Standing Against Persecution
My Journey to Start a CMDA Campus Chapter
by Amanda Lucashu
Today's Christian Doctor - Fall 2013
A different kind of mission field
My journey with medicine began when I was only eight years old. As I listened to a missionary speak about the need for the next generation to continue the work and become missionaries, I felt God impress upon me that He wanted me to become a missionary doctor to Mexico. From the beginning, missions and medicine were intrinsically linked for me. So when I started school at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harlem, New York in the fall of 2011, I knew that I wanted to be used by God even before I got to the "mission field," but I had no idea how much of a mission field I was walking into.
The best-laid plans
"‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’" (Jeremiah 29:11).
The school year didn’t start out the way I planned. My husband’s search for a job and our search for an apartment had turned up empty, leaving me without a place to live by the time I started school. In desperation, I posted on my school’s Facebook page asking if anyone would let me stay with them for a month or two. God prompted my future roommate to respond to the post and invite me to stay, even though she normally "never does anything like that." When I moved in and we started talking, I discovered that she is also a Christian and had been on medical missions trips to Mexico. It was such a blessing to know that God had paved the way, even if it wasn’t in the way I expected.
But even school didn’t seem to be what I was expecting. Touro was quite different from Houghton College, the Christian school I attended for undergraduate. I was shocked to see students partying every weekend and even having kegs in the cafeteria for the end-of-the-year party. In the midst of the rough transition, however, God brought other Christians into my life through what would appear to be otherwise insignificant encounters. Two different Christian girls came up to me because they recognized my Houghton sweatshirt. Then I noticed another student from my class post a Bible verse as her Facebook status. And it made me start to think: how many other Christians were in my school that I didn’t know about?
Searching for a community
"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20).
It wasn’t long before I felt motivated to start a Christian club on campus. A vague memory from high school about a Christian organization for healthcare professionals spurred me into searching online where I found Christian Medical & Dental Associations and immediately became a member. I was surprised to find out from Northeast Regional Director Scott Boyles that Touro already had a CMDA campus chapter. When I contacted the chapter’s student leaders, I was even more surprised to find out that the school’s administration had refused to recognize the chapter, the students weren’t allowed to hold events and the group had died.
Along with fellow students Christianna and Manoucheka (the two girls who recognized my Houghton sweatshirt), we started working to revive our CMDA campus chapter. Since Christianna lived only one block away from the school, she opened up her apartment for us to hold Bible studies during lunch. As I worked to make our group official with the school, I discovered that there was a policy in our student handbook stating that student organizations could not form on the basis of race, religion, politics or sexual orientation. Even though there was something in writing prohibiting our group, I was determined to make the group official and have more of a presence on campus. I asked the administration if we could be a student "interest group" instead of an organization, a loophole around the policy that would still allow us to meet on campus and use the school’s email servers to publicize. The request was denied. Even though the policy was applied to other types of student groups, I felt persecuted and singled-out. My next step was to call a Christian legal ministry to see if there was anything that they could do to help. Unfortunately, this case was beyond the scope of their ministry since Touro is a private school.
Perseverance in persecution
"However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name… So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good" (1 Peter 4:16,19).
At the bottom of all emails sent from my school email address, I listed my credentials and included "President of the local chapter of CMDA." At one point, I received an email from the Dean of Students asking me to change my email signature, demanding that I remove all CMDA references from my email since CMDA was not affiliated with Touro. In my reply, I politely explained that I intentionally wrote "local chapter" in order to show that distinction as we weren’t affiliated with the school. Nevertheless, he insisted that I remove it. I was furious and was tempted to test the waters by writing "President of the local chapter of the knitting club" or something equally non-controversial to see if it would elicit the same attention as my mention of Christianity. However, my dad, in his God-given wisdom, encouraged me to pick my battles wisely, so I decided to let it go.
While I was at the CMDA National Convention in May 2012, I met a few students from our sister school, Touro Nevada. I found out that their school fully recognized their CMDA chapter and had even partially funded their trip to the convention. It had been implied by our administration that an Orthodox Jewish school would never be able to recognize a Christian club, but here was another Orthodox Jewish school that was doing just that. This renewed my hope that something could be done to change the policy at my own school.
During the summer, I researched the student handbooks of several other Touro campuses across the country and discovered that my school was the only one prohibiting the formation of religious groups. I also noticed that student organizations like CMDA were actually proudly displayed on the websites of these other schools. I printed out my research and wrote a petition requesting the administration change its policy. I gathered 175 signatures among the first and second year classes. These signatures represented students from multiple religions, ethnicities and sexual orientations, displaying a united desire for freedom of recognition even amongst such diverse groups.
Trying to do the impossible
"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26b).
The next step was presenting my petition and research to the Student Government Association (SGA). The night before the presentation, I was reading a chapter in Dr. David Stevens’ book Jesus, MD about how he thought building a hydroelectric dam in Africa was an impossible task, but the Lord disagreed. I prayed diligently that the same would be true in this situation as I asked a Jewish institution to allow the formation of a Christian group, a task that had so far seemed impossible. It was also such a blessing receiving the encouragement and prayer support of the National Student Council and my CMDA family. I later found out that they were even praying for me at staff meetings at CMDA headquarters in Bristol, Tennessee.
