Nancy Fitzgerald: making a difference for God with students entering college

C.S. Lewis has some words to live by for you
C.S. Lewis has some words to live by for you

About a week ago, I wrote a blog post about a column in Salvo magazine written by Terrell Clemmons, which she entitled “Captive No More: The Thoroughly Rational Conversion of Michael Minot“.

What was exciting about that post was how Minot – a lawyer – was able to put his intellect to work as a Christian after his investigation of the evidence was complete.

I found another article by Terrell in Salvo magazine about another person who did an investigation of Christianity. After becoming a Christian, she also put her intellectual ability to work for her new Boss, and she produced an amazing return.

Terrell tells the story of Nancy, who lost her faith as a child when her two-year-old brother died.  Despite letting go of God, she was a very capable student, had a good marriage and led a comfortable life:

Life went on, but for Nancy, the carefree innocence of youth had died, and the emptiness of Stephen’s crib did not compare to the barrenness in her soul. Days turned into years, and she went on to earn three degrees from Indiana University, no thanks to God, whom she managed fairly well to avoid thinking about.

Until the later years of college, that is. Is there really a God or not? she wondered. And what is my purpose in life? She began asking people from all kinds of backgrounds what they believed. Do you go to church? Why? Do you believe in God? Why? This was not a casual survey. It was a serious attempt to get at the truth about reality. It was the “Christians” she found most interesting. And most disappointing. They would acknowledge that they did believe in God, but when pressed to explain why, not a single one could give a reason that made sense to her. Not. A single. One.

“I was raised that way” or “I find comfort in it” simply would not cut it for her, and so she concluded that the whole Christian thing was either a grand hoax or a contrived crutch for weak people. Well, she was not one to be taken in, and she was certainly no weakling. Therefore, life might as well be about her own success and comfort. She decided she would be a nice atheist/humanist. In the unlikely event that there actually was a real God, he probably graded on a curve, anyway. She’d never killed anyone, and she had volunteered to serve at a church brunch once. Surely she would still get “in.”

She married Ed, a med student training to become a heart surgeon, and by age 32, had all the accoutrements of success and comfort: a nice home in the suburbs, four beautiful children, and a housekeeper and nanny to cover daily chores, leaving her free to play golf and enjoy life to her heart’s content.

She wasn’t able to get any answers to her questions from her friends. They seemed to be Christians for the emotional good it did them, or maybe for the community. They had never bothered to do any investigations of the normal questions that non-Christians ask. So, her atheism persisted.

Until one fine day:

When her youngest child reached six months old, she jumped onto an amateur golf tour and took a skinny little Bible with her to the first tournament in Florida. She started reading in the Book of Genesis and right away saw a God who was angry, who didn’t really like people, and who killed a lot of them, primarily by drowning.

“I’m done,” she said when a couple of friends dropped in and asked her what she was reading. “I can’t believe in this God. Drowning. Drowning. Really?

As it turned out, the friends were Christians, and better-prepared than the average Christian to give her some direction. Oh no, Genesis is not the place to start, they said. She should read the Book of John.

Oh thank goodness. Yes, John is always the first book to read when you are investigating the Bible. It gives you the theistic framework and a report of a miracle that you can investigate using the ordinary tools of history.

What happened next?

God, she prayed, if this is really true, if Jesus Christ really did what this book says he did, then I will believe and trust that he is God and my own personal Savior. She informed him that under no circumstances would she go to Africa as a missionary, and made a few other stipulations. And she still didn’t actually believe it all yet anyway, but a fire had been lit. Golf could wait. She left the tournament and returned home to her family, anxious to begin researching this God and the Bible.

She started by simply writing out questions she needed answers to—questions about God and about this Christian faith, and she discovered that there was a wealth of evidence to support the reliability of the Bible texts. But what really moved her was the Scriptures’ running total of fulfilled prophecies—general prophecies, yes, but the quantity of specific prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ was astounding! There was something supernatural about this, no question.

The whole family ended up becoming Christians, including her four children. That’s already pretty good, but she wasn’t done re-prioritizing her life to account for this new information. Because she could see challenges ahead for her children when they got to college.

More:

About ten years later, as her oldest son was preparing to go to college, she asked him, “So what are you going to do if you get a roommate in college like me?”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

“I used to be an atheist,” she said.

To which he responded, “What is that?”

Nancy was floored. Her own son had no clue about her history, and he was clearly unprepared for the university environment.

She set about organizing all her research material into handouts, rounded up a few of her son’s friends, and held a class with six students. They loved it! She didn’t preach to them, but rather interacted with them, and presented solid material using movie clips and other provocative visuals. From that start, her classes grew year by year, until some 150 kids were showing up weekly, with more being turned away for lack of room.

Nancy’s classes may well have stayed confined to her community had it not been for the intervention of Charles Colson, who got wind of this popular class and hopped a plane for a visit. “Nancy, you’ve got to publish this,” he said. “We’ve got to replicate what you’re doing here across America.” Nancy had reservations about ministries, and she definitely did not want to be a “ministry.” But she agreed with his point that “people have to get smarter about their faith.”

Fortunately, he prevailed, and the result became Anchorsaway Worldview Curriculum. “Because kids need anchor points in place when they go away,” says Nancy.

For the rest, you should click through and read Terrell’s article. You’re not going to believe how much of an impact Nancy was able to have on the people who have the most potential influence – college students and young professionals.

If you like the original article, Terrell Clemmons has many more great ones in Salvo magazine. And she has a web site. I promise you nearly everything she writes is very practical. If you like wisdom, you will enjoy her thinking. I think Christian men in particular will find practical wisdom from her writings. Like Nancy, Terrell is having a big influence as well.

But I can’t end this blog post without something else that Terrell wrote about Nancy that I really liked.

This:

She gets frustrated with churches, many of which are not only not helping young people cultivate a grounded faith, but are resistant to her efforts do so on their behalf. Now a grandmother of ten, she could retire. “But Lord, where else would I rather be?” she asks with a charming smile. “I’d take a half-lap around this property, and then come back here ready to work again.”

Ah, wonderful! I also dislike churches! They are mostly awful, and the fideist pastors will fight you tooth and nail to keep apologetics out, so that their emotion-driven flocks don’t have to worry their pretty little heads about evidence. Who cares about evidence? If we didn’t have people like Nancy fighting those battles, where would we be?

It’s really important that you see people like Nancy who have several degrees and a successful life as valuable. It’s people like her who have the biggest influence. Make sure that when college-student-aged Nancy comes to you with questions, that you have the answers to give her. Because we really need everyone to do their part for the Kingdom. This woman had an influence. And more importantly, she had an influence on her own children, protecting them from the peer pressure they would face from non-Christians at college.

One thought on “Nancy Fitzgerald: making a difference for God with students entering college”

  1. Very good. I did my best after I came to know the Lord, to give my sons a Biblical grounding, but I was still learning myself, and the Lord was dealing with issues from my past. In addition, my husband is an atheist with a scientific and technical mindset. However, our sons each came to the place of receiving Jesus Christ. I also prayed for them of course, as I knew they would face temptations as well as challenges to their faith. So it was devastating when the oldest came home from 1st year university stating that he was now a “rational materialist” and that “he felt so free” (i.e. to indulge in licence). Fifteen years later he is anti-theist and calls my Christian faith “religious lies”. I believe the Lord has his hand on my son’s life and will bring home this lost sheep. Since he is very headstrong, I don’t know whether I could have done more and whether it would have made a difference.
    I have since become involved in teaching in a school Bible club, hoping to be able to impart solid principles and understanding to the children.

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