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A very merry non-traditional Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner — but not for everyone. Some students and faculty at Indiana Wesleyan University celebrate the holidays (or don’t) differently than their peers. Here are some of their stories:

James DeffenbaughJames

James Deffenbaugh (fr) never questioned if Santa was real – because his mom told him the truth from a very young age.

“I knew about him, we just knew he was a fictional character,” Deffenbaugh said.

She had intriguing logic behind this. She was worried if her kids were told Santa was real and then later told that he was fake, this could jeopardize their belief that God was real. When he was nine or 10 years old, Deffenbaugh told a few still-believing kids on his swim team the truth about Santa.

“My swim coach told me to stop a few times, and then I had to have a talk with my mom,” he said.

Deffenbaugh does plan on telling his future kids the truth about Santa’s nonexistence.

“I feel like my mom has a valid point. If you tell your kids Santa’s real and then a few years later say, ‘No he’s not’, they could think the same thing about Jesus Christ,” he said.


StephStephanie Lamb

Stephanie Lamb (jr) is celebrating her first Christmas this year with her boyfriend and his extended family. Her parents never celebrated Christmas.

“It’s tied to a pagan holiday,” Lamb said.

As explained by Lamb, when Constantine was spreading Christianity throughout the Roman empire, the pagans had a winter equinox feast where they worshiped a god with pine trees. Constantine decided that by picking winter as the time to celebrate Jesus’ birth, they could extinguish the pagan rituals.

“For my family, there’s nowhere in the Bible that says we should celebrate his birth, and all the gift-giving, the wreaths, the trees, the lights — it’s not biblical at all,” she said. “They didn’t want us to grow up confusing and meshing pagan origins with Christ.”

This is mostly a personal choice by her parents, who met at a church that believed the same. The family attended this church until Lamb was 10. They also don’t celebrate Easter.

On Christmas day, the family always eats dinner at home together. Lamb and her sister started a tradition where they rent and binge-watch library movies, since they had an extra day that the library was closed.

“My family was never offended if someone said ‘Merry Christmas,’ and we would say it back, we just don’t celebrate it,” she said.

She thinks she will probably celebrate Christmas with her future family, but pull back and make it less consumerist.

“It’s Jesus’ day, so we should focus on Him,” she said.


Sameer YadavYadav2

Dr. Sameer Yadav, assistant professor for the John Wesley Honors College, and his wife are raising two young boys: Noah, who is five, and Ezra, who is two. Noah is very inquisitive, so when he started hearing about Santa at school, he had a lot of questions.

“We could tell he was having a hard time distinguishing between what we told him about Jesus’ birthday and the Santa Claus schtick,” Yadav said.

Yadav tried to tell him the true story of Saint Nicholas, but Noah had trouble discerning the truth from the story.

“We put Santa solidly in the fairytale category,” he said. “To this day now we’re having the problem in kindergarten where other kids believe in Santa Claus and Noah is the obnoxious Santa Claus unbeliever.”

What was most important to Yadav was for Noah to be able to understand the difference between real things, fake things and fictional things, which are purposely fake for the intention of describing and understanding truth.

“Santa Claus screws all that up, so I wanted to disentangle it,” he said. This is a concept for a five-year-old, but Yadav thinks he’s getting it. “[Noah] will say things like, ‘Santa Claus teaches us about giving, but he’s not real,’” Yadav said.

While the Yadavs don’t give Noah and Ezra gifts “from Santa,” Noah knows that is what other parents do, and he has asked Yadav to put a present under the tree “from Santa” for him.


LarisaLarisa Kuehn

Larisa Kuehn (fr) and her family celebrate Christmas a little differently, mostly because they do everything a little differently.

For most of her life, her parents were missionaries in Bangladesh, where they ran an orphanage while raising her and her three siblings.

“We’d have this enormous Christmas party, so much good [Bengali food], like 200-300 people, [and] my mom would make like 600 Christmas cookies,” Kuehn said.

They spent Christmas day together as an immediate family, decorating a plastic tree. Although it was never below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the kids would bundle up in their winter jackets and drink hot chocolate.

