Top Aspiring Experts and Professionals Gather at Stanford to Pray

On October 16th, over 30 students (and some who’d already received their degrees) from Stanford, Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and UC Santa Cruz gathered at Stanford’s Old Union building for a “jam session.” These are people studying at the best research and trade schools in the world, getting medical, dental, PhD, and masters degrees. Types of research and professions was anywhere from medicine, computer science, philosophy, to chemical engineering. I’m certain that I shared an evening with the most well educated, if not some of the most talented and intelligent people in the world.

If you want to know a bit of the history, here’s a general introduction. Logistically, this started coming together at the InterVarsity Graduate Student Winter Retreat where I met Ethan and heard about his Multi-Faith Forum at Stanford. I went to that, and there, the thought occurs to me that UC San Francisco wasn’t at the last two retreats (which consisted of grad students fom Stanford, Berkeley, and UCSC). I asked the Grad Fellowship leader at Stanford why UCSF has never been, and the rest of story can be found here:

My last post was about chillin’ with my Stanford friends, and while we were there, I realized that we have no contact with those at UCSF. I asked the Stanford InterVarsity grad director, Pete, why UCSF never comes to our grad retreat (over the winter). He says that they’re invited every year, but never come. Invitations don’t make things happen though, relationships do, and that’s where this story begins.

Now there’s another reason why I wanted to visit UCSF, but that reason will stay secret until a later date. It’s just so funny how God uses people to make things happen, because by the 16th of October, 2010, I’d had some really great conversations with other grad and professional school students that I’d consider to be not only colleagues, but friends.

The emails start going out, and, really, I didn’t know how this event was going to look, but just that something really good would come out of it. I’d be happy with anywhere from 20 to 200 people. The big question was: how do you get a bunch of people who don’t really know each to make the effort to meet up? Additionally, these are grad and professional school students, where all free time is nontrivially spent (maybe an exaggeration, but you get my point). By the time we’ve arrived at the grad level, we’re already used to being to used to things: how much grace would people allow in an event that was trying to wing it? How comfortable are we at being uncomfortable? Here’s one of the later emails I’d written expressing such concerns:

I also wanted to say real quick that I am kind of unsure about a couple things….
First, how structured does this need to be? Do you think we can count on people to be motivated and contribute without much prompting? (I remember early on, Ethan was all about keeping it simple.)
Second, I’m also unsure of how much input to ask for from you guys. On one hand, I’m controlling everything, and on the other hand, I’m pushing extra work on other people.
As far as how much is enough, well, I want to be “Mary” enough to enjoy God’s presence in the midst of His work, but also, “Martha” enough to be willing and available 🙂
So I’m going to trust that God’s taking care of things, as I make myself readily available for His call. That is to say that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to see that God is able to move on 10/16/10. I totally believe that others have varying amounts of time available, so I don’t mind doing more.
Finally, it’s awesome that this is happening. Unity is so daunting these days, and we are all busy pursuing these darned advanced degrees.
This is what I want to see happen:
(1) People getting used to different styles of worshipping God and campus cultures
(2) People connecting and really be challenged to love each other more
(3) Getting a clearer picture of what it means to have one body in one faith
(4) Really begin to see how we can encourage one another towards living faithfully in our professions
Ultimately, I’d want to see [meaningful relationships] being established through God, and beyond how relationships are typically made in this world. It’s not like I expect to change the world in a night, but that we never know what God can do with the things we make available. And by just showing up, we are available 🙂
Let me know if there’s any input at all!

So for the sake of structure and comfort, I wrote this up:

Grad students like structure, so here was some idea of what we were doing and why. This event was circulating as “Worship Sets at Stanford.” One thing I took for granted was the fact that I’ve never really played worship before, much less lead worship. I lead Jazz combos and sing in Gospel music choirs, not the sort of music that you’d hear at the churches of these post-baccalaureate degree bound students. That’s why God provided Ethan– to say that Ethan is a natural worship leader is understatement. I don’t know how we made it work, but we did. (Oh wait, it worked because God was there with us).

The worship, prayer, and sharing structure emerged on its own, and afterwards, people made comments about how grad students are so prone to have all details worked out such that satisfactory performance would be guaranteed.  Many people had said that the idea of a “jam session” was intimidating. My musical world is so different from that. I mean, when I’m not doing research (I can’t forget that I’m also doing a PhD), I’m jamming with jazz musicians, playing in bars/coffee shops, or improvising with a choir where no one reads music or knows what chords are.

