I remember waiting for Moody’s decision letter. I had no idea what Moody was when I applied. I didn’t know the history. I had just heard the name once spoken, and the name itself bore such elegance that I was drawn there. I had applied to no other school, and found out later that only half of the applicants would be accepted. I came home one day and found my mother sitting at the table, the letter from MBI laying flat, untouched. I opened the letter in silence, and together we found out I was accepted. My mother cried tears of pride. I was gonna be the first member of our family to ever attend college.
I remember my first day at Old Testament Survey. We were given an assessment quiz to see how much we knew. This wasn’t for a grade, but rather a thermometer of our knowledge. Out of a hundred questions, I got eleven correct. Eleven. That is how much Bible I knew coming here. I was three years old in my faith and was in way over my head.
I remember the moment I realized that most of my personal theology was based on my love of a pastor, and not on the actual teaching of the Bible. It shook my entire foundation. I believed what I believed because someone I trusted told me it was true. I didn’t know what Jesus actually said. As I began to listen to Him speak, He surprised me. Jesus is still surprising me these many years later.
I remember falling apart, being unable and unwilling to face the pain of my life. One day a professor stopped me in the hallway, looked at my haggard and unkempt self, and said: “I love you, Ernesto.” And he embraced me. He was one of the only men in my entire life that ever did that. And as I kept sliding toward destruction, he never stopped doing that. I never cried when he said these words… but I do now. I still love that old man who saw me and cared enough to reach out.
I remember failing out of college. I had received every punishment Moody had to offer. I fought against the authority of the school… because I needed to fight against something. I was the boy left to himself who brings his mother to shame. Community service hours, kicked off athletic teams, fines, I even got grounded once. I don’t think they even do that anymore. I couldn’t leave my dorm room. During my isolation, freshmen would bring gifts of Coke and salsa to my door as tribute. I was on chapel probation, academic probation, and I think I was put on behavioral probation at some point. I finally failed every class I was enrolled in, and left knowing I would never be back.
But I came back.
I remember the Dean calling my house after I applied to come back. He asked me the question, “Why should I let you back in my school.” I answered him honestly. “I don’t know.” He hung up with me and opened the door for my return. The leadership shouldn’t have. I was a longshot. I didn’t fit. I was a troublemaker and rabble-rouser. I was a proud fool who didn’t know how dumb I was. But Moody took me back. They gave me yet another chance.
I remember the dorms full of brothers, and how many of them are still my best friends today. I remember professors who asked penetrating questions that took me years to even understand. I remember a place that gave me the room to be a person. A place I learned to think and love and be. The tools I gained at Moody took me from youth ministry in the suburbs, to the villages of India, to the pastorate of a megachurch, and finally to a church plant in a dying city in the rustbelt of America. I never learned how to do any one of these things at Moody. But I learned to read the Bible, and that was enough foundation to figure everything else out.
I not only remember Moody, I honor its place in my life. I pray for her. I give that other student may receive what I received. I send my disciples there that they may learn to stand. She is not perfect, but she is committed to the kingdom. And for that I am and will be forever grateful.