For the first time in my life, I had to face winter. And not just any winter, but a record Chicago winter. Prior to coming to Wheaton, I had never seen or touched snow before. The high elevation in my home country of Rwanda always provided cool weather throughout the whole year, with 82F average high and 58F average low. So my Kinyarwanda language did not even have the vocabulary word for snow. The cold winter was one of many new and exciting things I was able to experience during my first year at Wheaton College Graduate School.
I just completed my first year in the M.A. in Systematic Theology program. I had many challenges at the beginning of my program, such as adjusting to the rigorous pace of graduate studies and speaking and writing in English, my fourth language. But Wheaton College offered me the best studying environment that I could ever imagine. I lived with four roommates who were also international students, and each of us was from a different continent; what a great blessing! Though we all came from different cultures, we had a common culture of being Christian brothers.
I also had to leave my wife Hope and our three children: Moses (11), Esther (8), and Sandra (4) in Rwanda when I started my Theology program. Though I was apart from my family, Wheaton College became my family away from family. The Christian interaction between students, professors, and staff provided an excellent learning environment. Professors at Wheaton are so amazing! I always wondered how these professors are so knowledgeable, yet so very humble. They are not only academic professors, but also spiritual mentors.
Back at home, I am a church planting pastor and a theology teacher, where I serve as the General Secretary of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Rwanda; an association of indigenous churches that a team of 12 pastors and I founded in 2007. Since then, we have planted 33 more churches to bring our total number of churches to 45. This summer, I look forward to being home in Rwanda with my family and to return to my ministry. The first year is already gone and it seems that the time was so quick. I look forward to finishing my second year with great courage.
When I came to Wheaton, I expected it to be another four years of my high school experience. Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed high school, but I wanted college to be a new chapter of my life, not the rereading of an old one. During my senior year, I tried to stay away from any Christian college. I was headed straight for the most academically rigorous school out there, and I didn’t think a Christian school could give me the level of education I wanted.
At least, not until I came to Wheaton. When I visited, I became completely convinced that I could get a great Christian education. However, it wasn’t until I actually began to live here that I realized the value of the Wheaton community. In students, professors, everyone, the love of Christ shines brightly. If someone had told me that I would find a second family—most of which were within five years of my age—during the first year I came to Wheaton, I would have thought they were joking, but God provided.
As I began to grow in this community, I increasingly found quirky and idiosyncratic things about this place. I started to post and number the funniest, weirdest, and most impactful ones on Facebook as my very own Wheatonisms. Here are a few examples:
Wheatonism #4: “integration of faith and learning”
If you ever come to Wheaton, you’ll hear this over and over again, and thankfully, the professors mean it. I haven’t had a class yet in which the professor hasn’t connected the discipline with the Bible.
Wheatonism #10: People dress as Bible characters for Halloween
Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Not to mention Jesus…
Wheatonism #11: Chicken Finger Day in SAGA (Anderson Commons)
Chicken fingers come around once or twice a semester in the dining room, and trust me, you won’t understand until it happens. At home, I don’t even like chicken fingers. But here, it’s not just food; it’s part of the culture.
Wheatonism #19: Floating
Okay, so first, you craft a root beer float using two straws, then you find a couple that looks like they might be on a first date. (Bonus points if at least one of them is a close friend!) You walk up to the table sneakily, and put the float between them. Let the awkwardness begin!
Wheatonism #24: Professors Care
One of your profs begins to tear up as he says, "If anything I have taught you has been of Christ, hold on to it. If anything I have taught has not been of Christ, I pray that God would cast it away from you. At the end of the day, I hope you saw Christ, not me, in this class." Needless to say, there was a rush of applause at the end of that day, for we did see Christ in that room, every day we were in it. However, it was not merely the level of respect for God's word and honest search for its understanding which won our hearts and ears, but also the care for the lives of each and every one of his 100+ students, shown partly by the fact that he knew ALL of our names.
So all in all, my freshman year a Wheaton has been great so far! I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings. But a piece of advice to all of you prospective students out there: If you want to find a place where people search for God wholeheartedly, love each other in community, and seek for knowledge deeply, come to Wheaton. That’s who we are.
College is likely the only time in life where you will get the chance to live with thirty other people, the same age, on the same floor. During my freshman year, I was placed on the fourth floor of Traber dorm, or in Wheaton dialect, T4. I had the chance to meet, as well as hang out with guys I might not have otherwise known had I attended a commuter campus near my home.
I was randomly placed with a roommate, and I can honestly say that within minutes I was so thankful for the random placement. My roommate has become one of my closest friends and we are rooming together again for our sophomore year. Coming from a family with only sisters, living with another guy was a change for me but an awesome experience. By sharing a room we quickly learned about each other, our interests, life stories, and we also grew together in our Christian faith through our involvement in a Discipleship Small Group (DSG). It was comforting to know that I was not alone in this new transition in life and that all these guys I was living next to were in the same situation. It was so much fun having a constant influx of guys coming into my room to talk to my roommate and me. Instead of texting friends to ask how life was going we could simply walk into their room and ask them in person.
Another highlight of my freshman dorm experience was the Bro-Sis activities that are created throughout the year. Beginning in the middle of welcome week, brother and sister floors are paired up. This gives you an easy opportunity to meet girls or vice versa and allows you to form quick friendships with one another. Many of these activities are also what become highlights during freshman year including raids (one floor having a party in the middle of the night for another floor), meals together, movie nights, etc.
We all chose Wheaton for various reasons important to us, including family history, Christian influence, academic reputation and the hope of lifelong relationships. But the opportunity to live and become brothers and sisters with those who only a year ago were perfect strangers is a gift that only comes from living in community together. Regardless of what initially attracted us to Wheaton, the benefits of experiencing life together refines us into individuals that God will use to influence the world.