I should've been happy. I came home to Indianapolis a winner—along with the other members of my church's Bible quiz team. We'd just won a regional competition, which had taken place on the campus of Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, Tennessee.
But I wasn't feeling the joy of victory. Far from it. When my friend Brian dropped by to congratulate me, he found me sitting at the kitchen table staring off into space. The silence, coupled with my weird mood, was driving Brian crazy.
"What's up, Emily?" he finally asked. "Talk to me. What's bothering you?"
"College stuff," I mumbled. "I don't know where I wanna go."
"What?" Brian asked, a bit puzzled. "I thought we'd both decided to go to Purdue."
True. That's where I was going. Brian and I both wanted to become chemical engineers, and Purdue was the best school in Indiana for that. As I sat there in silence, I thought back to my visit to Purdue. I could picture it all—the excitement of attending Big Ten football and basketball games, the fun of exploring the huge campus, and, of course, the chance to meet new, interesting people. Going to a local state school would give me a lot of freedom, but I'd also be able to "escape" home to family and friends when I needed to. It offered the best of two worlds.
"I gotta admit," Brian said, suddenly breaking the silence. "I'm surprised you're having doubts. After visiting Purdue, it's all you talked about for days."
"I know," I sighed. "Purdue is awesome, but when I was on Johnson's campus, I just got to thinking about some of the stuff Mrs. Armstrong has been saying about a Christian education."
Mrs. Armstrong, a lady from my church, had worked with me on some inner-city service projects. She'd encouraged me to check out Bible colleges. My Uncle Bob had also suggested I check out Christian schools. But I never felt like I needed to. I thought I was already a strong Christian. I really didn't think I needed that kind of an education. But now I wasn't so sure.
My confusion only got worse as I went from my sophomore into my junior year. The only way to sort things out was to visit Johnson Bible College. I thought I should at least be willing to see what a Christian school had to offer.
So What Were My Dreams?
During my visit I thought a lot about the differences between Johnson and my local state school. The thing that immediately struck me about Johnson was how "at home" I felt there. I think that was due, in part, to the smaller campus. But it was more than that. Everyone I met—the admissions people, the professors, the students—treated me as an individual rather than Student Number 24,395. I liked that.
I also liked the unique opportunities Johnson offered. For example, at Freshman Chapel, the entire class gathered to worship and share prayer requests. I also found out the campus offered weekly dorm devotions, which would give you a chance to grow closer to classmates and grow closer to God.
In the weeks following my visit, I thought a lot about my two options.
I also started having my doubts about the value of a Christian education. For one thing, I couldn't help wondering if I'd limit my career opportunities if I went to a Christian school. Then there was my need to experience a little more freedom. I sometimes felt my church and my Christian family had been just a little too protective. I wondered, Would Johnson be the same way?
I was more confused than ever. I decided to get some advice from Mom. She suggested I list the activities in my life that are most important to me.
I took a deep breath and thought for a moment. "I love leading Vacation Bible School," I began. "And tutoring inner-city kids has been awesome."
Mom looked at me, quietly sipping her coffee as I went on.
"Oh, and I love all those community projects I do with the church—like construction work and clothing drives. My favorite thing, though, is the mission trips."
"Why?" Mom asked.
"Because helping people makes me feel good," I said.
Then Mom asked me a question that I'd failed to ask myself.
"Why do you want to be a chemical engineer?"
"Cuz, well, I think it would…"
I stumbled with my words. I glanced at Mom's face and knew what she was getting at.