David Clotfelter, Tunghai University

Inviting Students and Faculty to Come In

Lisa and David Clotfelter

During a 2017 trip to Taiwan, David Clotfelter and his wife, Lisa, decided to visit the campus of Tunghai University, where he had been an English teacher in the 1980s and his wife had been a student. That visit led to a series of conversations with Tunghai administrators and, ultimately, a question: “Why don’t you come back?” Rev. Clotfelter and his wife accepted Tunghai’s invitation, and in September 2017 he began his work as the chaplain for the university, pastor of its church, and a member of the faculty.

“We saw an opportunity to come back and build something healthy,” Rev. Clotfelter said, explaining in an interview the decision he and his wife made. For the past three years, the two of them have been putting energy into building up the church, restoring the campus ministry, and becoming familiar with a student population different in size, background, and outlook from their earlier years  at Tunghai. “About 95 percent of the student population at Tunghai is not Christian, so they have no expectation of what the chaplain’s office can do,” he said. “We have to overcome those feelings and invite them in.”

Studio Thrive meets in the Luce Chapel at Tunghai University

One example of outreach to students is “Studio Thrive,” a Tuesday evening gathering that features an invited speaker followed by small group discussions. The topics are designed to appeal to students, especially freshmen: how to get along with your roommate, how to get along with the opposite sex, mobile phone usage, and other subjects. A recent session attracted 260 students. Similarly, when teaching Christian world view and Christian ethics classes, Rev. Clotfelter highlights issues that will resonate with his students. “Ethical issues are of interest to all,” he said, and examining ethics through the lens of the environment, capital punishment, bioethics, or marriage makes them more tangible to young adults.

Rev. Clotfelter also wants to explore ways for the chaplain’s office to serve the needs of faculty. “Many faculty members are new PhDs, who do not have much teaching experience,” he said. “Is there a way for the chaplain’s office to encourage more experienced teachers to help them?”

As chaplain, Rev. Clotfelter often is asked to offer a prayer at campus events. This gives him the opportunity to connect with people of faith and, at the same time, find common ground with non-Christians. “We are created in God’s image,” he said, “and that gives us our mandate to create culture, to take care of our physical health, to seek and share education, and to be stewards of the world.” For this, he adds, we need to acquire knowledge – a meaningful goal for all who are part of the campus community.