Art by Nate Barton
As a non-Christian or non-American citizen, Pepperdine can be a tough place, especially in the first few weeks here. I grew up in Kenya, a country in Eastern Africa, where Christianity is prevalent. However, I only dipped my toes into Christianity, not fully understanding the spirituality behind the values. I was taught to think the Church was corrupt. Due to this, my opinion was blurred and I became prejudiced toward the faith. It is, therefore, ironic that I ended up at a Christian university. I had no idea that this school was very Christianity-based since I didn’t have a clear picture of the school because I lived abroad. However, from the mission statement in the website, I should’ve had a clue of what I was getting into. Perhaps a little more background research would have helped me cope with what feels like unanimous Christian pride.
At first, I was very baffled when I got to Pepperdine. It did not feel like I was in college, but rather in summer school, especially considering that the campus resembles a resort. As soon as I stepped onto campus, a swell of Christianity pounced on me. Starting with the cross, the one you see driving through the canyon, to the people who love to engage in spiritual talk, then to every prayer said before any event and the mandatory Convocation. Acclimating to Pepperdine is quite tough, especially for those who are not exposed to all this prior to coming here. Nevertheless, once I changed my outlook of the university, it was very easy to feel part of the community.
At first, I was very adamant to reject anything resembling Christianity. I would judge those who had a strong faith in Christianity, and I would refuse to go to Convocation because I found it hard to interact with such religiosity. When they told us about Convocation credits I was furious. I kept thinking, “How can they make me believe in something I do not want to believe?” The concept of Convo credit increased my anxiety — having to forcefully go to worship or church to graduate. Not only did it make me feel uncomfortable, I began to question my identity. What do I believe in? What should I have faith in? Are the people here genuine or conditioned? All these questions kept running through my mind, making it even harder to connect with people.
The most difficult part was not being able to openly disagree with the Christian views that did not fit with my morals. For example, my belief of life and death follows the Jain ideology, which does not particularly match the Christian view. I would end up in arguments over what the soul is, which cautioned certain conversations I would have with people. Although some wouldn’t understand what my beliefs are, I did find those who were willing to listen to my viewpoints. In turn, they articulated their views of Christianity. In addition, it has been an eye-opening experience to understand Christianity without the stereotypical influences.
Since I would begrudgingly go to Convo, it took me a while to become tolerant of the sermons. However, a few weeks in, I found myself wanting to go for Convo. It made sense, and I am finally able to explain the weird feeling I had when I first entered Pepperdine: I felt at home. I was able to relate some of my views and experiences with others, listen to their stories of how they found God and hear how they felt accepted by him. I gained some confidence to talk about my journey of Faith with mentors who accepted my different views. They gave me the chance and support to struggle with my excursion with God. With their help, I began to understand that you can have a connection with God, regardless of whether it is Jesus or another faith, without the burden of religion.
Faith is a subject with which many of us struggle every day. Some days you have a spiritual high, some days a spiritual crash and some days no connection at all. Figuring out who you are will never be easy, as we are constantly changing. Coming to terms with those changes can be both invigorating and frustrating, but it always leads to growth.
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