Although they heard about Santa, being in such a different culture, they didn’t fall quite as easily for the stories.

“We didn’t have a chimney, so how could he get in?” she said.

She spent a few Christmases in Germany with her dad’s extended family. In Germany, most everyone Kuehn knew celebrated three days of Christmas, attending Christmas plays at a Lutheran church and visiting German markets. Her German Christmas in fifth grade was her first time seeing snow.

Now her parents are in China, so they spend Christmas in Thailand. They rent a bungalow, decorate palm trees and make sand snowmen.

“We always have a really big seafood lunch on the beach,” she said.

A Thai tradition, they light floating lanterns on the beach with locals. They also have a gingerbread house-making competition and vote amongst themselves to find the winner.


Adrian HowkinsonAdrian

Adrian Howkinson (so) and her family also don’t celebrate Christmas.

“Jesus was born, but it definitely wasn’t during this time, and the fact that we don’t celebrate that is because Christmas is actually a pagan holiday,” Howkinson said. “We don’t try to make it what it’s not.”

They spend intentional time with their immediate family, and her mom makes Christmas candies for all the neighbors.

“What every kid likes about Christmas is the presents, and we still did that, just probably not as much as most families,” she said.

The Howkinson family also has a special Christmas tradition of their own: “We go see a movie on Christmas Eve at the movie theater because there’s never anyone there,” she said. “Lately, it’s been ‘The Hobbit [1 and 2].’”

She’s not sure if she’ll celebrate Christmas with her future family.

“I understand the fact that we don’t have to do [a traditional Christmas] just because everyone else does,” Howkinson said.

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President Wright speaks on new LGBTQ policy

On the heels of two Student Government Association forums on LGBTQ issues, a task force by Indiana Wesleyan University President Dr. David Wright is brainstorming a new policy to clarify how the school handles these issues.

A staff writer for The Sojourn sat down with Wright in his office to discuss the new policy, which he plans to present to the Board of Trustees in March. Below is the transcript of the interview, lightly edited for clarity.

President Wright sat down with The Sojourn for the first time as president in the fall of 2013. This year, he is working on a new policy concerning LGBTQ issues.

President Wright sat down with The Sojourn for the first time as president in the fall of 2013, pictured above. This year, he is working on a new policy concerning LGBTQ issues.

Q: What’s the process of creating this policy?

A: We share governance of the university with the faculty, so it’s important for faculty representatives to have a say in the formation of policy like this. Ultimately, it’s the board’s say, but administrators will bring forth our ideas and manage the process of creating the policy. There are a number of people here who care about these issues, so I want several voices to be able to speak into the creation of this policy.

We wanted the students to have a say, we want the faculty to have a say, we want the administrative team to have a say, on student life, the people who deal with student conduct, they need to have a say. We’ve structured the task force in such a way to bring those voices to bear on our current policy and to suggest the framework that we can use going forward.

Tim Scurlock is the student representative as President of SGA; Lisa Dawson is the official faculty representative as president of the Senate; Andrew Parker is there as representative of student development and the student life team; Neal Rush is there as our representative [for the] legal framework and compliance work for the institution. I’m going to ask two board members to sit [in] on the task force as well. They can speak on behalf of the board members, but also they can be there to talk about the process when I present this to the board. Karen Hoffman, I’ve asked to chair this. Karen is a very experienced administrator. She’s used to working with policy and applying policy both for faculty and for students. She’ll do a great job shepherding the task force.

We’ve got a list of about 20 other people, faculty and others, who have expressed either an interest or a special expertise in this area to give feedback or to serve as resource persons for the task force. Rather than [me] sitting down and writing policy or any one administrator going in their office and shutting the door creating policy, what we want to do is gather together the best for our community.

Q: Why do you think LGBTQ issues are issues we need to focus on at IWU?

A: Well, we have gay and lesbian students here, and we have the responsibility to treat them in a way that makes them feel loved with the love of Christ, in a way that makes them feel safe so that they aren’t subjected unnecessarily to demeaning behaviour or in any way threatening behavior. This is just what Jesus would do.

