The Loop is Closed
The following is the speech given by Dr. Robert McKenna for the Dedication of the McKenna College of Education at Immanuel University, on January 29th, 2015.
Andaroo Bagunara! Naramascarum!
I am honored to be with you today, at the dedication of the McKenna College of Education, as a humble representative of my wife Jackie, my sons Aidan and Ryan, my brother Doug, my sister Debra, and my sister Suzanne, their husbands, wives and children. Most importantly, I bring you greetings from David and Janet McKenna, my parents.
I am so thankful for the words of Annie, Kellie, and of Margaret and Matt. These are people I know and love, who represent the many threads that connect the fabric of my parents’ lives with the fabric of my life and your lives. Their words tell you much about my parents, and even more importantly about the many loops that connect us together. Their stories remind me of the power of the starts, middles and finishing moments of our lives.
Have you even been at a crossroads where you had to make a choice about what you were going to do next, and the decision was difficult? Where both options sound like they might be the right thing to do? Have you ever been in a place where you felt that God could be calling you in two directions, and each of those options seemed like it could be His voice. In those moments we might wish we had two parallel lives to live so that we could serve God in multiple ways. I have felt that like that. While I would like to think that life is always clear, what if you had two options? What if there were two possible futures?
How would you feel if, looking back on your life, you followed one path, but always wondered “What would have happened if I had taken that other path? And Lord, if you started that desire and calling in me, was it simply a good story to tell, or was it the start of something that would be finished later? Was it a loop that I might see finished somewhere down the road? Our memories are full of beginnings, endings, and continuing stories that we may not fully understand. But, there are moments where we should pay attention to the beginnings and the loops that may be closing right now. I want to tell you a story about two young people in 1953 who faced just such a moment.
In 1953, at the ages of 22 and 21, my parents heard the famous missionary to India, J. T. Seamands, speak at Asbury Theological Seminary. As my Dad said, it was one of those moments when it was very clear that he was the one to whom the call came when J.T. asked, “Who will go?” Why India? In many ways, it makes no sense. But they now see it in the same category as God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah. That made no sense either, but it was the test that defined his willingness to respond to God’s call at the price of the dearest of self-interest. For my parents, the odds of my Dad getting a Ph.D. were so small that to be a missionary to India could have become the captivating desire of their souls and ministry together.
Why India? At the time, my mother and father had no idea why that became the test. Now, as they see the loop closing today with the dedication of this College of Education, they have told me, “We have fallen before the sovereignty of God as we now see something we couldn’t see then.” They only saw the incident, but God saw the story, and one of the important loops in their lives that had begun. It reminds me of the fact that God knows the future without foreordaining the future. 63 years later, my parents now see the story they saw back in 1953. As my Dad told me before I came to India one week ago, “Before that truth I must bow and worship.”
Their struggle came to a decision point as my parents prayed at their bedside in their apartment. Would my father give up his all-consuming desire to pursue a Ph.D in order to take the risk of the unknown in a distant country he had never visited? As my Dad told me “Of course, the ultimate issue was whether I would choose the will of God, whatever that might be, rather than my own will. Despite all of my human flaws and spiritual failures, the decision runs like a thread through all of the following years. Again, I can only bow, not explain, how and why God should choose me.”
In the end, they chose the path toward my Dad completing his Ph.D., which lead my parents into senior leadership roles at Spring Arbor University, Seattle Pacific University, and at Asbury Theological Seminary. As you have already heard, their influence has been felt across the globe. As a professor at one of those universities where my parents were leaders, I can say that hundreds of people have commented to me and said, “Your father said this to me 25 years ago, and it changed the trajectory of my life” or “I love your mother. She welcomed me into her home at a time when I felt so far from any home.” The funny thing about these stories is that my parents do not always remember their influence or actions, but they remember the circumstances of the people they saw as part of their ministry together.
There are many words that I would use to describe my parents. My mother is tough and soft at the same time. Don’t mess with Janet, and especially don’t mess with Dave, or you will be messing with Janet. But, my mother loves so deeply. My mother is protective of those she loves, and sacrificial to those she serves. I so love that about my Mom. My Dad is a firm and commanding presence, but he is such a soft person. He is a master at relating to people, while never losing sight of his convictions. In saying this now, it makes me realize how alike they are. They are walking paradoxes.
