Tom Lin has every qualification InterVarsity could want in a president. His résumé—which includes degrees from Harvard and Fuller Seminary, as well as roles as a campus staff member, a missionary, a pastor, and a vice president in InterVarsity—is impeccable. He knows how to strategize, lead, catalyze, and plant. His yes is yes, and his no is no.
But what perhaps makes him most qualified to serve as our next president is his history of continually saying yes to God’s call on his life, even when it meant saying no to his personal dreams and plans.
The son of Taiwanese immigrants who settled in Chicago, Tom grew up in a Christian home and was involved in his church and youth group. But his first truly risky yes to God came during college, at Urbana 93, when he sensed God asking him to join InterVarsity staff as a campus minister instead of pursue his dream—and his parents’ dream—of corporate law, status, and financial security.
Tom’s decision to obey God and go into ministry was devastating to his parents, who had sacrificed everything to see him succeed. He writes in his book Pursuing God’s Call, “My heart never could have imagined the extent of the pain that my decision to follow God’s call would cause [my mom and dad].” For six months he earnestly sought the Lord and talked with friends and mentors. “And yet,” he writes, “I came to the same conclusion, as God repeatedly reaffirmed his call in my life to full-time ministry.”
So Tom said yes to becoming a campus staff member, living out the wisdom he offered to Urbana 12 participantswhen he welcomed them to the conference as director: “Surrender your plans and allow God to surprise you. God’s invitation may be unexpected.”
That yes led to many other unexpected invitations—and many more yeses. Yes to planting an Asian American chapter at Harvard University and a chapter at Boston University. Yes to opening his heart to the nations and directing missions trips in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Yes to going to Mongolia for four years with his wife, Nancy, to forge a new student movement in a place where they knew no one, where they didn’t know the language, and where there were few known Christians.
That was a particularly challenging yes. “I didn’t want to go to a place where I would be utterly dependent on God,” he writes. “And yet, despite all my objections, the message from God was clear: Go. He did not want my objections; he wanted my obedience.” That’s what Tom and Nancy gave him. And dependence on God and others was indeed a primary lesson they learned.
That lesson proved vital when they returned to the U.S. and Tom became a regional director for InterVarsity, saying yes to God’s call to plant 16 new chapters and reach universities in new states. And then, in 2010, he said yes to stepping out of his role as regional director—a role he loved—to become InterVarsity’s director of missions and Urbana. In a chapel talk given at InterVarsity’s headquarters in 2014, Tom reflected, “God used the isolation [in Mongolia] to transform my focus from myself to dependence on God. . . . Sometimes I now laugh at the job he’s put me in, directing missions and Urbana, because I think the only unique qualification that I have is that I know that it’s impossible for me to do the job alone.”
Today makes one more yes to an invitation from God—this time to serve as the next president of InterVarsity, starting on August 10. And his desire is that the Lord would continue to use InterVarsity to call students and faculty all over the U.S. to also say yes to Jesus and his mission, both on campus and around the world.
Indeed, Tom’s life offers them a picture of the words of wisdom he provides in Pursuing God’s Call: “The world may tell you otherwise, but there is no dream more fulfilling than to pursue God’s mission in your life.” His yeses have led to blessings far beyond what he could have imagined—most of all, God’s yes that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 1:
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
It’s a yes he will help a new generation of students and faculty experience in the months and years to come.
Will you join us in rejoicing over God’s faithfulness? In praying for his work on college and university campuses? In boldly living out God’s mission in your own context? We hope, like Tom, and like students and faculty all over the U.S., you’ll say yes.