Andrew Chi knows what it’s like to be at the top of his game.
At 13 years old, he won a national chess championship. The culmination of strenuous practice, discipline and even deprivation, Andrew reveled in his achievement – for all of 15 minutes.
At that point, his victory began to fragment, dissipating into nothingness. The blessing of a quick brain double-crossed Andrew as he calculated the cost of this win: ruined friendships, degenerated eating habits, even the joy of the game itself. What’s the point? What is my life supposed to be about? These questions jabbed at his core like the incessant ticking of a clock. Andrew’s parents, not realizing the seriousness of his questions, dismissed these heart cries, suggesting he go do practice problems for his next math competition so he wouldn’t have time to think about such things. Retreating to his room, Andrew seriously considered ending it all…
Fast forward a few years later to where we find Andrew once again at the top of his game. Employed by Raytheon, Andrew thrives in his department of cyber security, defending the world against threats to the Internet. His rich interaction with peers and colleagues complements his high degree of job satisfaction. As well, clear on the other side of the world in a South African classroom, there exists a sort of “Andrew Chi Fan Club” made up of kids whose math skills have benefited significantly from Andrew’s repeated trips to Pretoria.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us . . . made us alive together with Christ . . .”
Alone in his room and despairing of answers to the meaning of life, this national chess champion, reached over to his shelves and groped around for his martial arts weapon. Something quite different came tumbling down instead – a Bible. Given to him as a 1st grader and untouched for the past 7 years, the pages fell open to the bookmarked verses, John 3:14-17. Though his understanding was sketchy, Andrew was blown away by God’s perfect love for a most imperfect mankind. He knew he needed God’s love and told Him so. And then Andrew expressed to God his desire to turn from his self-centered lifestyle and love others as God had loved him.
That desire began to be realized during Andrew’s freshman year at Harvard. He discovered the importance of Christian community, something that had eluded him during his high school days.
Reaping benefits from his scattered attendance at a Cru Life Group, Andrew decided to move in with three of the Cru guys. That’s when he found out how a community centered on Jesus Christ was so different from anything else he’d experienced. “They would say to me, ‘No, how are you doing REALLY??,’” he remembers. “And they didn’t stop there. They loved me enough to say the hard things that would heal the wounds of the past and change my life.”
Evidence of healing and change abound. One particularly difficult moment for Andrew was telling his parents about his decision to intern with Cru after his graduation from Harvard.
They couldn’t understand why their son would want to give his life to this type of work. “Ironically, their skepticism forced me to explain why the gospel is so important to me, helping to turn the fear that has governed so many of my actions into faith,” he says.
Andrew also struggled through the heartache of a broken relationship, after having saved up money to buy a ring. He credits the community of believers that walked him through those dark days as being his lifeline.
Finally, his internship with Cru opened doors for Andrew to participate with God in many faith-filled adventures around the world, and he now uses vacation time to continue some of what got started during those two years. Exhibit A: South Africa still has a hold on his heart. Though Andrew delights in sharing his expertise in the classroom, teaching math and devising effective curricula, he has a keen remembrance of his own story and wants to help these kids find what he found. “This year my troublemaker student, Martin, opened his heart to Jesus,” Andrew beams. “His life has forever changed.”
Andrew’s natural skills along with his Harvard degree confer upon this 29-year old what James Davison Hunter calls “symbolic capital.” Hunter, a professor at the University of Virginia and author of To Change the World, laments the lack of transformative effect by Christians in the late modern world. He offers “an alternative view of culture and cultural change” in chapter 4: “The work of world-making and world-changing are, by and large, the work of elites: gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life.”
Harvard’s original motto: "Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae" (Truth for Christ and the Church), now truncated to “Veritas,” leaves little doubt regarding the intentions of Harvard’s founders for their students and alumni. There is also little doubt that the original trajectory took a significant detour along the way. However, students like Andrew could well exceed the vision of those early founders, easily occupying the “gatekeeper” role referenced by Hunter, already demonstrating significant cultural impact.
Recently in Vancouver for a meeting that shapes the architecture of the global Internet, Andrew remarked, “I’m at a hotel with 1,000 computer geeks – some of the most talented people in the world. Last night, I had a great dinner conversation with someone about the seduction of success and how consuming it can be.” Mindful of opportunities where his story could benefit others who occupy these cultural echelons, Andrew prays for God to raise up more of these men and women who will become His messengers, sparks that can generate the kind of “top down” change that Hunter alludes to throughout his book.
Though a long way from Harvard’s 1636 roots, Cru has stayed the course for more than 60 years, sowing the Gospel among collegians with a view toward sending them into the world’s harvest fields. Cultural changes keep us on our toes. Campus evangelism looks significantly different today than it did in the 1950s. And we are listening to voices like Hunter’s, whose analysis reveals that the efforts of Christians across the board to positively impact culture have been woefully lacking, even counterproductive. Yet there is potential for widespread cultural change, effectually advancing the gospel.
The key is to target society’s “gatekeepers” so their “symbolic capital” is leveraged in this direction. This is the heart of Cru in the Northeast. With arguably the greatest concentration of elite universities anywhere in the world, we’ve got to be here. Yes, it’s expensive, tough, and even hostile at times; but there are huge payoffs when one of these “gatekeepers” comes to Christ and begins following Jesus, the power and scope of their leadership increasingly informed by His example of a servant/King. That’s why we are unabashedly investing resources in the campuses of New England/New York.
For more than 60 years, Cru has envisioned a world where everyone would know someone who truly follows Jesus. The original vision is still important today: reach the campus today, reach the world tomorrow. It’s becoming clear that as stewards of this mission, we would do well to allot a significant portion of our resources towards reaching the influential campuses of the Northeast; the Andrew Chi’s of this world. If Hunter is right, these are the ones who hold the key to changing the world. People who are on the cusp of prestige and power. Students who have more actual and potential influence than any other group of students. Men and women who know what it’s like to be at the top of their game, who by following Jesus can increase the power and scope of their leadership emulating the servant posture of the King of Kings. As God used Saul of Tarsus, a well educated scholar, to influence the ancient world; God is using students of influence to create a world where everyone would know someone who truly follows Jesus.
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