This ability to love and to lead has been forged by some specific daily decisions that have made them who they are.
David and Janet McKenna are people defined by joy. They awaken each morning singing “This is the day the Lord hath made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. As a rebellious teenager, I often rolled my eyes at the song, but now I see what they were modeling for me, and I love them for it.
My parents are two people defined by grace. They are aware of their own need for grace, and for that reason, have always offered grace to others. They are not perfect in any way, and they know it. They are willing to be wrong and to be changed. A unique quality in our world. Grace allows them to continue to learn every day.
Ultimately, I would describe my Mom and Dad as people who have always been obedient and available. They have actively lived in submission to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ. As a boy, I cannot tell you how many times I heard my Mom or my Dad prayer this prayer, “Lord, may your will be done.” While we use those words often, I knew what they meant. It meant they would be willing to forgo riches, accomplishments, titles, and Ph.D.s to respond to the perfect will of God. They would take the difficult path if God was to call them that way.
For my parents, at times this call to India early in their lives felt like a part of their journey that was incomplete. It is as if a loop had been started, and never come full circle and had been closed. What if our job when those loops begin is to simply be available and willing to say, “Lord if it is your Will, I will go.” I will be obedient to you and do my job, finish my degree, but always, Lord always, be willing to take any other path to which you might call me.
What is the moment that brought you here? What is the moment where God may have started something that has lead you to be sitting here on the campus of Immanuel University, at this dedication? Each of us can probably trace back to a moment, or series of moments, that brought us here. I know I can.
Fifteen months ago, I did not know I would be in India, or that I would be here twice within one year. I did not know that I would know dozens of graduate students in India, that I would be so proud of Raj when he got his first job. That I would be able to talk about faith with Sandeep on the bus ride from the airport, and talk with my dear friends Prothyusha, Utkalika and Mercy about shopping for a dress for my wife Jackie. I did not know that I would be able to play a beautifully distorted chord through Ketu’s guitar. I did not know that in my car ride home last night I would describe the emotion I was feeling in this moment to Sadanand as we met for the first time, and he would describe his desire that whatever God started with him would be completed through his children. So, he named his first some Abhilesh – meaning “Good Desire”. He said the same desire my parents have is the desire and vision he has. And he spoke of Hebrews 11:3, that through faith we can see the invisible things, through faith we can do the impossible things.
I did not know the relationships I would have with the faculty here, with Thomas, and with Sushant. I did not know I would come to love Bishop Joab, Biship G John, and Bishop Narendra John (who, by they way, looks just like my Dad with darker skin). I am driven to my knees when I witness the ministry these three men have to the poor, the widows, the leprosy patients, the orphans, and the tribal people of India. I love you three so much. I did not know that I would be a part of a team of dozens of faculty, businesspeople and students who would come to Hyderabad India. My only job was to be available.
This loop started with a call from Jim Mannoia, a person with whom my family has been connected since before I was born. He asked what I thought about him contacting my father about naming the College of Education at this new university after my parents. I was hesitant because I knew that while there are other building bearing their names, this was not what defined their ministry. This was followed by coffee with David Goodnight, and a visit in Seattle with Bishop Joab, my Dad, and with me. His own testimony, and the story he told of this university that was providing graduate education to tribals, and those who live on the fringes of our world impacted both of us. As a side note, Bishop was very serious, and I wondered if he had the ability to laugh. I had no idea how much he could laugh. He is one of the funniest men I know, and I love him for it. Finally, in October of 2013, a little over one year ago, David Goodnight came to speak to 80 my graduate students in a class, and he said, “It’s 2015, and 5 of you are going to Hyderabad India with me, and 3 or 4 weeks later, 4 students from Immanuel University (Prothyusha, Utkalika, Sujit, and Kiran) spoke in that same class and told their story of God’s grace in their lives.
