This story first appeared in the fall 2018 issue of the Arbor Light, the official magazine of Concordia University Ann Arbor.
Rev. John Rathje (’88) need look no further than his own backyard to find a mission field ripe for the harvest.
As dean of students for one of the fastest-growing college campuses in the Midwest, each day is a new opportunity for Christian witness. Rathje is charged with ensuring a safe, healthy, and positive overall experience for Concordia students, which means that in any given day his responsibilities might run the gamut from consoling a homesick freshman to mediating a conduct violation.
In short, Rathje’s charge is to foster a sense of community among CUAA’s more than 1,000-person (and growing) student body.
Rathje eagerly responds to campus changes and Concordia’s growing student population with openness, flexibility, and a willingness to communicate, especially as diversity of the student body expands across societal, subcultural, and economic spectrums. With the tangles of growth come an opportunity to expose each student to Christ, says Rathje—and to do so in an environment where students are known by name.
“Concordia’s mission is fulfilled when students are out serving Christ in the Church and the world,” says Rathje.
“We want them to be uncommon servants of Christ who listen to each other, ‘live among’ one another in community, and extend dignity to everyone they meet—and that starts with us modeling it to them during their time here at Concordia.”
To do this, Rathje has made the deliberate—albeit unconventional—decision to make his home on Concordia’s campus.
Since stepping into his position in 2013, Rathje and wife Kristin (’88) have hung their hats among the campus residential housing. Their home is located on the southeast portion of campus, and sandwiched between John Mark and Luke halls.
“Being right in the middle gives me the chance to listen and ‘live among’ in order to really love our students the best way I can,” Rathje says. “Part of that love is actually not just being compassionate but speaking truth to these students. Anything is fair game to talk about, and then we take it back to God’s Word.”
Rathje’s humble abode has afforded him various opportunities to “speak truth” to students, sometimes at unexpected times thanks to the open-door policy he keeps for both his office and his home.
No matter the topic, Rathje’s focus is to model health—in mind, body, and spirit—and to offer dignity to every student he encounters.
“It’s not by accident that we were born. Every person created is a part of God’s gift to this world,” Rathje says. “As the dean of students, I have the unique role to demonstrate how we can offer dignity to each created child of God. Because He created us, we have value.”
AT HOME AT WORK
Meet two more Concordians who have decided to “live among.” Julia Cassell (’17) is the new director of residence life at Concordia and Luke Diekevers (’18) is CUAA’s new resident director. The two moved into their on-campus homes over the summer. Under Rathje’s leadership, Cassell and Diekevers oversee the approximately 400 students who live in Concordia’s 16 residence halls, and together with graduate assistant Kenton Smith they direct a group of 18 student resident assistants.
BUILT FOR BELONGING
Ask Concordians to define the winning formula for their thriving Christian community, and they’ll offer a multitude of answers—the people, ample opportunities for spiritual growth, and professors who teach from a Christian worldview, to name a few.
Even Concordia’s residence halls are made for community. In fact, the unique design of students’ on-campus living quarters was what sealed the deal for twin sisters Esther and Emmi Schulze (’20).
During their college search process three years ago, the Brooklyn natives placed a high priority on finding a university that would allow them to feel a sense of belonging. The twins set out on a four-stop college tour through the Midwest to finalize their top picks, and as soon as they saw Concordia’s res hall setup, they knew they’d found their place.
I walked in and immediately thought, ‘I feel like I’m home,’” Esther recalls. “With most dorms, you feel somewhat restricted to your roommate, but at Concordia, I feel like I’m in a community of girls who all live together.”
Concordia’s inventive layout positions rooms around a central two-story common space with vaulted ceilings. When residents step out of their rooms, they look out onto the shared space, which is furnished with a kitchenette, couches, and a coffee table.
Esther says it’s not uncommon for a Saturday morning pancake breakfast between roommates to turn into a building-wide event, and the common area (or “CA” as it’s called) has been known to host a game or two of dodgeball with inflatable beach balls.
“It’s hard to live in the dorms and not be a part of whatever is taking place in the CA,” says Esther. “It makes it easy to connect with people.”
Learn more about life on CUAA’s campus at cuaa.edu/residence-life.
The fall Arbor Light hits mailboxes the week of October 1, 2018. View a .pdf of the Arbor Light magazine here. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, call 734-995-7317.
— Rachel Thoms served on Concordia University's Strategic Communications team from 2015-2022. Any inquiries about this story can be sent to email@example.com.
If this story has inspired you, why not explore how you can help further Concordia's mission through giving.