As the John Brown University semester draws to a close, President Chip Pollard is also ending his sabbatical semester. He spent the past three months in Sydney, Australia with his wife, Carey, and son, James. Pollard plans to speak in chapel on Dec. 4 and will return to his office on Dec. 10. Before coming back to the United States, Pollard took time to answer a few questions via email.
Q: How has this semester been for you?
A: We have had a fantastic semester here in Sydney. The weather has been wonderful, mostly sunny and temperature 65 to 80 degrees most days.
We have had the chance to reconnect to close friends, Michael and Beth Spence, and their family. We became friends while we were both in Oxford. Michael currently serves as the Vice-Chancellor (i.e. the president) of University of Sydney, which is a much bigger university than JBU (50,000 students), but we still have a lot in common.
We have also had the chance to take a couple of short trips. We snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, hiked in the Blue Mountains, and visited Hobbiton (the movie set) in New Zealand.
Our apartment is only a 20-minute walk from Bondi Beach, so we have taken a lot of late afternoon walks along the coast. Moreover, the time to read and write has been a great blessing.
Q: What has been the most interesting difference between Australia and here?
A: The sense of Australia as being a part of Asia and the growth of Asia in the influence in the world. For instance, higher education is the third greatest industry in Australia, and it is mostly because Asian students are coming to Australia to go to university. Australia’s economy is booming, but primarily because of the purchase of minerals from countries such as China.
It has also been interesting to see how Christians operate in a pretty secular society (less than 10% of Sydney would go to church). We have visited many different Anglican churches as well as the city campus of Hillsong Church. The church’s faithful witness in a secular society has been a source of encouragement.
They also make a great cup of coffee in Sydney (although it is expensive—$4 a cup).
Q: What have you missed the most about JBU?
A: Being with students, particularly in chapel. I have listened to most of the 1 Corinthians series as part of my devotions, and it has been great to hear familiar voices such as Jake, Robbie and Rod speaking in chapel. I look forward to speaking at the final chapel in the first week of December.
I also missed being at some key events: the fall board meeting and Homecoming, the TP Game, and Mock Rock. I can see pictures on Facebook or the website, but it is much better to be there in person.
I get regular reports from Kory [Dale, executive associate in the office of the president] and the cabinet, and everything seems to be going well in our absence. That is no surprise, we have a lot of good people filling in for us while we are gone, and we are deeply grateful for all their work.
Q: What have you been able to work on? I know you had books to read and writing you wanted to work on.
A: I have written a rough draft of a little over half of the book project (some 27,000 words). It is still rough in the organizational structure and audience, but it has been a great blessing to have dedicated time to work out this much of a rough draft.
I have read a lot, which again is great blessing. I read a couple of books in preparation for the board retreat in the spring, about 6-7 theological books (Henri Nouwen, NT Wright, CS Lewis, Jerry Sittser), three or four Australian novels, about 8-10 other novels, plays and collections of poetry in connection with my writing project (Larkin, Bishop, Sterne, Woolf, etc), and some 7 or so novels with my son as part of his homeschooling.
I have also spent some good time working through online sermon series (JBU’s 1 Corinthians, Tim Keller’s on Ephesians, Job, Isaiah, and starting Proverbs).
I also spent a day visiting the CCCU’s Australian program as part of my role on the CCCU Board of Trustees and have done a few short writing projects for JBU while I am here.
Q: Are there any new ideas you’re bringing back with you?
A: I have a deepened appreciation for the role of Asia, particularly China, in the world, and wonder whether there are ways for JBU to engage the church in Asia.
I have deepened appreciation for ways that we should pray for God to strengthen us through hard times (rather than just remove us from hard times) and how that strengthening prepares us to serve others better.
I think that Christians in the U.S. will increasingly need to offer a winsome and faithful witness to an increasingly secular world, and it has been good to see how it is done here.
I have become more convinced of JBU’s (and similar Christian institutions) unique and important place in higher education.
Q: Have you enjoyed your time away?
A: It has been a wonderful blessing. We have been stimulated by living in a new culture (with multiple opportunities to enjoy museums, the Sydney Opera House, even an Australian Rules Football match), but we have also been encouraged and renewed by the time to read, write, reflect, talk, walk, and pray.
The time away has also deepened our appreciation for home, and we look forward to returning to JBU.