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On This Day in Wheaton History

Ruth Mellis
Ruth Mellis c1931

On this day in history (April 19), Wheaton alumna Ruth Margaret Mellis was born in 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri to Charles J. and Selina M. (Vollmer) Mellis.  She attended Ritenour High School (Overland, MO) and graduated from Wheaton College in 1931 with a B.S. in Elementary Education. She was a member of the Philalethean Literary Society, and volunteered with the Y.M.C.A.

In 1945 she left the city school system to volunteer to teach missionaries’ children in Africa as a non-professional at the Empress School in Ethiopia. During this 3 year short-term she assisted in the formation of the Wheaton Alumni Association of Ethiopia where many grads worked in that country.

In August 1954 she sailed to Greece to be a teacher where she served alongside Worldwide Prayer and Missionary Union as an independent missionary ministering to grown orphans around Athens. In a 1967 prayer letter she began to direct funds to ELWA Greek programs with Sudan Interior Mission. The ELWA Ministries Association traces its roots back to 1952 when SIM (then known as the Sudan Interior Mission) joined with the West Africa Broadcasting Association that was attempting to start the first Christian radio station in Africa.

Radio ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa), located in the Paynesville area east of central Monrovia, started to broadcast in January 1954. By 1973 she had moved to Puebla, Mexico with the Central Ameican Mission as a church planter among internationals. In 1977 she “retired” after 33 years of foreign service to St. Louis. For many years afterward she made many short-term trips to Mexico and Greece. She died on January 15, 2007 in Saint Ann, MO, three months prior to her 100th birthday.  Her college memorabilia and scrapbooks are held in Special Collections and her personal papers are held in the Billy Graham Center Archives.

Why Do Some Nations Prosper?

Twenty-five years ago, the Wheaton Alumni magazine began a series of articles entitled “On My Mind” in which Wheaton faculty wrote about their thinking, research, or favorite books and people. Dr. Peter (P.J.) Hill, Professor of Economics Emeritus, was featured in the Winter 2009 issue. Dr. Hill served as the George F. Bennett Professor of Economics at Wheaton from 1986-2011.

Peter (P.J.) Hill

Some countries languish in no-growth mode while others flourish.  A new economic school of thought provides insights into economic disparity

My discipline has long been termed the dismal science, a description given to economics by historian Thomas Carlyle in the nineteenth century. Indeed, much economic analysis has taken the form of throwing cold water on reforms that will supposedly improve human well-being, arguing that good intentions are not enough and that one needs to carefully think through the incentive effects of any policy change.

More recently, however, one sub-discipline in economics, the New Institutional Economics, has given a positive response to an important question: Why the great differences in income and wealth across societies?

In 1800 the richest countries of the world had per capita incomes about three times that of poor countries. By 2005 this gap had widened so significantly that the per capita incomes of the richest countries were sixty times that of the poor countries.

Almost all of this growing difference is not because of exploitation of the poor by the rich. Instead, the vast gap has arisen because of varied abilities to produce wealth. In other words, some parts of the world have discovered the engine of economic growth, while such growth has bypassed other parts.

Economists have tried numerous explanations for such differences in growth, varying from natural resources to infrastructure to education. All of these have been found to be lacking, especially when embodied in foreign aid programs.

The fundamental cause of economic growth is found in the institutional structure of an economy. The rule of lax protection of property rights, openness to trade, enforcement of contracts, and a stable money supply are all-important for rewarding the individual endeavor that produces increases in economic well-being.

That doesn’t mean other efforts are futile. Microfinance—the making of small loans to individual entrepreneurs—has been successful in numerous settings. A new movement, Business as Mission, also shows real promise. In this endeavor Christians start businesses to glorify God by both creating wealth for all stakeholders and exemplifying biblical principles. Both of these efforts, however, are more likely to thrive in a good institutional environment.

If it is as simple as getting the right institutions in place, why have some countries remained in the no- or slow- growth mode? Usually this is because the elites, or those in control, don’t find such an institutional environment to their advantage. Indeed, when one examines institutions in less developed nations, one often finds that things like property rights and contract enforcement are not easily available to the poor and marginalized.

Therefore, Christians concerned with poverty should work toward a well functioning set of rules, and those rules should give those at the bottom the same access to a fair judicial system and protection of their property as those at the top of the economic order.

[The following statement was included at the time of publication — Wheaton Magazine, Winter 2009]  Dr. Peter (P.J.) Hill, the George F. Bennett Professor of Economics at Wheaton, is a Senior Fellow at Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana. He is a coauthor of Growth and Welfare in the American Past; The Birth of a Transfer Society; and The Not So Wild, Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier. He has also written numerous articles on the theory of property rights and institutional change and has edited six books on environmental economics. He is a graduate of Montana State and the University of Chicago. P.J. also owns and operates a ranch in western Montana.

Listening for Madeleine

MarcusLeonard S. Marcus, author and literary historian, has compiled Listening for Madeleine (2012), a collection of interviews by friends, family, writers and editors who knew Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, Bright Evening Star, Certain Women and many more titles. Sections concentrating on various aspects of her life include “Madeleine in the Making,” “Writer,” “Matriarch,” “Mentor,” “Friend” and “Icon.”

