Besides adjusting to the academics and general flow of your particular school, another challenge lies in meeting all of your fellow students. It can be dizzying trying to remember so many new names and faces. This too is God’s providence. You’re at seminary because you’re going into some kind of ministry. Ministry in any capacity is personal. Put succinctly (if not grammatically): Ministry is people.
So, meeting people and learning their names is hard, and ministry is all about meeting people and learning their names. Hmm… Thankfully, like everything else in your life and ministry, the Lord will richly give grace for this task too if you ask Him. As believers, all of us are called to demonstrate the love of God to others. One of the first opportunities to do this occurs when you thoughtfully, intentionally, and engagingly meet someone and take care to learn their name. Besides asking the Lord to help you, here are some additional helps:
Use memory cues. For instance, if you can remember the first letter of the person’s name, you stand a better chance of remembering their whole name. Or remember something about the person and connect it somehow to their name. This means you’ll be actively listening to what they’re saying and processing the information they’re giving you at the same time. (‘Hmm, OK, Dave just said he was from Delaware”Dave from Delaware”got it!’) Active listening is hard work at first but the dividends will pay off for the rest of your ministry.
Don’t just try to remember the name, remember the person. Take the time to look into their eyes and take a mental snapshot (it only takes a second or two, really). Listen for something they reveal about themselves in the conversation and be thinking of how you can make that detail something you can pray about for them whenever they come to mind.
If you forget someone’s name don’t panic–they likely forgot your name too. Re-introduce yourself first. If they did forget your name, giving your name first is a way to care enough not to embarrass them. Simply say, ‘I’m sorry—my name is —-. I forgot your name. What is it again?’ There you have it: In less than five seconds the social faux pas is acknowledged and remedied, and no one has to feel ‘dumb’ for having forgotten yet another name.
What it all comes down to is: be more interested in meeting others than being met. Remember Paul’s word to the Philippians, ‘in humility consider others better than yourselves’ (2:3). James says, ‘If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right’ (2:8).
I’d like to include a final note about the international students you will meet. Please, please, make a point of making friends with the international students on campus! They are thousands of miles away from home and light-years outside of their comfort zone. Be encouraging about their commitment to follow God’s call on their life half-way around the world. Be empathetic to their cultural struggles and sensitive to differences. (Everyday American tendencies may come across as overwhelming or boorish to students from more socially reserved parts of the world.) Take the extra step to learn to correctly pronounce their given (as opposed to their Americanized) nameâ€”whether they use it or not. If you have the opportunity, invite them to your home; share your life with them. Your friendship, encouraging smiles, and prayers for them will mean more to them than you will ever know.