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The Admissions Interview at the ‘Hotbed of Atheism’ that Ended with Prayer

DR
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He looked at me and laughed. “Uh, we don’t normally pray in admissions interviews.” I said I didn’t think it had been a normal admissions interview. He hesitated for a second. “Good point. All right, let’s pray.”

I said a prayer as I walked into my admissions interview at the University of Chicago. It was the summer before my senior year of high school, and my dad and I were on a trip across the country to visit colleges. We had just spent the day before visiting the nearby Wheaton College and had some extra time in the morning before our flight out of Chicago to the northeast to see more schools.

I wasn’t praying so much that I would do well – I wasn't too nervous, and wasn’t that interested in the University of Chicago anyway – but just that God would use our time for his purposes. I didn’t have any kind of agenda; I simply wanted to be open to what God might have planned.

I sat down with the interviewer, who pulled out a questionnaire that I had filled out earlier. He immediately pointed to the question about what I wanted to do as a career, to which I had written “minister.” At that time, I was still firmly Protestant (I’ve since become Catholic) and thought I'd be a Protestant pastor.

“So you want to be a minister?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s what I’m thinking now.”

He paused. “I… I'm just moved that someone at your age would have such strong convictions to want to dedicate your life in that way.” He laughed. “You do realize that the University of Chicago is a hotbed of atheism? Why would you want to come here?”

I found it funny that he would describe his school in such straightforward terms, particularly in an admissions interview. “Well, I’m looking for a good education, and maybe a place like this could be something that really stretches me.”

He said again that he was really moved that someone at my age believed in Jesus so strongly, so I asked him what his beliefs were. He explained that he had studied philosophy and was working on a Master’s degree in religion – not just to study things in a detached way, but to really seek Truth. He said that depending on the day, he was either convinced that there was no God at all or that Christianity was absolutely true.

Lately, he said he had been thinking a lot about when Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

“Do you remember how Jesus answered?” he asked.

I remembered the passage: “Yeah, doesn’t Jesus say that whoever listens to him hears the truth?”

“No.” He grabbed a Bible. I can't remember if he had the Bible with him or if I had one in my bag, but either way, a Bible was quickly produced in the admissions interview for the University of Chicago. “That's what most people think.” He flipped to John 18:37-39 and showed me the passage. “See, that’s what Jesus says before Pilate asks the question. Then Pilate asks him ‘What is truth?’ and Jesus doesn’t give an answer!” He looked up at me. “That’s a philosophical question! And Jesus is given the opportunity to answer, and he doesn’t!”

We didn’t talk about anything else on my questionnaire or about the school, but rather discussed the Gospel for the rest of the interview until we were well past our time.

So, as we were concluding our meeting, it seemed to make sense to ask him, “Do you want to pray?”

He looked at me and laughed. “Uh, we don’t normally pray in admissions interviews.”

“Well, I don't think this has been a normal admissions interview.”

He hesitated for a second. “Good point. All right, let’s pray.”

We bowed our heads. I prayed that God would lead him to the Truth and bless the rest of our day. We said “Amen,” shook hands, and I headed back out to my dad.

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