James Wilson was a freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1971, the first year the CCO placed staff on campus. Today, Jim is an Assistant United States Attorney based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has been a federal prosecutor since 1985, and he also spent eight months in Iraq, helping to try people for war crimes. Jim lives in Pittsburgh and worships at Church of the Ascension.
I started my career as a federal prosecutor in 1985. I prosecute mostly white collar crime, which involves insurance fraud, public corruption, tax offenses, and things of that nature. In the past, I have done a wide variety of criminal prosecution involving gang cases, drug cases, homicides, rapes, robberies—the garden variety of human activity that we would rather not look at.
Because of the CCO’s influence, I have this little voice in the back of my head that constantly requires excellence. When I’m tired, when I’m fatigued, when I would rather take the easier way out, I’m not allowed to do that. I’m not allowed to do that because I learned a number of years ago from a very a very persistent staff person that you do your work as unto the Lord.
When I came on campus for the first time, I was a small town boy from a blue collar family, and I was looking to explore, can we say, the “social freedoms” of university life. The Lord had other plans, because I ran into a CCO staff worker who had the effect of one pinball hitting another and kind of knocking me off course. He had a different set of priorities for me, which had to do with focusing on academics, focusing on relationships, and focusing on the fact that my view of God’s world was altogether too constricted. That if Jesus was Lord at all, He was Lord not just over my inner feelings and my church life, but He was Lord over whatever profession or vocation I thought I might eventually be interested in. And that was a troubling idea, because it required me to work a whole lot harder than I actually wanted to.
I was fortunate in that, when I arrived on campus at IUP in the fall of 1971, I ran into a guy who was a newly minted staff person working for the CCO in its first year of existence. He didn’t know any better than to just keep showing up, trying to involve us in all types of Bible studies, but he took us beyond that. He took us to the implications of our faith. A lot of us hadn’t thought about that in a serious way before. For many of us, it was about our religious life or “Christian” life, which pretty much had to do with the church and our inner feelings, and then, there’s all the rest of life. One of the things that Dave woke us up to is that the Lord is very much concerned with all of rest of life too. That was a great awakening for a lot of us.
I can say with confidence that the CCO has affected the trajectory of my own life in a number of ways. The CCO has been that little voice in the back of my head that demands excellence, that demands faithfulness, that tells me that in the long run, people are important, and therefore relationships have a very, very high value. Relationships with people, with co-workers, with family members, really are the sum and substance of life. I learned from the CCO that those relationships don’t just happen, you have to work at them. And you have to be purposeful in relationships in a prayerful and intelligent way.
Professionally, the CCO has always called me to excellence. So when I would rather take an easier route, when I would rather relax a little bit, I have this nagging voice in the back of my head that my work is unto the Lord. And therefore I end up having to do it in the best way I possibly can. It may not always be a great way, but it’s the best effort that I can give. And the heritage of that in my own life is a direct result of a relationship with people in the CCO, who opened me up to the fact that my professional life is every bit as important as my inner life, my inner thoughts, and my supposedly religious life.
One of the things that I learned from the CCO staff person that was on my campus was that good enough wasn’t good enough. Excellence was required, and that’s been a persistent, and I might say, troubling idea over the course of my professional career. There are times in my work life where I’d like to coast. I’d like to take it easy. And this little voice in the back of my head doesn’t let me do that because, as was explained to me more than 30 years ago, I work as unto the Lord. And whatever it is that I do, I’m called to do. And the work is worthy of the best effort that I have, and that is a real pain.
I have stayed in touch with the ministry of the CCO throughout the years, with law students and medical students and others, and have been able to foster continuing relationships with people who are now professionals, professors at universities, ministers, and so forth. It’s been a great experience.
—James Wilson, Indiana University of Pennsylvania 1975 | August 2008