Whitworth alumni in their own words
by Marty Miller, '89
Life's lessons are not always apparent until they are in the rearview mirror. For me, the road started in Selah, Wash., headed east on Interstate 90 through Ritzville (I've yet to find the "Ritz" in Ritzville), and in 1985 ended, for a time, in Spokane – at what was then known as Whitworth College. The good-natured rumor at that time was that Whitworth had recently gone from Camp Whitworth to Whitworth College. And now Whitworth University. How far we've come!
As I give my life's rearview mirror another look, three enduring themes emerged during my Whitworth years. Those themes are challenges, community, and serving God.
Challenges at Whitworth came early. In my freshman year, I hadn't declared a major. Fortunately, I was introduced to the political studies department through the course American Government. The professors, courses and concepts in political studies challenged us to think critically, question our assumptions, and defend our perspectives. My time at Whitworth was a time of shaking and rebuilding a worldview.
The sense of community started quickly, too. My first year, in Baldwin Jenkins, I met people who remain some of my closest friends. Over the next four years, those friendships developed while we all grew into adults. Dorm rivalries, late-night studying, the tennis team, Jan Terms, intramurals, study programs, Saga: All provided a context to learn who we are and how we fit with one another.
And our community wasn't just any community. Learning about self, about values, about worldview was done in the context of Whitworth's Christian community. What does it mean to be a Christian? What is our purpose here on Earth? A semester in the American Studies Program in Washington, D.C., pushed me the most. There I was challenged by professors who said, "So you're a Christian. Now, what are you going to do about it?"
Since Whitworth, I've found those same three themes guiding my life: responding to life's challenges, becoming part of a community, and trying to serve God.
After graduating, I volunteered for a year with Habitat for Humanity. It was challenging; there was a built-in sense of community, and serving God was a core value. It had everything – except a paycheck. So after a meaningful year, I headed to our nation's capital to put my newly minted degree to the test.
Thanks to a Whitworth alum, I got a job in the U.S. Senate, on a committee for then-Senator Brock Adams (D-Wa.). I learned a great deal about politics and government, and a lot about myself. While I enjoyed much of it, I had trouble seeing myself there for the long term. For me, the community aspect was missing.
Next came Philadelphia and the Economic Development Program at Eastern University. To my surprise and gratitude, my graduate assistantship placement was with none other than Anthony Campolo. I couldn't get enough of his humor and poignant perspective on Christianity and service. What an experience! And what a taskmaster! He's all fun and games when speaking, but he quickly gets down to business in the office. Philadelphia is also where I met my wife, Amy. It is now clear to me that she was a much better find than Campolo. (Sorry, Tony!)
During one visit home to Selah, I learned of a job opening at a nonprofit in Yakima called the Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing (ORFH, for short). I applied, was hired and was excited about the job, though I was somewhat reluctant to be back in the Yakima Valley at first. ORFH builds affordable housing for farmworkers throughout Washington state.
The three themes re-emerged: Challenging work meant serving farmworkers whose low incomes, language and cultural differences and somewhat nomadic lifestyle create major challenges for housing, education, health and much more. A sense of community meant finding a church, making new friends and renewing old ones, and starting a family. There was a whole new sense of meaning and belonging. And through it all, what did it mean to serve Christ? It meant to participate in church and to be an involved, loving father and husband; to serve those whom society tends to leave behind; to be a good neighbor. All these and more.
Trust me when I say I'm far from having it all figured out. My two young sons sometimes ask me, "Dad, what do you want to be when you grow up?" First, I'm flattered they don't think of me as a grownup. And second, I'm not always sure of the answer. Maybe I'll be a baseball player or an astronaut. Or maybe I'll continue on in the world of affordable housing. No matter what, the questions that emerge from my three Whitworth themes keep returning:
How do we challenge ourselves to be better, to do better? How do we create community? How do we effectively serve Christ?
Turns out that those lessons are not only in the rearview mirror; they stretch out in front of the windshield, as far as the eye can see.
Marty Miller, '89, is a Whitworth Alumni Award winner and was a featured speaker at Homecoming Weekend 2008.