Residence director doesn't leave his work at the curb

Posted: February 14, 2012

Dan Gabor doesn’t believe in leaving his work at work—and according to the guys he’s worked with, that’s what makes him extraordinary.


Dan is a residence director at Briercrest College and Seminary, and in the five years since he began, he’s walked with hundreds of high school and college students through schoolwork, relationships, confusion, joy, and faith.


In his first year on the job in the fall of 2005, he was responsible for 60 young men.


It was exciting—but intimidating. In addition to overseeing an entire dorm, he had to lead a team of four residence assistants—all of whom the previous year’s RD had selected.


Within days, Dan’s fears dissipated. Every night, he’d come home energized instead of exhausted, thinking he had the greatest job in the world.


Dan spends the better part of his day listening and occasionally offering advice—but he insists he’s not a counsellor.


It’s more like “a spiritual friendship,” he said with a thoughtful smile.


His work involves some administration and some disciplinary action, but mostly things that make him look forward to getting out of bed in the morning: listening and caring, walking and praying with people through their struggles, and watching for God’s hand in their lives.


He calls it “creating space.” By reserving judgement, asking questions, and offering encouragement rather than easy answers, he helps students make room for God to speak.


He’s modest about how his actions affect his students. “Not that I do anything, really—I’m present in those moments, not achieving those moments.”


He calls those moments—the ones when a student sees a little more of God’s greatness, or is changed because of His power—the best part of his job.


Dan is always happily surprised at his students’ openness. So many are willing to share their lives with him—even after they’re no longer his responsibility. Several of the young men Dan worked with five years ago have graduated, gotten married, and moved on—and yet they maintain significant relationships with Dan.


Josh Knowles is one of them. He works on campus while studying in the seminary, and every so often, he sits in Dan’s office to talk about life, God, and ministry.

 Knowles was one of Dan’s first RAs, and he appreciates Dan’s his genuineness and the depth of his care.


“You really get the impression that Dan doesn’t stop thinking about it when you walk out of the office,” Knowles said. He believes Dan really listens—and keeps thinking, caring, and praying when his students aren’t around.


Dan also makes students part of his own life, being real about his struggles and inviting students into his home to spend time with his wife, Penny, and their six children.


Penny has no trouble with Dan’s work and home life being so intertwined.


“When your job is caring for people, it’s hard to go away from work—but that isn’t a bad thing,” Penny said.


She spends a lot of time praying for his students. “I feel like we’re called here together.”


A lot of people would have trouble juggling it all—but Dan “never, ever seemed too busy,” Knowles said. “If it was important, it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t hesitate to pull out the (tea) kettle.”


Knowles was inspired, he said, by the fact that Dan was never willing to give up on anyone. He would never wonder whether a rebellious, angry student still belonged at Briercrest, Dan would simply watch for God to work.


He seemed to know exactly when to be frank and honest, Knowles said. When he did lay it all out for a student, he did so gently and constructively. 


Joshua St. Pierre was another student under Dan’s care during Dan’s first year in the dorm, and he tells a similar story. Until St. Pierre and his wife moved to Edmonton this summer, the two men still met regularly to talk and pray.


“Dan was great because I can count so many times when he would just come into our rooms and chill,” he said, explaining that spending time with people in paid leadership positions can be awkward because “they have to.” With Dan, though, it was “so obvious he actually cared.”


St. Pierre appreciates what he learned from Dan about joy.


“(Dan) operates out of a spirit of genuine joy about almost everything. I’ve always been impressed by that … because of that, he’s so much fun to be around.”


Dan also taught St. Pierre about grace. “He has a very full and rich understanding of grace—how he dealt with difficult people. He always seemed to know how to respond …


“He understands people in a way I haven’t ever, ever seen with anyone else. It’s crazy.”


Dan shaped who St. Pierre was as a leader. Dan hired St. Pierre and three others to work for him as RAs in Dan’s second year, but Dan later had to step into leadership in the high school dorm, leaving his team to work for a different RD.


St. Pierre didn’t mind much—he knew Dan would remain a mentor.


“I am who I am today in good part because of Dan.”