At the same time, all of us — students, faculty, administrators — now live in a society where gay and lesbian persons are a part of life. It’s not a hidden part of our society like it used to be. It’s a public and accepted part of society. When you go out and get a job, you’re very likely going to work with a gay or lesbian person, or a transgendered person. I believe that every one of our students needs to know how they live their faith out in their work setting with that person and how they treat that person. Do they feel comfortable enough to befriend that person and show them the love of Christ while not compromising the things we believe the Bible says are true about a Christian lifestyle?

The question isn’t what do we believe is true, it’s “knowing what I believe is true, how do I live with my neighbors who may have different points of view on this or who may have different identity than I think Christ approves of? How do I live that out?”

I think all of us have to recognize that that is the world we live in now. And what better place than a Christian university that honors the Bible, that welcomes Jesus into our campus every day, that asks the Holy Spirit to be present, what better place than this to tackle these hard questions, and to talk through what it means for us to be believing Christians, faithful Christians in the society we live in? That’s why I don’t think we can sweep this under the rug or act like it doesn’t exist.

Q: What will this policy address?

A: There’s some things that aren’t up for discussion. One is the authority of Scripture. We aren’t discussing whether Scripture is the authority for our lives, that’s a given for us. We’re not questioning our church’s statement on these issues, that’s a given.

What’s up for discussion is that we may believe that, but [we] have gay and lesbian students among us that we are called to love. If we have that belief, how do we ask them to honor their commitment in the same way that we would honor our commitment, and how do we do that in a way that’s winsome, that’s loving, that’s kind, while still recognizing that we have to say we can’t affirm that kind of lifestyle?

Q: How do you think this policy will create reconciliation in our community?

A: When I first started dealing with gay and lesbian representatives back in 2005, we were going to get ready to host an equality ride on the campus where I was serving, in California at the time, and we were preparing for this group of activists. … I started to wrestle with the fact that, when I sit down across from somebody who says, “I believe that God made me this way, I believe this is who I am and for you to not recognize that is unChristlike and unloving; you should affirm who I am,” … I had to really wrestle with that and question, “Well, is that true?”

So I came to ask this question, “What is the most loving thing that I can do for someone whom I respect?”

For me, part of it is to be honest about who I am and what I believe. I would like us to be humble and careful, not dogmatic in the way we do this. But at the same time, [I would like us] to say honestly, “I am a part of a faith community that for generations has believed that this is the way God created us, this is what God intended for sexual relationships between human beings.” I think being honest about that shows dignity to people who may disagree with me. Secondly, if I really truly believe that God created us male and female and that His intention for our best well being is for us to express our sexuality in that way, that’s the most loving thing I can do for anyone is to say, “Don’t pursue sexuality promiscuously heterosexually [and] don’t pursue sexuality in a gay or a lesbian way because ultimately your best well being will be to live that part of your being out in a way that God intended. …

“I will hold out my hand of love to you. I embrace you; I’ll be friends with you. I don’t want you to be mistreated, but at the same time, I will be a witness to what Scripture teaches in these areas.”

Q: At this point, what do you think students and staff need to know about the policy?

A: They need to know what our basic beliefs are and that whatever policies we create are going to be within that broad framework. They need to know that we’re going to do our best to find ways to express those policies in ways that are clear and help people understand what our expectations are for each other in this place and how we will live those out with each other.

If they want to have a say, the students should speak to Tim [Scurlock] and the SGA cabinet. If they’re in the student life area, they can speak to Andrew [Parker]. Faculty can speak to Dr. [Lisa] Dawson, so if they want to have a say in that way, these are their representatives to the group.

Q: Is there anything else people need to know on this topic?

A: It’s a very polarized discussion. It’s very hard to have this discussion in a way that’s productive without making people afraid, either that we’re going to be too harsh or that we’re going to be too compromising. What I would ask is that we all enter into this discussion with a loving heart — that we recognize the authority of Scripture over our lives, that we most of all seek relationships with Christ and seek to have Christ shape our lives and thoughts in these matters, and that we have a manner of confident humility to speak clearly about what we believe but to do that in a way that welcomes people into the body of Christ, not sends them out or sends them away.

