Luke Foster, CC ’15, may have been twenty minutes late for our breakfast interview at Ferris, but I took the Lord’s name in vain five seconds after he arrived. I didn’t say anything at the time, though I did tweet about it later. Luke—whose family has worked as Christian missionaries in Africa since 1917—found my tweet and threw me a bone. “Hahaha quite all right. :),” he responded. Then he followed me on Twitter.
Luke grew up in Gurúè, Mozambique, where, 30 years ago, despite the threat of a Communist regime, his parents traveled to embark on an extensive project translating the Bible into a local dialect. After a childhood shaped by his family’s faith and dedication to charity, Luke left his hometown, which he describes as “a large village in a mountain valley surrounded by tea fields,” and headed across the world to attend Columbia.
Nowadays, Luke is well-known as a public face of the Christian community on campus. He’s a columnist for Spec (where, si nce his first semester at Columbia, he has written over 40 articles), founder of the John Jay Society, an active member of the Veritas Forum, a member of Columbia Faith and Action, and involved with the Love and Fidelity Network, which promotes “marriage, family, and sexual integrity” on college campuses. He’s also a self-identified Anglophile, conservative, romantic, and One Direction fan.
Despite all this, Luke made a point to direct the conversation away from what makes him extraordinary. Not because he is ashamed of where he comes from or what he believes, but because he ultimately looks at himself as part of a much bigger whole—his family history and home country are integral to how he talks about himself. This is most obvious when he responds to simple questions, ones that most people would see as having clear-cut answers. When I asked how he ended up at Columbia, he began by saying, “There are many pieces to that story, many of which I don’t know.” For Luke, nothing is “a no matter what.” Nearly every decision involves a consideration of his family, the family he hopes to start a few years down the line, his home country, and most importantly, his faith.
As such, Luke is constantly in the process of distinguishing himself from the secular, left-wing Columbia norm. He knows that unfortunately for him, it is just these particular commitments that separate him from the pack. But Luke looks at his engagement in campus dialogue as a way for him to advocate on behalf of a minority perspective, calling the work “swimming upstream.” His faith makes it bearable. While he tells me that he’s occasionally upset about the status quo on campus, Luke chooses to use this frustration as fuel for his work. He believes conservative voices are essential to healthy discussions and he’s eager to bring them to the forefront at Columbia.
Luke loves to talk, saying conversation with anyone is always welcome to him, even when their views are less so. While I probably cringed when Luke identified as pro-life, he didn’t treat me with hostility. This is a big part of his leadership role in the Veritas Forum, a conversation-based organization which puts on events with names like “A dialogue between a Christian and an atheist”. Luke said that “bringing people together across different worldviews, without relinquishing their unique truth claims” to have difficult and good conversations” helped him formulate his identity, which he describes as “insider/outsider.” His ability to navigate this dynamic was clear during our interview.
Either because he butts heads ideologically with people so frequently at Columbia, or because his faith makes him a very generous person, Luke knows how to engage with touchy topics and leave unscathed. Reflecting on our conversation later that day, I found that Luke’s discussion of personal integrity and positivity made me feel validated in an unfamiliar way. Luke made me feel like a good person. Even when I uttered blasphemous expletives.