So Ethan (Stanford), Duy (UCSC), Felix (Stanford), and I (UCSC), were there to set up. I really wasn’t sure if anyone was going to come, because UCSC was on a retreat, I hadn’t heard from UCSF in a while, and I don’t really know anyone at Berkeley. Well, when people did show up, they came late, because Stanford is so impossible to navigate. A few minutes later, we had students rolling in from all the other universities. I knew the majority of the people who came to this event, and I believe that helped, not only to get people there, but throughout the night.

If you’d read the handout above you can gather that three main pursuits are:

  1. worship
  2. prayer and sharing
  3. the strategic building of authentic relationships


Let’s start with worship. Now, were people all jumping up at once for a chance to jam? No, not at first, but I knew who were musicians, and I knew it’d take some time for people to warm up. I, myself, had a saxophone and a djembe (drum). I handed the djembe to Johanna (UCSF); good thing I knew so many people there (it made it easier to encourage them). From UCSC, we had a harmonica player and a guitar player/singer. We had Felix on guitar from Stanford (because, lol, he had no idea how to use my laptop). Scott from UCSC was a pro at pulling up lyrics, while Ethan, from Stanford, lead all of the songs. From Berkeley, there were 2 (fabulous) singers, a guy on guitar, and one who jumped on the piano to the side of the room.

It was so fun, but I didn’t really get to jam much. I was so preoccupied with keeping things going and getting people talking to each other. It definitely left me wanting to do more jamming. Kimmy (Stanford) already said we can do another jam session at the winter retreat… hehe.


For introductions, I simply mentioned that we should have great amounts of grace for tonight. First, because it is by grace we have been saved, haha. Second, because no one there had ever done anything like this before, and, finally, because we tend to have so little grace for ourselves and other people, especially as grad students.

It was a great mixture of music and sharing, worship and praying. We started by introducing and praying for each campus. Instead of the awkward non-initiative taking tendencies that people have in new situations and around new people, I knew people well enough at each school to just delegate. For example: UCSC shared about their grad fellowship, UCSF shared about working towards being doctors and dentists in San Francisco, Berkeley talked about grad student Christian endeavors, and Stanford shared about the number of different groups at their school.

Then we shared about our areas of study: I talked about computer science and video games, Felix shared about chemical engineering, Scott shared about work being done in his studies on energy alternatives, Ann shared about astronomy, Peter shared about philosophy, Carl shared about the humanities as a whole, and Yolanda shared about the medical field (to name a few). We prayed over all of it– it was really awesome.


Before the end of the night, we threw in a few suggestions for where we go from here. I mean, the only thing I was looking for was some encounter with God as a body of aspiring leaders in our fields and that we’d start the connections that’ve been self-evidently powerful. I mean, the only reason we were able to get all these to come was a result of the relationships that came out of my interactions. Imagine what it will be like next time, now that there are budding relationships among so many from the different schools. Ok ok, so maybe most people aren’t as time efficient towards getting to the deep stuff as I am (and by efficient, I mean pushy, haha), but these are my friends and I was truly elated when each of them came through the door that night.

I don’t want to over-think this, but I just know that when we pray, SOMETHING ALWAYS HAPPENS. I believe that when we are uncomfortable and uncertain, that’s when our faith is built up and God starts taking care of things. The fact that we’ve got things under control so much probably indicates how little we actually need to rely on God (through how we live our lives).

Jay (from UCSF) read my mind and proposed that we put together some simple talk series sharing about the things discussed that night. A bunch of other suggestions were thrown out there, like brain storming sessions and the other campuses hosting events, but I don’t think we need to plan too far ahead right now. The worst thing to do is to would be to overwhelm people by too many half-baked details. With that said, I did run off and purchase the domain name for But but but, no hurry. It could be a year before I put anything into action.

At the end of the night, people all stayed and helped to clean up. UCSF went home and UCSC went back to their retreat. Berkeley and Stanford hung around and shared a meal downstairs. More friendships in the making…

Thanks for buying me sushi, Felix, although I should have listened to Ethan and not gotten sushi from the non-Japanese vendor. I owe you both food sometime in the near future.

Me? I’m just waiting to see what God wants to do next. I believe with all my heart that major breakthrough came down on the 16th when we reclaimed our campuses, our professions, and our relationships. This is the beginning of friendships that will change the world, a love that emerges beyond convention, for some, if not all, the people who came out. Am I getting too excited again?.. Haha, sorry, I guess all I can do is wait for God to move in the hearts of “the others” whoever they may be. I’ll be praying for you in the meantime.

You don’t want to miss this 🙂 Join us for the grad winter retreat in February!

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