How can Christians advance to higher positions of leadership in society? By increasing their knowledge of truth, passionately defending their beliefs, and civilly persuading others, say Bob and Jean Svoboda. To encourage students to acquire these characteristics, they sponsored a debate and essay contest at Westmont last semester.
Bob, who retired in 1991 as the former owner, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of California Thrift and Loan, competed on his college debate team and earned a National Debating Society key. He considers this experience an invaluable part of his education and excellent preparation for his careers in insurance, resort development, and banking.
Jean, who was involved in the manufacture and retail sale of Hawaiian clothing, won awards for declamation as a girl and worked on her public speaking. She also became a good writer by writing extensively to complete schoolwork missed during a long illness. These skills helped her succeed as a prominent member of the Hawaii Fashion Group.
Knowing the benefits of strong communication skills, the Svobodas contacted West-mont and proposed funding an intramural debate tournament and essay contest. The tournament involved 128 debaters who won $3,000 in prizes, and the contest attracted 54 writers who competed for awards totaling $2,900 (see related story on page 11).
Participants in these events say they learned a great deal. “After this contest, I honestly feel that no single activity better develops the mind than debate,” wrote one of the winners. “Intent listening, rapid analysis, logical thought, and articulate expression are all at the heart of the defense and expression of what we as Christians believe.”
Bob and Jean agree with this assessment and want to invest in Christian students willing to compete in debating and writing and so develop essential communication skills. Concerned that public discourse—and public schools —simply ignore Christianity, they contend that believers need to “stand up and be heard in a proper and convincing fashion. Blending passion and civility with a clearly articulated, well-defended position will help Christians win a hearing for their beliefs.”
According to Bob, the benefits of thinking critically and communicating with expertise include “better representing God in sharing his message and preparation for demanding leadership careers.”
“Good communicators,” Jean adds, “can rise to positions of greater influence in all walks of life. They can also identify and use their God-given talents to further the Kingdom.”
Bob and Jean are concerned about glib speakers who pervert the truth and social engineers who rewrite history. They encourage students to understand the importance of our American and Christian/ Judeo heritage, including the writings of our founding fathers, documents establishing our form of government, and extraordinary heroes and events in American history.
The Svobodas also want to bring together Christian pastors who will assume leadership beyond their congregations and forge a common vision for the community. By funding a lecture series and time of fellowship on neutral territory at Westmont last year, they hope they encouraged Christian leaders to work together as fellow evangelists.
Seeing such needs, Bob and Jean ask, “If not now, when? If not us, who?” And being faithful and discerning stewards, they take action.