As I consider this month’s series on generosity, the first thing that comes to mind is the generosity I experienced during my time in seminary. As a college student, I had the opportunity to pay for the majority of my college tuition through the trust fund that my dad had left me when he passed away. In an odd way, I could see that as the Lord providing for me in that season of my life. But when the trust fund was completely used and I was going off to seminary, the concerning, anxious question began to pop in my mind: “how in the world am I going to pay for my school this time?”
Enter my grandmother.
My grandmother is one of the sweetest, godliest ladies I will ever know. We were not too close for the majority of my life, but we became so much closer after mother had passed in 2017. She had lost her husband (my grandfather), her son (my uncle), along with her daughter (my mother) in a span of four years, with both her children passing in the same year. We needed each other, and we were there for each other through many difficult times. She was so excited to hear that I was going to seminary. She was proud of me, and she knew my grandfather would have been proud of me as well. She’s always someone who prays for me, and both of our days are always brighter after we talk on the phone.
But here’s something that came out of left field for me: She said that she would love to help pay for my tuition in any way she could. Thanks to my grandfather, she was left in a solid financial situation when he passed, and she wanted to use her situation to bless me and support my studies. I couldn’t believe it! What a weight lifted off of my shoulders, and what a way to see the Lord provide!
However, while I was thankful for my grandmother being my primary spiritual and financial supporter in seminary, I didn’t want to ask her to pay for ALL of my tuition for EVERY single semester. I wasn’t totally sure she was able to do that, and I wasn’t fully comfortable in asking her to do that. I knew that I had to contribute in some way to paying for school, but I was also hoping that some other kind of help would come along.
Enter West Park Baptist Church.
Before I went to seminary, there were a few staff members that were in seminary pursuing their degree, so West Park started a seminary fund that is supported by church members who wanted to contribute to it. When I began seminary in 2018, I was put on the fund, and through the generosity of many members at West Park, many of my books and a decent portion of my tuition were paid for! West Park was already a family that took me in as one of their own, walking with me and discipling me as a new believer in Jesus. This church had given me opportunities to pursue my desire for ministry, first as a volunteer leader of students and eventually as a student ministry intern. But to also pay for my school? That was so crazy to me!
Semester by semester, somehow, someway, each class and book was getting paid for. Either by my grandmother, West Park, or both. I didn’t work a full-time job, and I didn’t need to! I was the campus mailman working 10-15 hours a week, and I had plenty of time throughout my week to focus on my classes. And this didn’t change even when the pandemic happened; when I came home because of campus being shut down, I was still able to work part-time and take classes online while my grandmother and people at West Park were assisting me.
To put things in perspective, this doesn’t happen often in seminary. There are a lot of students in seminary who aren’t in a position to take 3-4 classes a semester and work part-time, so they have to work a full-time job and balance that with their studies, leading them to only take two classes at a time. Because of that, it can take at least 5-6 years to complete a master’s degree for most students.
Fast forward to now, I am a Director of Student Ministry at West Park, graduated from Southern Seminary with a Master of Divinity, and without debt! As I reflect on my four years in seminary, I think of God’s faithfulness in leading me through difficult seasons of studying, but I also think of His provision through the generosity of the people around me. Through the prayers and the financial support of my grandmother and my church family, I was able to graduate in four years. As I look at my diploma hanging up on my office wall, I wonder what it would look like if I took it out of the frame, took a pair of scissors, and cut a couple of pieces out of it to give to my grandmother and to West Park. While neither of them would allow me to do that, it would at least express more of an appreciation that I have for them beyond words, and it would remind me further of how God provides in ways we can’t see or imagine.