President Scales, members of the Board of Trustees, esteemed faculty and staff, honored guests, and fellow graduates, Good morning! I am humbled and feel honored to have the opportunity to share a portion of my experience as a student at Nyack College and Alliance Graduate School of Counseling (AGSC). Thank you, Dr. Scales, for inviting me to speak today.
It’s hard to believe that this journey began over seven years ago in the fall of 2009. I was a nervous 17-year-old seeking to pursue a bachelor’s degree in adolescent education in hopes of one day becoming a high school teacher. But, little did I know, God had a different plan for me.
My perspective here at Nyack is somewhat unique. I am a graduate of Nyack College, and later today I will also become a graduate of the Alliance Graduate School of Counseling. But since my very first days on this campus I have constantly heard the following words, “Share Your Story! Share Your Story!”
These words were spoken at chapels, in classes, in the resident hall meetings, at the library, in the cafeteria. Everywhere I turned, people were encouraging one another to share their stories. At first I wondered, Did I join a publishing school? What’s the big deal and what story should we be sharing?
As we all know, stories have two elements—a character and a plot. My seven years as a student at Nyack College and Alliance Graduate School of Counseling has been a process of getting to know the character and the plot of my story.
Throughout my first year at Nyack, I wrestled with knowing the character of my story, that character is me. One of the classes that provided space and resources for me to do that was Introduction to Spiritual Formation. Our professor asked us to complete one of the strangest assignments I had ever received. We were asked to make a mask where on one side we wrote or drew how other people perceived us and on the other side, write or draw how we really felt and saw ourselves. Completing the outside of my mask was easy. I grew up as a pastor’s kid, so I always knew what people thought of me, how they perceived me, whether I cared for their opinion or not. That’s part of the life of a pastor’s kid. It was the inside of the mask, however, that challenged me, and frightened me. There were things that only I saw that I was afraid to bring into the light.
In the middle of working on this assignment, I found myself at a chapel service where the preacher was talking about our identity in Christ and he asked “Who are you?” I quickly responded in my mind I am a pastor’s kid. I’m Latino. I’m determined. I’m the first in my family to make it this far in college. I’m a soon to be teacher. I’m a hard worker. And the list went on and on. That’s who made up my character…I thought. But, when that long list ended, I reached a void. And in that void was a 17-year-old wandering and seeking for the real answer.
Who am I? At that point in time, I remember hearing a gentle whisper, “You missed the most important one. You are a child of God. You are My chosen one. I love you, I made you, and your identity is in Me. None of that other stuff. Let Me show you who you are.” I left that service with an overwhelming sense to finish my mask and bring to the light those things that were hindering me from knowing who I was, and from telling my story.
In the following months and years to come, through my Spiritual Formation class, through classmates, friends, professors, counseling services, through the encouraging and safe campus community, I was able to learn more about my character and this process began to help me connect the pieces of my story and understand the plot of my story. For the first time in my life I was beginning to share my story, and was opening up about my anger and frustration with God, my anger and frustration with my family for feeling like I had competed with the church for their time and attention.
I opened up about my sin and struggles. I opened up about my addiction to busyness and to idolizing work. I opened up about living through abuse and dealing with constant fear, guilt, and shame. The process—of being broken, experiencing vulnerability, the process of uncovering my character, of understanding the plot and then sharing my story—was lengthy. And, it’s a process I am still going through and will continue to go through. But through that process I was also getting to know the Author of my story, I was beginning to accept His narrative. I was uncovering God’s unconditional love for me, His forgiveness, His grace, His favor, His redemption, His joy, His healing, His power, His freedom, His presence. I was uncovering and getting to know Him.
I thank God for allowing me to be at a school like Nyack College and Alliance Graduate School of Counseling where personal transformation occurs, and where we are intentional about pursuing it. This makes us unique!
In the middle of this process, God was stirring my heart for ministry, something that I had been running away from. And so by my junior year I knew that God was asking me to serve Him, asking me to enter full-time ministry, and very hesitantly I switched from being an adolescent education major to being a pastoral ministry student with a concentration in counseling. An important part of the plot was being revealed. What I had experienced thus far, this process of personal transformation wasn’t just for me, but was also for the sake of others. My life experiences, both good and difficult, were so that I could serve others and help them through their journey.
So throughout my senior year, God was placing a heavy burden in my heart for pastors, missionaries, and their families. I knew I needed to be equipped to better serve them. With that in mind, I enrolled in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at AGSC. The Marriage and Family Therapy Program reinforced what I was learning about the plot of my own story and was emphasized through the following quote: “You cannot take others to places you are not willing to go to yourself.”
Through the last four years here, God has been refining and clarifying parts of the plot in my story that are yet to come. I envision establishing a ministry that offers workshops and provides tools that help church leaders to balance ministry and family life well; a ministry that counsels pastors, missionaries and their families in crisis; and owning a retreat center where pastors and missionaries can come to enjoy free vacation and spend time with their families.
I’m thankful for the faculty and staff of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program who have allowed me to share this burden with them, and who have encouraged me to dream, and to let God work outside the limits I set. The Marriage and Family Therapy Program has trained me to be a good listener, to ask the important questions, to view individuals with systemic lenses, to develop important clinical skills, but most importantly, they’ve trained me and other students to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those we counsel. Every class integrates faith and systemic-relational theory, spiritually with clinical skills, theology and science, in such a way that helps us grow to minister holistically. This unique setting and approach to education is what propels our institution to continue “preparing men and woman to take the whole gospel to the whole world.” I couldn’t have asked for a better place then Nyack College and Alliance Graduate School of Counseling to have spent such crucial and transformational years. Getting to know the character and Author of my story, understanding the plot and finding the freedom to share my story has been life-changing.
Thank you to all of you who support students like me through your financial donations and prayers. To the faculty, staff, administration, and trustees, your work does not go unnoticed. What you do is not in vain. Press on. You are making a difference in the kingdom, in our generation, and in the ones to come, so thank you! To my family, this journey would have been impossible to do without your constant encouragement, love, prayers, care packages, late night calls, and visits. Los amo mucho. And, most importantly, thank you Heavenly Father. You are so good, so faithful, and I’m so grateful.
Allow me to close by asking you some of the questions I’ve found helpful. What’s your story? How well do you know who you are as the main character? Do you know the plot the Author is writing? I pray you find your answers in Him. Then… share your story!
Blessings to you all! -Josue Miguel Calderon Gavilenez