The Surprise Answer to My Prayer

After being homeschooled for my entire life, I began my studies at Penn State Abington in the spring of 2015, and it wasn’t pretty.

Every morning when I woke up, I faced the dismal reality that I had to go and sit in a classroom again. Classrooms felt foreign. I much preferred reading a textbook on my own, lazily sitting on the couch in my pjs as I studied. Instead, I had to get dressed and get out the door. I was so unhappy that I was convinced college was not the right path for me.

Even so, I would spend my morning drives to school praying that, even if college was not the right path, God would use me during my first year of college to bring glory to Him on campus.

During that first semester, I was taking the first general chemistry course of a two-part series. My professor was an older gentleman (early 70s, most likely) who had spent most of his teaching career at West Point. He always referred to his students as “cadets” and used military examples like the attack on Pearl Harbor to explain to us why being unprepared for exams was completely unacceptable. Every day, without exception, my professor began his 8 a.m. chemistry class with some annoyingly energetic Irish music as he marched around in his threadbare jeans asking his students why they were so desperately behind on the weekly assignment. I was not the biggest fan of this professor, though he seemed to like me well enough.

One day, I was not aware of a campus-wide change of schedule and missed my chemistry recitation. I had no choice but to go to my professor’s office to learn the material I had missed in class. I generally dreaded going to his office for help because it was almost impossible to leave. More often than not, the answers to chemistry questions magically transformed into a lecture about military history. One quick stop in his office guaranteed a one- to two-hour monologue. I really needed help understanding Lewis structures though, so I made myself go ask him my questions.

When I arrived, my professor seemed delighted that a cadet was willing to come to his office after missing a class. While working on some practice problems he gave me, I noticed a Bible on his bookshelf. At first, I could not believe that my professor was a Christian, but after a few seconds of silently mustering courage, I asked him about his faith. He spoke briefly about his church life and then asked what church I attended. I told him that I am a member of an Orthodox Presbyterian church.

He gave me an incredulous look, and eventually asked if I was “one of those people who believed you could be saved no matter what you do.” I confidently replied, “Yes. I believe that my salvation does not hinge on any works I may try to do to earn salvation or prove that I am worthy of God’s grace.”

My professor looked genuinely baffled, and even mildly angry. He leaned far back in his chair with his head tilted down, still managing to look over his glasses at me. Finally he said, “So you believe that someone who has lived a life full of sin is equally deserving of salvation as someone who has lived a good life?” I was silent at first, because I was confused. He took advantage of the silence to clarify his question, saying, “So someone who murdered someone or has done drugs their whole life, if they heard the Gospel, can be saved just like someone who has always lived a life in accordance with God’s word?”

With some thought, I answered by explaining how I believe that every person is equally hopelessly and desperately lost in sin, and that absolutely no one, no matter what they have done, is ever deserving of salvation. It is a gift given to us purely by the grace of a loving God.

My professor stared at me, leaned back even further in his chair, and sighed, “I just have a difficult time believing that God would save anyone, no matter what they have done.” After a pause, I told him that the fact that God would save anyone, no matter what they have done, is why I am able to have full assurance of salvation. I know I am unworthy of salvation, and because of that, I am so thankful for the knowledge of God’s abounding grace.

I came out of that office amazed at the work of God.

I walked into that office dreading the idea of learning about Lewis structures and enduring another military lecture. The conversation that occurred in that moment is not something I ever anticipated, but I recognized right away that it was an answer to the prayer I spoke to God every morning on my drive to school. I just never expected that I would be sharing the truth of the Gospel to my West Point-obsessed, Irish-music-loving chemistry professor. I learned that day that God truly does answer prayer, and He provides opportunities for His people to glorify Him in conversation, even when they don’t expect it. 

—Nancy Elise Venter is a student at Penn State University. She studies marketing with a pre-med track and plans to graduate in May 2019.