This is an unprecedented time of uncertainty, fear and loss. How can faculty assure students and bring them hope during this current pandemic?
During times of crisis, we, as Christian faculty, are uniquely positioned to be conduits of hope, encouragement and comfort to students by sharing our own struggles and how we overcame them with God’s help. As students struggle to navigate unchartered territory, our personal testimony of overcoming challenges and our belief in the resurrection power of Christ help calm students’ fears and assure them that God is present with them.
Most of us have faced fear and uncertainty before and have already overcome extremely challenging times—loss of a loved one, family break down, financial struggles, health scares and realities, addictions or issues of self-identity. Because we overcame adversity, we have testimonies of hope and survival that can encourage our students.
Let me share a bit about my own journey to connect with students through the power of personal testimony.
In 2014, my husband and I were involved in a head-on vehicle accident with a force of impact of nearly 125 mph. We survived, but my husband sustained significant physical injuries and I developed severe post-traumatic stress disorder, suffered a brain injury and had life-threatening physical injuries. Yet, through a series of events, God supernaturally saved my life.
While I am grateful for God’s intervention, the road to recovery from my invisible injuries was long and difficult. Following the crash, I was crippled by fear and anxiety. I suffered with brain issues—a severe speech impediment, near complete amnesia, very limited temporal memory and significantly damaged executive functioning. My self-worth was in crisis.
In time, with therapy, unrelenting effort, God’s help and a tremendous amount of prayer, I eventually overcame my injuries. But when I returned to teaching, I still stuttered, struggled with executive functioning and was markedly on edge. I wanted to hide my weaknesses as much possible, but I opted instead (with much prayer!) to acknowledge the reality of my ongoing struggles and to share my testimony of God’s great faithfulness and power to restore.
I dreaded to admit my struggles and feared how the students would respond. The first time I shared my testimony with my students, I was so nervous that my words got jumbled and I felt incoherent. Yet, when I finished, almost every student was in tears! In the days that followed, I received many messages from students who related to my story in profound ways. They, too, were suffering with anxiety, doubt, fear and depression. Many were experiencing debilitating effects of conditions that prevented them from succeeding in academics, life and relationships.
Maybe you think your own testimony is of little interest to anyone; or you don’t want to share your life experiences with your students. A painful divorce, a health scare, infertility or loss of a child, an addiction—these things are hard to talk about. You shouldn’t share things that are inappropriate or you feel uncomfortable disclosing, but could you consider what parts of your experiences you could share?
Many students are struggling with the same issues that you’ve gone through. They have many fears and lack confidence, and too often feel that they are navigating the course of life alone. You have the power to give them hope when you share how your trials made you stronger, built your character and strengthened your relationship with God.
Our hope as Christians is in the resurrection power of Christ. Your testimony of how God was present in your pain will encourage your students that God is present in their situations and is walking with them through their suffering. As you share about God’s work in your life, you challenge your students to believe that God is also at work in their lives.
Sharing my testimony with thousands of students has provided a way for me to be a conduit of hope, encouragement and inspiration. My vulnerability creates a classroom atmosphere of increased student learning and engagement, particularly important in our current online settings. It paves the way for character formation and reflection on matters of faith.
When students know we understand their struggles, they become more receptive to our messages of hope and life. Be encouraged that you can make a profound impact on students’ lives and faith. Consider being vulnerable before your students during our current world crisis to help calm their fears and assure them that God is with them and an ever-present help in time of trouble.
It’s a message they desperately need to hear!
—Marina Hofman, Ph.D.
Biblical and theological studies professor in the School of Ministry at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Florida; Chief editor at Castle Quay Books
Marina Hofman, PhD in theology (University of Toronto) and Teaching Higher Education
certificate (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), has taught in biblical and
theological courses in Canada, U.S.A., Colombia (South America) and The Gambia (West
Africa). She has published academic, peer-reviewed articles in the fields of biblical
studies, theology, psychology, trauma, education, ministry and bioethics. Her work
has received national recognition, include Emerging Old Testament Scholar award by
the Institute of Biblical Research at the Society of Biblical Literature and Best
Paper by the Canadian-American Evangelical Theological Association.
Hofman is the chief editor at Castle Quay Books, one of Canada's largest publishers, served as a national representative on the Roman Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue in Canada before moving to South Florida, and is an avid Sailfish Athletics fan.