Some criticize online learning for depersonalizing education, caricaturing it as being devoid of human contact and community.
With more than a decade of experience, however, I know the opposite is true in our Graduate Theological Online Education (GTOE) programs at Northwest Nazarene University’s School of Theology & Christian Ministries.
Daily I’m reminded that I’m part of a community of people who are deeply committed to not only the success of our students but also with their well-being. Recently this was demonstrated vividly when I traveled from Idaho to Mississippi to hand-deliver a diploma to one of this year’s Master of Divinity graduates, Rev. David Ching.
Until last year, David served as pastor at Fellowship Church of the Nazarene in Houston, Miss. Two and a half years ago, he was given a daunting diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer in his head, neck and throat. Just two months ago, his doctors advised him that, while it appears he conquered his initial diagnosis, he now has inoperable Stage 4 lung cancer. From a human perspective, the prognosis was dire: barring a miracle, David might only have six months to live.
Since his initial diagnosis in September 2011, David spent the majority of his graduate studies working through his illness. We at NNU had a front-row seat to his fight with cancer, including when treatment left him unable to speak for extended periods of time.
My colleagues and David’s classmates have all been inspired by his tenacity—and his grace. Despite all he has been through, David never gave up on his dream of earning his graduate degree. In the end, he earned two degrees from NNU: a Master of Arts degree in Spiritual Formation; and now his Master of Divinity.
Unfortunately, David’s health situation made it impossible for him to travel to our upcoming commencement in May. So it was a no-brainer for me when NNU’s academic dean asked if I would like to present David with his diploma personally.
Working with David, his family, and his pastoral successor, we planned a special celebration at the Fellowship Church on Palm Sunday. His friends and family gathered to celebrate and testify to David’s character as a pastor—and as a learner. With David donning his cap and gown, I not only presented him with his diploma, but I also presented him with a proclamation from Nampa Mayor Bob Henry, congratulating David for his perseverance in achieving his goals against all odds.
It was without a doubt one of the most moving experiences of my career—and my life.
After the event, David posted this online: “I would like to thank all my colleagues, the staff, the professors, the Mayor of Nampa and all others from NNU and its surroundings for their support, love and prayers. I could not have done this without each of you.”
Meeting David for the first time, I was amazed by his strength and outlook. Had I not journeyed with him through his cancer, I never would have guessed he is in a battle for his life. He doesn’t look—or act—the part. Just before the celebration started, I asked him how he was doing. He told me he was in pain, but he would get through it. To see him you would have never guessed he was struggling.
It felt wonderful to be with David, to celebrate with him and everyone who has been pulling for him. It was bittersweet knowing the battle that yet lies ahead. But this is where faith and life meet. It’s where we see how faith wins out, how David has drawn on God’s strength to endure when most of us would have given up.
David has enriched NNU’s online learning community by allowing us to share in his experience. He vividly demonstrates that, at NNU, “online” never means “out of touch.”
His family and friends often call David “Superman.” He fully lives up to his nickname. He has journeyed with supporters through a gripping Facebook group for those who are fighting—and surviving—cancer. He calls it “NBD2C,” which stands for “Never Back Down 2 Cancer.”
I invite you to watch this moving tribute to “Superman” on YouTube. I hope David’s journey will inspire you to live your dreams—and to never quit.
He certainly inspires me.
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