ve seen the One who can.”