Alec Hill: Passion for Students

I was expecting a greeting card as I opened an envelope. When I realized that it was something else – an obituary for Dr. Cullen Story – I began to weep. Then I caught myself. Why was I crying over a 92 year old man whom I had met only once and had known for a mere 14 months?

Cullen was that kind of person. While the obituary contained all sorts of the relevant data – Princeton Seminary professor, missionary to Lebanon, Presbyterian pastor – it could not capture the spirit of the man.

Cullen loved the Lord, was passionate about students and zealous for learning. Even at an advanced age, his energy was extraordinary. When I visited him in the fall of 2007, he had just completed writing a brief commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Over the past sixty years, he had written a book or a scholarly article in each decade.

We hit it off initially because of our common loves – of family, Scripture, history, and languages. When he found out that my youngest daughter was a Classics major, he could barely contain his glee. After teaching Greek and Latin for 27 years at Princeton Seminary, he was thrilled to find a kindred (albeit vicarious) spirit.

Cullen was also a walking encyclopedia in his knowledge about InterVarsity. He counted our first president, Stacey Woods, as a friend and peer. In addition, he had numerous connections with our sister student movements around the world via the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. And, not surprisingly, he loved InterVarsity Press.

At the end of the visit, he told me that InterVarsity was included in his will. Under normal circumstances, I would have added him to my personal mailing list and been on my way. But I didn’t want to let this man exit my life so easily. He had struck too deep a chord.

As our phone calls moved into the new year (2008), we talked about the death of Wilma, his beloved partner of 65 years. He rarely complained about being in physical discomfort despite various ailments. Rather, we talked about books, students, and missions.

In early July, Cullen caught me totally off guard when he told me that he intended to make a current gift to InterVarsity. Wilma and he had saved some money over the years, he explained, and they had spent little of it. She would approve, he noted, of a gift to campus ministry. You can only imagine my surprise when a very large check arrived the next week.

Those of us who work for InterVarsity are blessed to know people like Cullen. Sacrificial. Missional. Relational. When I’m asked if our current Vision Campaign is a burden, I respond as follows: while the travel can be wearying, I get to meet people like Cullen. A wonderful trade-off.

I suspect that each of us can name a person who has had a disproportionate impact on our lives. When Cullen laid his hands to pray for me, I felt the blessing of a patriarch. When he called me about Wilma’s death, I felt like a partner in grief. And, when I opened the obituary – though deeply saddened – I felt inspired by a life well-lived.

In the book of Hebrews, we are told that a great cloud of witnesses surrounds us. I am thankful that Cullen is now amongst them.

Alec Hill is the president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.