I walked into the meeting the next day feeling emboldened yet humble. The SGA asked me several questions about my petition and its ramifications, but at the end of the meeting, they voted 5-1 in favor of presenting my research and petition to the administration. Two weeks later I met with the deans, having the support of the SGA behind me. After I presented my research, the deans explained that other students had complained about this issue in the past but that no one had ever done the research to show the discrepancies among the different campuses. They always had believed that this policy was dictated by the Touro system at large. However, my research showed that this policy was not present on all of the campuses and that our school should therefore have the liberty to change it. The deans were in favor of my petition and forwarded it to the president and board of trustees of the entire Touro system. Toward the end of meeting, one of the SGA members tried to reiterate why this policy was so badly needed, and one of the dean’s replied, "You can stop, you have already sold us."
Shortly thereafter, the CEO of the school called me into his office to tell me the petition was approved and our school would begin implementing the policy change. He also explained that students at every Touro in the country would now be able to form student organizations on the basis of race, religion, politics and sexual orientation. What an answer to prayer!
On October 24, 2012, the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine chapter of CMDA had its first meeting on campus with almost 30 people in attendance. Regional Director Scott Boyles joined us and spoke about sacrificing for less than God’s best, illustrated by Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a cup of soup. It was so encouraging to hear the Bible read and the Word of God proclaimed in my lecture hall. Some students who had class in that room before and after lunch simply stayed in their seats during the lunch hour. One such student was an Islamic woman wearing her head covering. Most of the time she pretended to be studying, but I praised the Lord for those moments when I noticed her listening and engaged in what Scott was saying. This was the benefit of being able to meet on campus—that we could minister to this woman and other marginally interested students.
Staying in the fight
"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Even though we were victorious in this first struggle, we still faced more hurdles. After becoming an official student organization, we were told that we would not receive funding. The SGA decided to make a distinction between "academic" and "non-academic" organizations, deeming us as "non-academic" and therefore ineligible to receive funding. I brainstormed ways that we could prove CMDA is academic, but that required changing the new policy which automatically categorized all religious groups as "non-academic." In the meantime, we applied for separate funds to help cover the costs of our leaders attending this year’s CMDA National Convention. The request was denied with the explanation that since we did not receive funding from the SGA, we were not eligible for conference funding either. The SGA did recently vote for us to start receiving funding and will be presenting their recommendation to the administration. But even without funding, our group continues to be active and members even donated funds to cover our expenses.
We also were looking forward to an upcoming health fair as this would be our first opportunity to be involved as an organization. We filled out the necessary paperwork stating that we planned on talking to the community members about the connection between faith and health and that we would have a box where people could write down prayer requests. We then made a brochure showing the link from faith to medicine. Unfortunately, all brochures have to be approved before they can be distributed and our brochure wasn’t approved. Our new president Kylie tried to work with the administration to reformat the brochure in a way they would find acceptable. The Dean of Students (the same one who had antagonized me about my email signature) stated that we could not say anything about a connection between faith and health. In fact, in order to say anything, we needed to have members of other religions standing at our booth as well. As if that wasn’t disappointing enough, he added that we are not actually an official club but have only been given permission to meet on campus. I have tried to clarify this with the SGA and the administration but have not been given a straight answer.
God’s Not Done Yet
"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace" (Acts 20:24).
When I initially got involved with CMDA, I wanted to have an official chapter to be able to minister to non-Christians on campus who might not come to a Bible study at someone’s house. Now that we are officially recognized, we have a name on campus and are known by almost every student in the school, not just those attending Bible studies. Recently, a Jewish student who recognized I was a Christian through my involvement with CMDA asked me about books on Christian philosophy. That one question sparked a multi-week discussion on the basic tenets of Christianity, Jesus as fulfillment of the law and Jesus as Messiah. It was the realization of my dreams to have such far-reaching ministry opportunities; opportunities that we would not have if we had remained an off-campus group.
We can’t sit idly by and watch the work of God be prohibited. Just as David had to fight Goliath because he "defied" the Lord, so I continue to fight the administration at my school so that the Lord will not be defied.
In 1 Samuel 5, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and placed it in the temple of their false god Dagon. By the next morning, the idol of Dagon had fallen on the floor in front of the ark. They returned the idol to its shelf, but the next morning Dagon was once again on the floor before the ark, this time with its head and arms broken off. In the midst of feeling dejected about our current situation, God reminds me to trust in Him. This story in 1 Samuel is so encouraging because it reminds me that even though it currently seems like the work of God at my school is in an inferior position and a place of humiliation (like the ark in the temple of Dagon), ultimately God will triumph.
I originally felt that sense of triumph back in October at our first on-campus meeting, but I don’t feel that triumph now. Our success has not been as victorious as we thought. Instead of having an amazing success story to share, all I have is a work in progress. Our ongoing struggles at Touro only make it even more important for us to continue in our efforts to keep CMDA on campus. And it makes it even more important for our CMDA brothers and sisters across the world to join with us in prayer for the work God is doing at Touro.
God’s not done yet, and I know that it will be better than I could have ever imagined when I first felt God’s calling into medicine. Perhaps our efforts on the mission field of our campus will one day make it possible for all Christian clubs to be fully recognized on our campus, opening up a vast array of opportunities to share the gospel with our peers. Perhaps our story will serve to encourage other students at other campuses to start their own chapters. Perhaps this is only the beginning of the impact we can have on our campus, our community, our world. I can’t wait to see what God does.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Lucashu is a third year student at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. She formerly served as Secretary and is now President of CMDA’s National Student Council. She has spent three wonderful years married to her college sweetheart Mark. Her future plans include being a family practitioner among the underserved in Mexico.