This is my hope and prayer for us as a community because ultimately, studies show that perhaps 5-8 percent of the population in our society would choose a gay or lesbian identity. … Not everybody you meet will choose this identity for ourselves, but all of us will interact with people who do.

What I want us to do in a Christian community like this that honors Christ — that honors the Scripture — is to say, “I want to learn to be the presence of Christ in that person’s life, so I’m not intimidated by, frightened by, angry at that person, but I can be a redemptive presence in the life of my neighbors.”

That’s what I think we’re all trying to do, is be more faithful Christians, and that’s my desire for us as we make our way through this.

Q: What is your role in policy formation?

A: As president, I’m given the responsibility to operate the university on behalf of the board of trustees. The board has final say on all of our policies and on our mission, on the way we use our funds to achieve our mission, they have final authority on operation of the institution. However, they’re not here to run in, so they hire a president. The administration operates the university within those policy framework. My role then is to make sure we’re living within those policies.

Q: Why is new policy needed at IWU?

A: As the laws have changed, and as the way the laws are interpreted has changed, our policy statements have to be in accordance with that changing legal compliance framework and so what we’ve discovered as we move forward is that some of the issues we don’t even address. For example, we have no policy that mentions how we treat transgenders persons; it’s just not touched on in any of our policy language at all.

Meanwhile, the title compliance, what we’ve learned and seen as that law has evolved, gender identity and gender expression are protected statuses within Title 9, so it’s not just male and female, it is whatever gender identity someone wishes to be known for is a protected identity. So clearly we need a policy that responds to that in some way, and we just don’t have it. That was the primary motivator, for changing and for seeking a richer, fuller policy statement to address the issues rising that we just didn’t have years ago.

In terms of gay and lesbian issues, we only have one statement in our documents that refers to “homosexual behavior” and over the years what we’ve learned as we’ve had these conversations is that can be a pretty ambiguous term. People ask, “What does that actually mean?” and “How do you apply that policy to a student? How do you apply it to male and female students or lesbian and gay students, and how do you apply that to faculty?”

It seemed like an opportune time for us to dig down a little bit and try to understand how do we take the positions that our university takes on these issues as a Bible-believing, evangelical Christian university. What do we believe is right about that, and how do we take that and translate that into policy that is fair to everybody, that treats people with dignity and respect, that creates an environment, that leads to redemption and wholeness in people and in our community.

Q:What internal factors incited this new policy?

A: I’ve had conversations with students who share with me that they have not felt safe at IWU and that they don’t find this to be a particularly welcoming environment. Maybe to some degree that would be inevitable.

If you’re living in an environment which says that that kind of lifestyle is not ultimately pleasing or for your best well being, that will probably always be interpreted in some sense as a form of rejection. But at the same time, we can’t have an environment here where gay and lesbian students feel threatened or where they actively are having to defend themselves against epithets or jokes that are demeaning or statements that deepen their sense of depression or anxiety about these issues.

We need to hold to what is true but to do that in a way that is life-giving and wholesome and caring. I want us to find a way as a community to hold those two things in tension.

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Reverse culture shock

Written by: Heather Cox, Contributing Writer

If you pass Ali Dunn (jr) on campus, don’t be surprised if she avoids eye contact with you.

At least at first.

It’s not that Dunn is anti-social. Instead, she’s just heeding the customs of Aix-en-Provence, France, where she recently studied abroad for a semester—and where direct eye contact is viewed as verboten.

“As an American, if I made eye contact with an older woman on the street, she became offended, because I entered into her ‘personal space,’” recalled Dunn, who spent more than four months last summer in the southern part of France studying French. “I still catch myself not looking or smiling at anyone because I have become accustomed to the French way of life.”


Ali Dunn spent a semester studying in France, and she has now noticed a difference in herself since coming back to school.

Dunn is among a growing number of Indiana Wesleyan University students who are taking their education outside of the traditional campus to study abroad, whether that’s on a short-term trip with Dr. Michael Buck to Scotland and England or a longer trip such as Dunn’s.

In the fall of 2011, just three students studied abroad. This fall, 16 students participated in semester affiliate programs, according to Sandra J. Emmett, IWU’s education abroad supervisor. This is more than 400 percent increase.

