Burton Miller, like other InterVarsity student leaders, spent countless hours knocking on doors and calling students he did not know to invite them to InterVarsity events. Little did Burton know that InterVarsity was not only expanding his faith at the time but preparing him with skills he could use in his future job.
After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, Burton was hired at the Department of Social Services in Nevada, and now helps find permanent living situations for teenagers in foster care who have been abused or neglected. But his job is not without challenges.
Invitations led to a valuable life skill
As a leader in InterVarsity, Burton says inviting strangers to events “always felt awkward at first but ultimately it became a skill that I now use on the job when we investigate reports of child abuse, child neglect, or make calls to relatives that don't want anything to do with us. InterVarsity helped me get over that initial fear of making awkward contacts, and it has become a valuable life skill.”
Besides making cold calls, the bigger challenge in Burton’s job is continuing to have hope that the situations facing the children he oversees can actually change. As Burton learned through InterVarsity, transforming change often happens through the act of serving. Burton says, “My time in InterVarsity taught me that there is joy, life, and satisfaction in serving; it’s not a chore or an obligation but an honor. I learned this the clearest in the book of Mark where Jesus demonstrates that in order to be a disciple, you must be willing to humbly serve at the lowest possible level.”
Trusting in Transformation
One of the children Burton has faithfully served is a boy named Sam (name has been changed). Sam entered foster care at age 15 and by the time Burton first met him, Sam was already a drug and alcohol abuser on probation for possession of deadly weapons. Most people looking at Sam’s life might have lost hope that it could change. But Burton chose to serve Sam and trust in God’s transforming power.
Burton was able to place Sam into a therapeutic home. Not long after the placement, the parents of this home decided to adopt Sam and began taking him to church. In just one year, Sam turned his life around, became a Christian, and received a new physical and spiritual family.
According to Burton, "The big success stories of people turning their lives around and having a happy ending like Sam are unfortunately few and far between. On any given day, I deal with broken clients, broken children, a broken child-welfare system, a broken educational system, a broken Medicaid system, and so on. Honestly, I can't imagine doing this job without being a Christian.”
Learning to look for little miracles
Often times having faith in difficult job situations means learning to look for the little miracles. "Sometimes seeing God at work is simply having a youth pull their grades from F's to C's," says Burton. Small as it may seem, these small miracles can deeply influence the life of a child.
When asked if he does anything specific at work to help give him hope on the days that are particularly rough, Burton says, “I have a postcard in my cubicle from an old InterVarsity event. It’s a picture of a skull divided into different compartments, each with a word inside – hope, peace, patience, truth, etc. The title of the postcard is, The Mind of Christ. I have a push pin with a note that says ‘Today I Need…’ and I stick it in whichever word I need the Spirit to give me at that moment. It's cheesy, but it's so important to have a reminder of the fruits and gifts of the Spirit on hand at all times.”
Being a world changer often means choosing hope rather than despair. Burton Miller is one InterVarsity alumnus who does just that.