This article was reprinted from the spring 2017 issue of Fig Stories Lancaster with special permission form Fig Industries.
Dr. Peter W. Teague, president of Lancaster Bible College for the past 18 years, is an avid reader. One of the writers dearest to him is the beloved Christian scholar and author C.S. Lewis. In his book The Problem of Pain, Lewis wrote: “When pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”
Peter knows this sentiment well. One of the defining moments in his life happened 35 years ago when his third daughter, Jessica, was born. Peter’s wife, Paulette, became concerned with Jessica’s muscle tone early on, so when she was 18 months old they took her to Johns Hopkins University for testing.
After three days, they met with a team of doctors and a social worker in a sterile 8×12-ft. room and learned their daughter was – in the terminology in use at that time – profoundly mentally retarded. When the team leader suggested they medicate and institutionalize Jessica, the social worker immediately chimed in that eight out of 10 marriages end in divorce when there’s such a child in the home.
“We honestly don’t know how we got our car back from Baltimore to York,” Peter says. “It was devastating.”
Yet Peter and Paulette share a strong faith. Both grew up in homes where Christ was the center and believed in the sovereignty of God. But this was quite a test. He says they cried out to God and asked “Why us?” But they didn’t put their fist in God’s face and demand – they simply asked why.
Peter grew up in the 1960s in a stable, loving environment in an idyllic little town in Iowa, where his father was a pastor. He then attended a small Christian liberal arts college in Kansas where he met his wife – and where the different threads of his life began to be woven into the consistent fabric of an established worldview.
After he and Paulette married, they intended to go into the mission field to be cross-cultural missionaries, but the agency they applied to said they first needed to work off their school debt. While they were living in Denver, CO, Peter’s father was pastoring a church in Pittsburgh, where he heard there was a man in York who needed an assistant for his youth ministry. Peter applied and got the job, and he and Paulette crossed the country to York as newlyweds. Now, 43 years later, Peter has had two assignments: as superintendent of The Christian School of York, and as president of Lancaster Bible College. It was in York that they started looking for a group home where Jessica could go and live with others in a faith-based environment, but they weren’t satisfied with what they found.
“So eighteen years ago,” Peter says, “we brought a group of twelve friends into our living room and shared our hearts, our burden, and our vision.” That night the Jessica and Friends Community was born, and it has grown to employ more than 100 people and serve 136 clients seven days a week.
Peter says he’s old enough now that he looks at every student through the lens of his own children and grandchildren. He believes you respond differently when you see people that way. “I think you look through a different lens when you have a special daughter too,” he adds. “Your heart is so much more sensitive and tender to people who struggle.
“I’m a blessed man,” Peter continues. “I just always wanted to have a heart for students.”
Peter has a heart for students because he’s a student himself – a lifelong student of God and of life. He’s lived the prescription found in C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. He found the courage to trust God’s will, even when it’s not always discernable. He’s accumulated enough knowledge to know the difference between problems that can be solved and tensions that must be abided in the field of education. He’s cultivated the seed of empathy, passed onto him by his father, that lets him pay attention to those who are down and out, hurting, and marginalized – and has accordingly expanded the footprint of Lancaster Bible College into areas where people who historically haven’t been able to take advantage of such an education can now do so.
And, finally, he’s enjoyed the fruit of a ripened love of God and family. In short, Peter has let his life be the lesson plan.
“I often say to my wife Paulette,” Peter says, “that nobody has taught me more about the deep lessons of life than my daughter Jessica—even though she’s never uttered a word.”