“We average about 12 [students] per semester now, where we used to average about three to five,” Emmett said.

But when those students return, they often struggle with what some call “reverse cultural shock.”

In other words, they need to make a lot of readjustments when returning to campus.

Amy Foster (sr) traveled to Orvieto, Italy, with Gordon IN Orvieto program during the 2013 fall semester. Foster took part in studying abroad to learn, explore, and live quietly for a semester.

“Coming back to campus was really, really hard,” Foster says. “The general culture of IWU felt very fake when I first came back.”

Before she left to study abroad, Foster thought the IWU culture was “the real deal.” It was hard for her when she returned, because everything then seemed fake. However, since this initial feeling after returning to campus, she is now able to distinguish the difference between genuine faith, and “fake faith.”

“Sometimes its easy to mistake a habit born of Christian phrases, music, and college culture as people being fake. What’s really happening is that they are following their own sort of liturgy,” Foster said. “What matters is whether or not they are acting in an intentional, God-fearing way or not.”

Katherine Fitch (sr), who traveled to Seville, Spain, explained, “I really struggled with sticking to a strict schedule and can’t casually show up thirty minutes late and everyone being okay with that.”

Not only is it hard for the students to readjust to life on campus, but they also have to deal with being “homesick” for their new “home.”

Dunn recalled her peaceful morning walks to school with views of the vendors setting up their fruit and vegetable stands for the day, and taking a daily newspaper from men who would pass them out on the streets.


Katherine Fitch, who studied in Spain, had a hard time adjusting back to her strict schedule at school.

“My host family became my home away from home,” Dunn also said. “Leaving them was probably the most painful part.”

Foster added, “your definition of home is stretched across an ocean.”

It was also hard for the students because their friends and family couldn’t relate to their stories and experience on a deeper level.

Allison Manwell (jr), who also traveled to Seville, Spain, said even though she has friends and family who have been on missions trips in foreign countries, there is still something different about actually living in a foreign country.

Students have also expressed a frustration in the fact that there’s not a lot of help to readjust to campus life when they return. They said they almost feel like they were thrown back into their old life with no advice or warning as to how difficult it would be.

In regard to this returning “culture shock,” Emmett advises students to take advantage of the new requirements for students to participate in before they depart, including the Introduction to Cross-Cultural Engagement course and the Intercultural Effectiveness Scale assessment tool and coaching review.

There are also books, tools and resources in the Global Engagement Office to inform students of pre-departure and post-return information to assist them in preparation beforehand as well as processing and adjusting afterward.


Amy Foster had a hard time adjusting to the “IWU Culture” when she returned from Italy.

There was also a “Welcome Back!” event held November 18 for those who studied abroad recently to assist them with reflecting back on their experiences, as well as participate in  workshops teaching them how to build a resume and how to use these experiences post-graduation.

Emmett’s personal advice for returning students? Stop by the Global Engagement Office or contact the Center for Student Success.

“We can provide lots of tips and ideas on how to use and process your experience,” she said.

For Foster, it was a conversation with a professor that best helped her navigate her return home.

“Nobody told me how hard it would be,” Foster said. “What finally broke through was when my advisor, Professor Ron Mazellan, told me that it was okay to mourn a place. Allowing myself to be sad helped me to heal.”

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Murray’s energy off of bench encourages men’s basketball

Murray is  (Courtesy Photo)

Murray is still relatively new to the game of basketball. (Courtesy Photo)

Aaron Murray (jr) had only played basketball for three years when he joined Indiana Wesleyan University’s men’s basketball team in 2012.

Murray, a 6’10” center, was a missionary kid in Zambia, Africa from the age of 14 to 18, and first started playing basketball when he was 16 years old. That summer, his family was visiting their home church in Indianapolis, which had a Christian school affiliated with it.

The school had a basketball camp, and Murray decided to sign up for it. He realized he really enjoyed the game, and went back to play for a team in Zambia.

“We practiced twice a week for an hour and a half and all we had was two tournaments the entire season,” Murray said. “It wasn’t anything like basketball in the states.”