In his Introduction, Marcus describes a 2002 interview with L’Engle, conducted at her home, Crosswicks.

What followed was an utterly remarkable performance, and an act of generosity that must have drawn on every ounce of her strength and determination. I recognized, from the published interviews I had prepped on, her responses to some of my questions. But much of what she said, I thought, was new. When I asked her about the mail she received from readers, L’Engle told the story of a young reader of A Wrinkle in Time who ended what had seemed a typical fan letter with the news that he was ill with cancer. “We corresponded,” she said, “until he died. It was hard and wonderful both.” Then L’Engle said, “My books are not bad books to die with.” As she uttered this extraordinary remark, a chill ran up my spine. “What do you mean?” I asked her. “What I mean,” she said, “is that when I read a book, if it makes me feel more alive, then it’s a good book to die with. That,” said L’Engle, “is why certain books last.”

The papers of Madeleine L’Engle (SC-03) are archived in the Wheaton College (IL) Special Collections.

On My Mind – Roger Lundin

Twenty years ago, the Wheaton Alumni magazine began a series of articles in which Wheaton faculty told about their thinking, their research, or their favorite books and people. Blanchard Professor of English Roger Lundin was featured in the April/May 1991 issue.

This spring I taught The Brothers Karamazov for the fifteenth time; I imagine that over the years I have reread it at least ten times. What is striking is that my experience is as fresh today as it was when I first stood trembling before a class in 1979 trying to unravel some of that great book’s many mysteries. Teaching a novel as rich as The Brothers Karamazov does not involve straining to find something new to say about an all too familiar subject; instead, each time I work through that book, I simply try to remain alert to what it is saying afresh to me and my students about the world in which God has placed us.

When I read The Brothers Karamazov for the first time as a freshman at Wheaton in 1968, Ivan and Alyosha Karamazov addressed my deepest anxieties about faith and doubt. I first taught the novel more than a decade later, only a few months after the Jonestown Massacre I was haunted by the uncanny parallels between the world of the Grand Inquisitor and the totalitarian rule of Jim Jones over his sect. And as I taught the book this past semester, the Persian Gulf War brought home the power of Ivan Karamazov’s struggles with questions of suffering, especially the suffering of innocent children. I teach in full confidence that a decade from now this old book will still illuminate the dark and baffling events of that new day.

Several years ago, the Christian critic Edmund Fuller wrote in his valedictory column for the Wall Street Journal that he was unimpressed by the saying, “You are what you eat.” To Fuller, the far more interesting generalization is, “You are what you read.” The “printed word gives us the extraordinary freedom to choose the intellectual company we will keep, to select those with whom, in spirit, we will walk.” That freedom is a privilege, and “in the highest sense it is a duty, in at least a due proportion of our reading time, Paraphrasing Joshua, ‘Choose you this day whom you will read.'”

As an undergraduate, I came to Wheaton as a new Christian in search of the intellectual and spiritual company of which Fuller spoke. When Beatrice Batson, Arthur Holmes, Morris Inch, and others introduced me to the likes of Augustine, Luther, Dostoevsky, and Karl Barth, I prized the opportunity of entering into dialogues with powerful minds struggling with issues of life and death, of justice and forgiveness. I especially appreciated the fearlessness of my teachers in making me confront the most difficult matters of the human spirit. I profited from encountering the negations of Nietzsche as well as the affirmations of Luther; I needed to hear Emily Dickinson’s questioning of God as much I needed to be strengthened by the poetry of George Herbert; and as a Christian trying to comprehend his world, I needed to understand the secularity of Harvey Cox as well as hear modern words of promise from Helmut Thielicke. Whether being challenged or comforted by works from the distant or recent past, I was learning how to live as a Christian by listening to voices from that past.

As I have taught at Wheaton over the last decade, my sense of the power of the past has become coupled with an awareness of the fragility of what Robert Bellah, in Habits of the Heart, calls “communities of memory.” A genuine community, a “community of memory does not forget its past. In order not to forget that past, a community is involved in retelling its story.” This is one service that a Christian liberal arts education can perform for Christ and the Church in a fractured and forgetful world. By bringing to life the history of human thought and suffering, and by doing so in dialogue with the biblical witness, the Christian teacher is helping to hand down what the Apostle Paul calls the “treasure” we carry in our “earthen vessels.”

Teaching at Wheaton, then, involves storytelling of a special kind. In a remarkable recent book, After Virtue, the moral philosopher Alasdair Maclntyre argues that “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?'” A liberal arts education enables students to see the relationship between their individual stories and the broader cultural story they have been born into and the special history they have become a part of in Christ. The prophet Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Whatever its flaws, a liberal arts education at Wheaton is a remarkable thing because of the challenge it sets for students and teachers alike to learn afresh what it means to obey such a command.

Dr. Roger Lundin ’71, Blanchard Professor of English, returned to Wheaton in 1978 to teach literature after earning a master of theological studies at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and his master’s and doctorate in English at the University of Connecticut. He was named junior teacher of the year in 1984 and senior teacher of the year in 1995. Some of Lundin’s published works include: Literature through the Eyes of Faith, Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief, and Believing Again: Doubt and Faith in a Secular Age.