The morning I was going to catch a flight to Hyderabad a week ago, I was making a necklace for my wife Jackie and my 11 and 13 year old boys, Aidan and Ryan. I’m wearing the necklace now. It is a simple washer, and my hope was that this necklace would remind each of us as we were apart, that we are connected together, even though separated by thousands of miles. We had shared dinner with my parents the night before, and when I prayed, I said these words, “The loop is closed.” As I was threading the leather strap through the loop of this washer, I saw an email arrive from my Dad titled “The Loop is now Closed.” Chills went down my spine.
My Dad went on to describe the loops that begin in the past, that are sometimes closed by God in our present, and that are sometimes closed by others in the future.
Imagine Jesus on the cross when he said, “It is finished.” It sounds like the end of the story in defeat, but his final words were, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my Spirit.” He had to trust that one loop of his mission was closed and another was to begin with His resurrection.
Once again, as we think about the loop of the future, we can see the disciples peering up into heaven as Jesus ascends. He asks, “Why do you stand there peering up into the sky. The same one who leaves you will come again.” Project that forward to the grand statement in Revelation when all things will come to completion. This means that the loop will not always be closed in our lifetime, but we live with the promise of its completion as the assurance of our faith.
For my parents, my being here today and dedicating the McKenna College of Education is a loop that started long ago, that we are able to close today. The closing of loops is difficult for me because it feels final. To imagine that something is ending is difficult for us because it feels like a death. I have been afraid of losing my parents for years, and so this thought haunted me. But there is a problem with living in that fear. I know that there was a problem with ignoring the loops that started that might be coming to a completion. It denies God the opportunity to show us something. As Dr. Joey Collins said earlier this week, “to see a moment where something matters.” Our job is simple in these moments, we only need to pay attention.
All of you received a simple washer today. As you look at that washer, I want to ask yourself a question. What loop might be closing for you today? Only you know the beginning that brought you here, but what if this is a moment that matters. What moment is God wanting you to see where something might be starting, finishing, or continuing? You have noticed that many members of our team are wearing these loops around our necks, and now you know why. They symbolize for us, something that started long ago with a simple speech by JT Seamins, that closes today with the dedication of the McKenna College of Education. The beginning of this loop, and its closure today, are interwoven with hundreds of other loops that connect relationships, families, students and professors, pastors, and servants and thousands of others across India and the United States.
But, as this loop closes, others are started. We not only have the opportunity to see what God is bringing to completion now, but what He is starting in the wake of what he is finishing right now, in this moment. The reality is that there are many loops that we may not see closed, but we live in a hope and vision provided by our heavenly Father that was fulfilled by His Son, the precious Jesus Christ who sacrificed everything for me and for you, in spite of our failures and shortcomings. As I have paid attention to the loops being closed around me in the last week, it is almost enough to drive me to my knees again as I say, “Lord, you have spoken so deeply to me in a place that I never imagined would become an extended home.” During my time hear, God gave me a vision, that I could see almost as clearly as I see your faces now. I see a vision of one of my great grandchildren, my parents’ great great grandchildren, in a seemingly random meeting over a cup of Chai in Hyderabad, meeting the grandchild of one of the graduates from the College of Education at Immanuel University. And they will realize at some moment, that each of them had a family member who was present at this very moment. Can you imagine the hundreds of thousands of relationships and people who will have starts created by this moment through our grandchildren and great grandchildren, From India, to the United States and around the globe. I can imagine that conversation now, and it will start with this. They will say, I remember the words of Dr. David McKenna “The Loop is Now Closed.” And it will have only just begun.
As you walk to the front of the McKenna College of Education, there is something to notice. I saw it when I arrived, and I could not believe my eyes. My niece Annie had sent Bishop Joab a sketch of what she had designed for the landscaping in front of the building. And without knowing anything about that, I saw something that I believe God was once again telling me. There are loops that surround and center the entrance to this building. I cannot help but believe that God was reminding me once again of His grace that creates the moments where something starts, all of the relationships and moments in the middle, and the closing of the loops where we see His glory finished, for His sake.
And so today, in the presence of the Board of Trustees of Immanuel University, the faculty and students at Immanuel University, the Bishops of the Free Methodist Church of India, our you dear friends and family, and on behalf of my Mother and Father, David and Janet McKenna, we dedicate the McKenna College of Education to you Lord God, and we pray that all who enter its halls will Lead with Grace and Serve with Joy. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… all of us together as a family say, Amen.