In August of 2005 the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history befell the Gulf Coast region, and although unknown to me at the time, this event would affect and shape my life in powerful ways. What began as a weekend of volunteering in Long Beach, Mississippi, turned into two plus years of rebuilding homes and lives. I served as the Rebuilding Coordinator at a Methodist church in Gulfport, where we hosted one hundred plus volunteers per week from across the country. Rebuilding homes also meant spending a great deal of time at Lowe’s and Home Depot! There was much cleaning up to do in the beginning, later there was much sheetrock to be hung, and there were always many hugs and much hope to be shared. My experience on the Mississippi Gulf Coast coordinating volunteers and working with homeowners to rebuild is an experience that has forever shaped who I am and how I understand ministry. It was in the midst of my experience on the coast that I was able to further discern and clarify my call to ministry.
In the very dark days in the aftermath of the storm, I became acutely aware of the power of ministry in the lives of hurting people. I became acutely aware of the gift of a volunteer’s presence in a non-inhabitable, hurricane destroyed, shell of a home. I became acutely aware of the gift of listening to the stories of those who had experienced and lost so much. Through powerful experiences such as these I was able to answer the question on divinity school applications about ‘why I feel called to ministry as a vocation.’
After answering this question on various applications, the time came to make a decision about where I would being my theological education. After looking at other schools, one of the most striking things to me about this divinity school was that I felt the faculty and staff here were truly interested in who I am and what kind of ministry I feel called to. This was of particular interest to me because I feel called to some kind of community ministry, being engaged in the nitty-gritty of people’s lives, specifically in the midst of communities with significant physical needs. I was looking for a school that would provide something more than a pre-packaged, streamlined, one track-oriented program for ministry. I feel the Wake Forest School of Divinity is not only willing to help nurture and prepare me for such a ministry but also has the capability and the resources to do so.
The fact that many of you give so generously to endowed scholarships for students is evidence of your commitment to providing such opportunities and resources for students. As the recipient of the Charles R. Council Scholarship, I understand fully the importance of such giving. I am not sure I can truly express my deep gratitude and thanks for such a scholarship. The opportunity to learn, to discern, and to be challenged at a place like the Wake Forest School of Divinity is a gift in and of itself. But, the opportunity to be in this place without accruing additional debt, is phenomenal. This scholarship made my decision to come to Wake a much easier one, and I am forever thankful for the generosity of the Council’s and others like yourselves. Your generosity provides real opportunities for students to follow and pursue the call upon their lives.
When I came to visit the divinity school, the Dean said to me, “Here you will have the opportunity to entrepreneur your own degree.” I have found that this was not just good PR on the dean’s part. Its true. Whether an independent study, a ‘specialized internship,’ or a summer project, the opportunities are endless. I have found that new ideas and projects are met with an energy and a zest that is rare in an educational institution. Whatever it is that students feel called to, whatever it is they feel they need to best prepare for that calling, Wake Forest University School of Divinity is a place that will walk with students on that journey.
Thank you for being an important part of such a journey in my life and the lives of the many students who are the recipients of your generous giving.