I did not know Mark Eckel short of one brief encounter the first day I set foot in Collaborate 317. I was on a tour of the business development center when my tour guide stopped at the Radio Next internet radio station and introduced me to twin brothers Mark Eckel and HB Harold Bell. Now this had my attention, because one brother was white and one brother was black. They had just finished their weekly radio show Warp and Woof. When I asked the subject of their radio show, in unison they said they discussed subjects to bring white and black cultures together. I knew we would all be fast friends.
I am a story teller with a unique point of view. God has blessed me with the ability to peer deep into the soul and extract the golden nuggets from hours of conversation. I reviewed Mark?s websites ComeniusInstitute.org and WarpandWoof.org and made a mental note to ask him about all those letters after his name, ThM and PhD. I already knew I liked him because of his view on bringing the cultures together. I liked him even more when researching who Comenius was and what he stood for. I learned that Warp and Woof composed the threads in a woven fabric where ?warp? are the threads running lengthwise and ?woof? the threads running crosswise. And since Dr. Mark is after all a theologian, (which is a person who is an expert in theology hence ThM=Master in Theology), he sums it up by saying ?from a Christian vantage point, by Jesus all things are held together.? Mark Eckel is a wordsmith. Why does he need me to write his story?
It was my first question to him in the interview. He paused for a moment and asked permission to change one word in my question. He said I don?t need you to tell my story. We all meet in a collaborative way and I know you are writing stories about others in the group. I would like my story to appear alongside the other stories you tell.? This is highly reflective of the Mark Eckel I have been blessed to come to know. He indeed comes alongside people and learns from them. In my case I learned a lot from him.He is genuine and indeed he is an extraordinary listener.
The story I was writing for Mark was a struggle only because I let his exceptional speaking and writing abilities intimidate me. Devouring his two websites, I continued to shake my head thinking what could I say that Mark Eckel had not already said in a more eloquent way. The only thing that came from that first story was condensing Dr. Mark Eckel?s essence into 1000 words. There is merit in this. In fact he has taught his students how to condense a 15 page research paper into 500 words. What he really hoped for in my story was to convey what is like to just talk to Mark Eckel.
For that assignment, I would have to speak in my own voice and point of view. And Mark said ?well what are you waiting for?
Patience and Clarity
Mark was sharing a story to illustrate his efforts in uniting the Christian community especially in black and white relations. He was describing the State of the Church message given every year. I asked what it was and he said it was like the state of the union address. I interrupted him with a question and he thought I was asking what the State of the Union message was. He explained that the State of the Union was a message that the President of the United States gives each year. He could have rolled his eyes and gasped that I was so ill-informed that I was asking what the State of the Union was but he very patiently and earnestly described what he thought I was asking. Thankfully I did know what the State of the Union was but I was not familiar with the State of the Church message. In fact, Mark defines any word or statement he uses to be sure his audience is comfortable and clear on what he is talking about. He does this because he wants you to be as engaged as he is in the conversation. He has sufficient knowledge to talk over the heads of his audience, but one thing I have learned about Mark is he never would.
Such a Good Listener
As I was waiting for Mark to arrive, Josh Bach stuck his head into the conference room. I told him I was writing Mark Eckel?s story. Josh?s eyes got big and he said in a hushed tone ?oh he is such a good listener.He went on to say he did not know Mark?s story and so it goes with the good listeners, they are listening when everyone else is talking.
As Mark related a moral dilemma one of his students recently shared, I realized how much I would love to have an astute listener actually listen and care about a moral dilemma I faced. Mark set an appointment the next week to investigate the dilemma from a Biblical perspective. It is what the Comenius Institute is all about. He helps students at IUPUI navigate their studies and life from a Biblical perspective. Studies show a staggering 75% of college students walk away from their faith during their college years.
What His Students Say
I wanted to see what young college students thought of Mark. Kelsie says, ?weekly conversations with Dr. Eckel are so important to me because it is where I can let out my thoughts and feelings about situations and ideas I have come in contact with at school but had to suppress due to being on a secular, liberal campus. Dr. Eckel is a truly inspirational listener at these times. I appreciate the questions and advice that he offers. He follows through on the Biblical principle of the older generations offering their wisdom to the younger. In my mind he is one of few ?gray heads? who has not thrown up his hands and left us young people to our follies saying they will figure it out by and by. Dr Eckel realizes the mental and spiritual needs of college students and he is there for us 24/7.
Samantha has only been involved with Comenius for about three months and says, I have been meeting weekly with Mark Eckel to discuss how to maintain faith in college and how to respond to obstacles that we may come across. I was introduced to him by a former professor who is also involved with Comenius and I have been beyond encouraged by those two. In my freshman year of college, I felt isolated as a Christian on campus and didn?t know how to intertwine my faith and academic life. Being involved in a Christian life group on campus with peers is valuable, but having an older mentor who has different perspectives and wiser responses to the issues that I face is eye-opening and more comforting than words could express. I feel like I have a safe space around Mark and that he is never too busy to speak encouragement or wisdom into our lives. It is truly a blessing that the Lord led me to Comenius because the support that I receive from the group has encouraged me to be bolder than ever with my faith on campus and to apply the truth that faith is something that should be acknowledged and applied to every aspect of life.
Luke says, I appreciate that while Mark has wisdom behind his speech and knowledge behind his ideas, he still is a careful listener with his students. I appreciate that I can discuss the deeper subjects with Mark and that he takes the time both to fully understand a situation and respond to it with questions and thoughts from a biblical world view. He has helped me to see the areas in education where people make assumptions biblical or not, based on our worldview that affects curriculum or campus life. Everything goes back to moral framework and authority. Comenius Institute is vital to students in order to see content and purpose of their academic pursuits in a more meaningful context.
Chats in Winged Back Chairs
Mark said to me, ?Most non-profits deal in the physical needs of people, I deal in ideas. Ideas change cultures. I can?t show you a conversation with a young person whose life was transformed.? As a storyteller, the most gripping life changing stories I have ever been entrusted to tell have come as a result of an older person coming alongside a younger one investing in them and encouraging them to soar. And it is why I look forward to my ?winged back chair chats? even though I am older than he is!
Become a Comenius Patron
Dr. Mark Eckel shares lunch with students at IUPUI while sharing biblical perspective. Students ask questions on any subject from law changes and culture, to the pressure to shift their moral compass. They discuss housing and discrimination to narrow viewpoints taught in class.
View a one minute video as an introduction to The Comenius Institute.
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Join the growing number of Comenius supporters who see the need to encourage the next generation of Christian young people. The Comenius Institute is where “Christian Wisdom and College Life Meet.”
Mark Eckel, Th.M. Ph.D., President, The Comenius Institute [501(c)(3)]
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Polly Riddell writing as G. Polly Jordan is The Story Teller. A freelance journalist writing business spotlight promotional stories and positively in love with telling the God stories.TheStoryTeller.net