Fall 2002 State of the University Address
The streets of North American cities were once lined with American elms, a beautiful, fast-growing tree with abundant shade. Wood from these trees taken from the North American forests, were used for furniture, flooring, construction, and veneer. Early in the 1930s, the Dutch elm disease began to devastate forests in the northeast, and by 1977, had moved across the country and killed or infected nearly all of these great North American trees. For more than four decades scientists at many leading American universities worked to find a defense for this disease. Failure followed failure, and for many years any kind of relief seemed out of reach. At some point botanists discovered a few disease-tolerant trees. After conducting a nationwide search, it was estimated that these disease-tolerant trees are so rare that only one in 100,000 exist. From these disease-tolerant trees, the U.S. National Arboretum was able to breed a new disease-resistant American elm. Currently, there exists a cooperative project between the USDA forest service and the National Arboretum to reintroduce these trees in North America.
By God’s grace, that is what we are. That tree in Jeremiah 17:7-8 — the one with “roots that reach deep” is a disease-tolerant tree. We are called by God to be resistant and stand against the powers of sin in a lost and dying world. The fruit that we are called to produce in the faculty and staff and students who move us to the core of our mission, are people with a Christian worldview. After moving through the APU God First experience, our alumni are planted in vast regions around Southern California, this great nation, and even around the world. It may in fact be that there has never been a more important time in history for a disease-resistant, Christ-centered, God First university to exist in the heart of Southern California than today.
You will be as thrilled as I am to learn that something historical is happening at Azusa Pacific University. You may remember that on our annual Day of Prayer, I asked all of the staff and faculty in attendance to pray specifically for students, who this year, would cross the line of faith and accept Jesus Christ into their lives. Several weeks ago when our football team returned for two-a-day training, approximately 35 players began meeting nightly after practice, praying for God to move in great ways among their team this season. Last Wednesday night, following two nights of Bible studies, 10 players responded to an opportunity, stood, and made first-time commitments, accepting Christ into their lives. That is historic.
During the summer months, 200-300 students have continued to meet for Wednesday night chapels. Over the summer, these students from the East San Gabriel Valley area, meeting in Munson Chapel, were privileged to see about 18 young adults cross the line of faith to follow Christ. That is historic.
The seniors on our men’s soccer team have challenged each other to lead the remaining 20 percent of non-believers on their team to Christ before the season ends. Chris Brown, our campus pastor, recently met with more than 150 of our student Resident Advisors and Alpha Leaders. During this time, these student leaders made a commitment to let go of the title of their position and instead define their student involvement as ministries. That is historic.
On your tables tonight is a glass vase with small palm trees with their roots clearly visible and immersed in water. We want you to have these to take home because we want you to have a clear picture of what it means to live in a Christ-centered community, with a commitment for our roots to run deep. You will walk out of these doors tonight holding in your hand a picture of the historical challenge we face today, living in a world changing at the speed of light. You see — those small palm trees will die if their roots are left immersed in water. Should you want to extend the life of those trees, you have to do something about it. In essence, pull that tree out of the water and plant it in well-drained soil, or it will die.
We cannot dodge the reality and need of life-giving change. But as a Christ-centered university, we must never let go of our core purpose, our reason for existence. Around the Cornerstones of Christ, Scholarship, Community, and Service, we are called by God to bear the fruit of disease-resistant disciples and scholar — equipped and planted by God to change the world.