Dr. Stu Erny is the director of international student services at AU and works to support international students at AU. After growing up as a missionary kid in Taiwan, he attended Asbury College and Asbury Theological Seminary, and then served with his wife and children in Kathmandu, Napal with Word Made Flesh. He has worked at AU for 14 years.
Q: What called you to missionary work?
A: It was a really natural move for me because I’m a missionary kid. I was born and raised in Taiwan, so that was the life I knew. I came back to the states for high school, which was a really rough transition for the first few years especially. It did get better with each passing year, so by college I felt pretty acclimated. I think Asia in particular always felt more like home than the States anyway, so I feel like even in the back of my mind that living and serving in another country was always an option for me. But after my undergrad I went to seminary, and I loved all the missiology and the anthropology classes, and that’s when I really began to own this idea of mission. I had also felt a strong call to live and work among the poor, and that seed was planted when I was a college student, particularly when I had taken a couple trips to India to work with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. I also read Ron Sider’s book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and reading that book and being in India really birthed in me this passion to live and work among the poor. So, it was a very natural choice to go along with this mission called Word Made Flesh to work among the poor because that was my focus and that was my passion.
Q: What are some of your most impactful missionary experiences?
A: Although I lived and grew up outside of the U.S., I lived in what you might call a modernized country. Going to the developing, or what’s called now the majority, world in college was a really new experience in that sense. I had never been up close to the kinds of poverty that I saw [in India]. Seeing families living on the sidewalks of Kolkata, and then of course working with Missionaries of Charity in their homes—it was all very up close and personal. Simultaneously, I was reading Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and the first part of the book is a biblical survey that looks at how all throughout scripture, God’s heart for the poor is so clear, and that is a call He gives to His people to share that heart. Those two things happening together were so powerful. The other thing that was transformative for me was when I realized God’s heart for the poor was so prominent in scripture, it made me ask the question, “How did I not know that? How did I miss that?” I grew up in a missionary family and read the Bible every night. I went to church. How was it that I didn’t know about this until I was in college? That was also really big in my life and I think it started me on this path of always asking, “What side of reality is not being told here?” Those are some of the things that powerfully impacted me.
Q: What led you to AU?
A: When [my wife and children] were living in Nepal, I thought initially, “This is where we’re going to live and make our home.” As often happens in life, things take a different course than you expect it, and ultimately what happened is at the end of our initial two-year commitment, my wife and I both decided, “You know what? We just aren’t at a place where staying here is going to be healthy and sustainable for us.” Honestly, a lot of that had to do with my own issues of being married to this ideal of going to serve God among the poor, and elevating that almost to the place of an idol in my life, causing me to miss the very real needs of my wife and kids. “That is just a classic ego trip dressed up as something holy,” I thought. “I just really need to get some healing and perspective.” That’s what led us back to the States.
In many ways, it was difficult, because it was sort of the death of this dream I had of living and working overseas as a missionary, but in other ways I’m so thankful because I needed the healing. When I came back, you know, I had gone to seminary but had never felt the call to be a pastor. Usually, when you go to seminary, you become a pastor or a missionary perhaps, and both of those were off the table for me. I was really at a loss of what to do. I even contemplated working for a company that installed ponds for rich people. But of course we were prayerful and tried to be patient, and that’s when my sister-in-law, who was an RD here at AU, called me saying there was a position open. AU needed a director of campus ministries just to keep everything going for a year before finding a campus pastor. I was interested, so I applied and then got a call from Brent Baker. One thing led to another and I was given the position, so we moved here. I loved it.
For some reason, I had never thought about college ministry as something someone with a seminary degree could do. I really loved working and walking alongside college students, though at that point I wasn’t too far removed from them age-wise. I was so fortunate because at the end of my first year, President Edwards decided to make what was historically a one-person position into two—to have a campus pastor and a director of campus ministries. Obviously, I was so happy to hear that and to be invited to stay on as director of campus ministries. I got to oversee our off-campus and student outreach programs, and that really fit my passion for mission. Now I’ve been here 14 years, and this is my third year as director of international student programs. I have so enjoyed it—it’s a great fit for me. I’ve loved getting to work in the Cultural Resource Center, helping us all to learn about other cultures and crossing cultural divides.
Q: You’ve had a huge impact on many students here. How has working with AU students had an impact on you?
A: Working with college students has kept me honest, and young—at least at heart. That’s one of the things I love about college students. [They] take things seriously, and don’t settle for weak attempts at life and at faith. That has been so helpful for me, and the things that students ask and struggle with in terms of their faith challenge me and inspire me as well. It helps to keep me from just settling and sort of plateauing in my own life and my own faith, which easily happens for all of us when we get comfortable. I think just getting to walk alongside college students has been wonderful, because college years are such transformative years. Just to even be a small part of that has been so profoundly meaningful and enjoyable for me. One of the things I’ve loved here is being able to lead a couple Tri-S trips, and those have also been some of my best memories. Twice I’ve gotten to take students back to Nepal, and that was so cool because it felt like my past world and my AU world were coming together.
Q: What would you like to do in your life that you haven’t done yet?
A: I would love to have an unlimited airline ticket to be able to travel all around the world and to go all the places I’ve always wanted to go. When people ask, “If you could pick a superpower, what superpower would you have?” it finally clicked for me last week that I would pick that I could speak every language in the whole world and be able to fly. Because then, I could fly to any country at any time and be able to speak to anyone that I would meet. Hopefully there will be some travels in my future. I’m going out on a high note in that I’ve loved my time here, and I’m profoundly grateful for it.