Dr. Gilmour Shares Faith Through Relationships

By Hannah Walters ’16
Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dr. Tim GilmourIn the mid-19th century, Scottish theologian James Denney wrote, “No man can give at once the impression that he himself is clever and that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.”

In present-day Northwest Arkansas, one of JBU’s engineering professors has adopted this simple yet powerful statement as words to live by.

Dr. Tim Gilmour occupies an unassuming office on the first floor of the Balzer Technology Center. A mountain of books, stacked expertly like Jenga blocks, rests against the office window facing the hallway.  The spines are turned outward so passersby can read the titles. They range in topic from theology and apologetics to missionary biographies and Christian living.  At the top of the stack, a small sign advertises that the books are available for borrowing. 

The book stack represents Gilmour’s love of learning, as well as his belief that students should read and pursue knowledge outside of their class requirements. After all, it was a love of independent learning that led Gilmour to engineering in the first place.

Gilmour grew up in New Jersey, where he discovered his passion for figuring out how things worked.

“When I was younger, I enjoyed technology and electronics, and I would play around with motors and lights and batteries in the basement,” he said. 

His fascination with electrical concepts led him to pursue a degree in engineering from Cedarville University in Ohio. During his senior year at Cedarville, Gilmour had grown skeptical about church and Christianity, and felt that many people were merely putting on a Christian face and were not thinking deeply about spiritual concerns.

When Gilmour graduated, he felt that he had only scratched the surface of what there was to learn, and began post-grad work at Penn State. He started attending a church that he says was vibrantly alive and full of genuine believers who encouraged each other in the faith.

“For the first time in my life I really enjoyed going to church,” Gilmour said.  “It was no longer a ritual that had to be done on Sundays, but instead was about spending time with some other adopted children of God, fellowshipping together like expatriates in a foreign country gathering together to talk in their mother tongue and count the days until they could return to their home country.”

As Gilmour was completing his doctoral research in biomedical engineering, JBU was looking for a professor of engineering. In 2012, Gilmour came to teach at JBU.

“I had never heard of JBU before,” Gilmour said.  But he was won over by the welcoming atmosphere and enjoyed the area. Central Pennsylvania, Gilmour explained, is similar to Northwest Arkansas in topography, climate and culture, so the move wasn’t a difficult one.

After four years, Gilmour says his favorite part of the job is the moment when a struggling student grasps a difficult concept.

“I can see the light come on,” he said.  “I also love when a former student comes back to me years later and says they’re using the things I taught them in class.”

Gilmour is known throughout the department for having groups of students over to his house for dinner parties several times each semester. 

“It’s a chance for me to show hospitality and to get to know my students better,” he said.

Gilmour’s love of his students drives his actions in and out of the classroom.  He cares not only for their academic success, but also for their development as individual learners and the growth of their spiritual lives.

“I want them to have a close relationship with Jesus, and a sense of gratitude for everything he’s done for us,” said Gilmour.  “I also want my students to have a motivation for learning, even after graduation when they’re no longer required to learn.”

He encourages his students to be intentional about getting closer to God and emphasizes that life passes quickly, leaving us standing before God to give an account of our time.

Gilmour’s passion for the gospel and the Great Commission have led him to seek out opportunities to go to closed countries that are typically hostile to Christianity. He has spent three summers at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) in North Korea, teaching engineering to students who have never before interacted with the Western world.

PUST is the first private university in North Korea, operated and funded by South Korea, the United States and China.  It first opened its doors in 2010.  North Korean students study English and Mandarin in addition to science and technology classes. The goal of the university is to modernize North Korea and revive its impoverished economy. Most professors, like Gilmour, teach on a volunteer basis or are sponsored by churches. 

With relations between the U.S. and North Korea being tenuous, Gilmour said many people ask him if the concepts he’s teaching North Korean students can be harmful to the U.S. 

“The concepts of engineering that I teach are things they could learn in their own universities,” Gilmour said.  “What they can’t get from their own schools is information about the outside world.”

While he is not able to speak freely about God in the classroom, Gilmour’s intent is to build trust-based friendships with his Korean students.  Outside the classroom, he eats meals and plays sports with the students and staff
of PUST.

“If I can build relationships while teaching,” he said, “I have the opportunity for conversations of eternal value.”

Whether at home or abroad, teaching or building relationships, at the end of the day, Gilmour draws his strength, purpose and joy from Christ. In each situation he encounters he asks, “Whose opinion and approval matters most?   Whose opinion will we be concerned more about 1 million years from today? I have to point people to Jesus, not to myself.” 

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