Murray continued to develop an interest in basketball, and he when he and his family moved to Louisville, Ky. for his senior year of high school, he played on his high school team there. As Murray’s senior year came to a close, he decided he wanted to play basketball in college.

But he wasn’t planning to attend IWU.

“I decided I wanted to go to one college, that I’ll leave nameless, and I figured out what I was going to study, talked to the coach, everything like that, and I was turning down all the other [schools],” Murray said.

Over the summer following his high school graduation, Murray went on a short-term missions trip to the Dominican Republic. There, he met Will Partin, a missionary who used to be an assistant basketball coach at IWU. Murray said Partin tried to convince him to attend IWU and join the basketball program.

“He said, ‘Indiana Wesleyan would be a perfect fit for you. They have great basketball, awesome learning.’ I had heard the spiel from all the Christian schools before,” Murray said. “But he said, ‘No, you really need to go here. At least let Coach [Tonagel] call you when you get back to the States.’”

Tonagel said Partin contacted him right away.

“He called us and said, ‘Hey, we have this kid from Louisville, he’s still looking for a school, he’s 6’10”, a hard worker, unselfish kid, I think he kind of fits what you are looking for,’” Tonagel said.

Tonagel then called Murray and invited him to come to an open gym at IWU on a Sunday over the summer to play with the basketball team, which was there helping with basketball camps. Murray accepted.

Will Partin (left), a missionary in the Dominican Republic and former IWU men's basketball assistant coach, helped lead Murray (right) to IWU. (Courtesy Photo)

Will Partin (left), a missionary in the Dominican Republic and former IWU men’s basketball assistant coach, helped lead Murray to IWU. (Courtesy Photo)

The men’s basketball coaching staff liked what it saw from Murray at the open gym, and offered him a spot on the team.

“Coach Tonagel said, ‘I won’t promise you a starting spot, I won’t promise you playing time, but if you come up here and work hard, I’ll promise you an opportunity,’” Murray said.

At that point, Murray was sold. He changed his mind and decided to attend IWU.

But when Murray joined the team during his freshman year, he wasn’t ready for the college game. He elected to redshirt his freshman year to hone his skills some more.

“I wasn’t very good, and you can say that [in your article], too,” Murray said. “I wasn’t very good and I had only been playing basketball for three years and just wanted an opportunity to grow and learn and get better at the fundamentals before wasting a year.”

And grow he did, according to Tonagel.

“[During that year], he got stronger, which was probably the most important thing, but he began to learn the game,” Tonagel said.

Murray’s game has continued to develop, and now, in his second year on the active roster, he is starting to earn more playing time for the defending NAIA Division II National Champion Wildcats.

But what Murray provides behind the scenes is what makes him so valuable to the team.

Murray said he relishes his role as someone who makes his teammates better through hard work in practice.

“I push the other big guys in practice everyday, like Lane [Mahurin], Josh [Mawhorr] and Nate [Bubash], because I know it makes the team better,” Murray said.

Tonagel also appreciates Murray’s unselfish attitude and the energy he provides from the bench during games.

“[He has] the ability to see the bigger picture, to care more about your teammates than yourself,” Tonagel said. “Aaron will be the first one off the bench when someone makes a good play. He loves to celebrate the success of others, and that’s a hallmark of an unselfish athlete.”

As a sports ministry major, Murray also aims to lead spiritually for the Wildcats. Murray said he aims to fill a part of the void Garvin Haughey (alumnus ’14) left when he graduated.

“When Garvin left, he left a huge, huge hole on our team that will never be filled the same way,” Murray said. “He was for sure the spiritual leader of the team, and I’ve tried to step into that role a little bit.”

Like most athletes, Murray would love to play lots of minutes, but the most important thing for him is contributing positively to a winning team.

“There’s the competitor in me that wants more playing time, and I’m striving for that every day by competing in practice,” Murray said. “But I don’t let my desire for playing time get in the way of my desire to see the team succeed.”


This story is a part of Co-Editor-in-Chief Jared Johnson’s “Stars in the Background” series on overlooked stars in IWU athletics. For more information, click here.

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