When it was founded by U.S. missionary William Baird in 1897, Soongsil University here had 13 students.

115 years later, the university has about 17,000 students and campuses in countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

“We welcome you all in the name of Jesus Christ,” said university President Dae-Keun Kim Sept. 19, adding that Soongsil is indebted to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“You have more than repaid (your debt),” said Elder Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, praising the university’s commitment to its motto of “truth and service.”

Valentine and other leaders in the PC(USA) were in Korea as part of a delegation to help celebrate the Presbyterian Church of Korea’s 100th anniversary and General Assembly.

Soongsil is Korea’s first accredited four-year university and is home to the country’s first computer science department, founded in 1968.

The Rev. Chip Hardwick, director of the PC(USA)’s Office of Theology, Worship and Education, preached at a lunchtime chapel service for students, faculty and staff. About a quarter of Soongsil students are Christian.

Preaching on Matthew 25:1-13, Hardwick talked about the parable of the 10 bridesmaids waiting for the groom. Five of the bridesmaids did not bring enough oil for their lamps, had to go buy more, and therefore missed the arrival of the groom and were shut out of the wedding.

The story is an allegory for Jesus’ return, Hardwick said. The wedding banquet is the kingdom of heaven, the groom’s delay is the period of waiting for Jesus and the closed door is the final judgment.

People debate on the significance of the oil ― some say it represents faith while others say it symbolizes piety or love.

But Hardwick thinks the oil represents our actions as related to Christ’s call.

“This is where the parable gets a little awkward and a little scary,” he said.

On one hand, it’s easy to feel sympathy for the foolish bridesmaids who run out of oil. Why don’t the other bridesmaids share their oil? Why doesn’t the groom let them in the banquet anyway? 

But the bridesmaids knew what they had to do and didn’t do it.

“All they had to do was prepare,” Hardwick said. “They weren’t prepared. And they were not the only ones.

“We know full well what Jesus would have us do — and we don’t do it.”

Soongsil’s motto of “truth and service” states that our beliefs simply aren’t enough. Our actions matter too.

Actions “indicate more than just head knowledge,” Hardwick said.

When the groom finally arrived, the bridesmaids had to be ready. The shouts announcing his arrival signaled a moment of truth.

“Someday we’re going to hear that shout too,” Hardwick said.

In the meantime, we can listen for whispers of warning. When we’re tempted to cheat in class, when we tell a white lie, when we don’t forgive others, we can hear a still, small voice.

“It’s not yet a shout, but it’s building up to that,” Hardwick said. “We can’t have an intellectual faith that doesn’t impact the way we live in every part of our life.”

But if we let those whispers change us, the shout turns from a warning into a promise of a grand feast.