There's a problem with saints, whether long dead or still living. They are simply too good – too noble and godly – and thus out of reach to ordinary people like you and me, who lead quiet lives and try to do the best we can to follow Jesus. I think that living an ordinary life is meaningful; it just doesn't promote us to the ranks of sainthood. Saints are faithful in a lot. Most of us are faithful, if that, in the little.
I like to keep track of Whitworth alums, as most of my colleagues do. Last January, my wife, Pat, and I spent two weeks in Bolivia to speak at a missions conference. We also spent time with four alumni, all recent graduates, who are just getting started in their vocations. At this point, neither National Geographic nor Christianity Today has dispatched a reporter to cover their stories. Still, what Pat and I saw sent us back to Whitworth with hope and gratitude: Whitworth's mission is alive and well in these four former students.
Pat and I met Kyle Navis, '09, and his wife, Kirsten, for an afternoon of conversation and coffee in downtown Santa Cruz. Kyle and Kirsten are working in the Peace and Justice Division of the Mennonite Central Committee, primarily to select, train, coordinate and support volunteers in various peace-building ministries in Bolivia. They also serve as mediators between two branches of the church – those from the "global north" and those from the "global south." This is no easy task, considering the history of American influence in Latin America. During our discussion, Kyle was quick to say that his and Kirsten's work is not important in and of itself but only insofar as it contributes to the good work Bolivians are already doing.
After our visit with the Navises, Pat and I flew to the eastern slopes of the Andes to visit three other alumni. Surrounded by mountains, the city of Cochabamba is densely populated, colorful, noisy and beautiful. First we met Katie Stewart, '07, for a long lunch. Katie teaches third grade in a Christian after-school program called Centro de Amistad y Apoyo (Center of Friendship and Support), which reaches out to impoverished and disadvantaged Quechua children in the community and supports those who struggle to succeed in the public school system. As Katie told us, she and her fellow teachers serve children on the margins. The parents of these children live in small adobe houses and work from 6 a.m. to as late as 8 or 9 p.m. each day, usually for very little pay. The goal of the center is to introduce the children to the love of Christ and to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness in their community.
Our last visit was with Shelley Humphries and Rachel Longton, both '10, who moved to Cochabamba 18 months ago to work as hospital nurses. They were not in town for very long, however, before they began to notice a large population of street people who sniffed glue, begged for food, and made money from prostitution. Every Friday, Shelley and Rachel visited a popular plaza, providing food and medical care for the people there. The need was so great and the work so demanding that they eventually decided to work full time in the plaza. They pray and read Scripture with the people there, share Christ with them, and meet their practical needs. They also lead a twice-weekly Bible study in a women's prison, and they will soon open a medical clinic and a home for women who want to get off the street.
As Pat and I walked the streets of Cochabamba with Shelley and Rachel, progress was slow because people kept calling out to the young women, making us feel like groupies in the company of rock stars. Everyone seemed to know them. They may not be saints, but the people we met treated them as if they were.
Around the world, Whitworth alumni are doing good work and hard work. Results come slowly, if at all. And the four alums we visited told as many stories of heartache and failure as they did of success. But the success rate doesn't matter to them. They are at their posts (Calvin's term for vocation), and, at least for now, there they will remain, being faithful in the little.