Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the fall 2016 issue of Arbor Light, the official magazine of Concordia University Ann Arbor. View a PDF version of the magazine here.
On October 22, Rev. John Nunes, Ph.D., was inaugurated as the ninth president of Concordia College, New York. The CUAA alumnus (’85) has enjoyed a vibrant career, most recently contributing his voice on the intersection of Christian values in public and professional life as the Jochum Professor and Chair at Valparaiso University. Prior to that, Dr. Nunes used his gifts to work to end poverty, injustice, and human suffering worldwide as president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief, a $49 million global organization, leading staff in 17 countries.
Concordia Senior Vice President of University Affairs Gretchen Jameson and Dr. Nunes made time to discuss diversity, education, and global humanitarian work, considering how Lutheran higher education shapes an individual’s lifelong sense of calling to live a life of purpose.
Q: As an undergraduate, what were your first impressions of CUAA, and which of those have you carried throughout your career?
A: I vividly remember being super intimidated by the academic rigor. Greek, Latin, Hebrew, philosophy — all the new terms, all of these incredibly smart faculty members; but what I discovered were professors who took the time to shape me to make me who I am today. They taught me how to think independently and critically, and to engage tough questions with a Biblical framework. I’m so thankful for people like Mihkel Soovik, may he rest in peace, and Michael Kalmes, Donald J. Mossman, and Jakob Heckert.
Q: Now a college president, what do you believe is the most significant role alumni can play in the lives of current students?
A: May I offer a series of verbs to describe what alumni can do for alma mater — a beautiful term to describe the environment of care in our church schools. It means “nurturing mother.” We can pray for, volunteer, donate, mentor, advocate, support, defend, visit. In sum, we give back. That’s the least we can do for our mothers!
Q: Diversity is a majority experience at Bronxville. What does that mean for you personally, but also as a leader within The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod?
A: It’s no secret that Lutherans have struggled in this regard. We’re more white and more English-speaking than any religious group in the United States. Jesus Christ has already broken down the dividing walls, and I believe that my own leadership — but also the entirety of our mission at Concordia College, New York, where white students are our largest “minority group” at about 30 percent — represents a Spirit-inspired opportunity for Lutherans to lean into the 21st century and live up to who we are. Other Concordias may excel at other ways of being Lutheran, but this is the gift that we in New York bring to the whole church — Christ-centered diversity!
Q: What is the biggest challenge — and more importantly, the greatest opportunity — facing today’s college students?
A: The biggest challenges for Christian students are the preconceptions people have about Christians — defining us more by what we’re against than what we’re for: eternal life, life overflowing. The greatest opportunity is to get busy doing our work of witnessing with civility, gentleness, and respect. Let me put it this way (it may just be a bumper sticker, but that doesn’t make it untrue): “Sometimes the best witness is to say, ‘I’m a Christian,’ and then not be a jerk.”