Christian Higher Education Since 1892

Man for All Seasons

Man for All Seasons

Man for All Seasons

The motorcade that took Ivan Filby through city streets in Mexico signaled the arrival of a dignitary. A police escort on motorcycle led the way, three armed guards accompanied Filby in the car that followed and a security vehicle with flashing lights brought up the rear. The year was 1998, and Mexico’s President-elect Vicente Fox had invited prominent experts from around the world to address university teachers. Filby, then director of international student affairs for Trinity College, University of Dublin, would speak to a crowd of 5,000.

Though the grand motorcade was a personal first for Filby, he was no stranger to the international stage. He regularly represented Ireland at embassy receptions in Dublin and London and met with statesmen farther afield in Argentina, Brazil, China, India and Russia. He helped governments reform their education policies and announced educational exchange partnerships at press conferences. When Ireland’s President Mary McAleese visited China to launch a partnership he had developed, Filby joined her.

Of all his travels abroad, however, a trip completely devoid of high profile engagements dramatically changed his world. In 2004, Filby and his wife, Kathie, visited Greenville College where he interviewed for a position as professor and chair of GC’s management department.

If he had relied solely on first impressions, Filby would have dismissed the thought of a future with GC after the first day. Heavy rains drenched campus. The local Best Western and burger joint fell far short of the five-star accommodations to which he had grown accustomed. The College’s management department was small, and the cut in pay he would realize was significant. “After our first night in Greenville,” he recalls, “we wished we could have quietly snuck out of town.”

The urge to exit diminished the next day though, as the college community drew the couple in. “We started to meet people,” explains Filby. “We saw people who loved the Lord; we saw students who were trying to figure out how they might serve Him in their professions. We started thinking we could actually do something here. We felt this was where the Lord was calling us.”

In the end, divine summons trumped prestige and pay. Filby knew from experience that God’s faithful provision would ease the doubts and fill the gaps that accompany change. Obedient, he chose Greenville College.

Read President Filby's testimony, "Caught by Surprise."

In short order, Filby’s choice ushered in a season of growth for the College in several areas. Under his leadership, full-time student enrollment in the management department tripled with the addition of undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs. A program he developed to recruit Japanese students generated new revenues for the College. He led the transformation of AgapeFest into a profitable event. More attendees at the Christian music festival also translated into more opportunities for students and staff to interact with prospective students and experience the transforming presence of Jesus Christ.

Filby’s choice to work at Greenville College also ushered in a personal season of growth. He engaged his talents in an area that had previously remained out of reach for him – the place where faith intersects with higher education. “In Europe, we really don’t have anything like Greenville College,” he explains. “You have secular universities and you have theological colleges, but there is nothing like a liberal arts college where you think about your discipline through faith.”

The separation of faith from the discipline of business had particularly impacted Filby. Though he held multiple degrees from universities in the U.K. and Ireland, he felt under-prepared when it came to sharing his faith on the road as a “missionary-businessman.” To compensate, he earned an additional degree in missions and evangelism from Cliff College, Sheffield. Years later at Greenville College, he developed a speaker series that would bring management students and successful executives together for conversations that often included business and faith – just the kind of discussion that might have benefited him in his undergraduate days.

Since assuming GC’s presidency this past July, Filby has engaged the College’s faculty and staff in revisiting the place where faith and learning intersect. He freely shares his enthusiasm for the book Roaring Lambs by Bob Briner ’56 and quotes Briner’s charge for Christian colleges to produce graduates that “confidently carry their faith with them into the marketplace so that our very culture feels the difference.” Examples of how to do this, Filby believes, begin on campus where excellence is modeled in all ways possible.

A brisk walk down College Avenue may pale in comparison to a stately entrance by motorcade, but – with campus on the verge of autumn splendor and classrooms humming with the start of a new school year – President Ivan Filby knows of no other walk he would rather take.

This story was published on September 24, 2013




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