In May, as many students prepare for graduation, we are featuring reflections written by college seniors from universities across the United States. Today, we have three students from two different schools---Samford University and Grove City College---going into three different fields: accounting, nutrition, and football. Join us to celebrate their achievement and to pray for their "every good endeavor."
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Making the Face of Christ Familiar
Kelsie Baer is a graduating senior at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, where she studies accounting. She was born in Delaware and raised in Monroe, Louisiana. After graduation, Kelsie plans to stay in Birmingham to get her master's degree and then pursue a career in public accounting.
Sitting at a Desk
"Is this a waste of time?"
"I feel useless---what if this is not what I'm supposed to do for the rest of my life?"
"Is it even possible to glorify God sitting at a desk job?"
These questions were never far from my mind during a recent two-month internship at an accounting firm. For years, I have dreamed of going overseas as a missionary. During the last four years of college, I have been exposed to the reality of unreached people groups---and that the heart of God throughout the Bible is to bring the nations to himself. So now, you might ask, why on earth have I accepted a job at an accounting firm located in the buckle of the Bible Belt?
Interning at an Accounting Firm
I started college as a business major, figuring that it was as good a pick as any for someone who wanted to go overseas. Since I liked math and people, it seemed like a fine choice. As I progressed into my upper-level classes, though, I was shocked to realize that I actually enjoyed business. I've always been curious about business, the economy, and the stock market. But my classes opened up a new world to me, and I absolutely loved it.
Accounting especially caught my attention and, more surprisingly, I was good at it. I understood it and enjoyed it. And then confusion hit. I was being discipled, discipling others, learning the fullness of joy that comes in the presence of God, and I wanted to do that kind of work for the rest of my life. But at the same time, I loved my major and was eager to see what a job at an accounting firm might be like.
So I accepted an internship offer and worked about 50 hours a week during the busy season this past year, which is when all the questions began. There was never any doubt in my mind that, if I had to work, I wanted to work at this accounting firm. The work was interesting, and I loved my coworkers. For the first month, though, I constantly went back and forth about whether I should work with a company or go on staff with a vocational ministry. More than anything else, I desired to glorify God with my life. Was this really the place I could do that?
Every Area of Life
For everyone who has wondered the same things I have, let me say this clearly: the gospel transforms every area of your life. I am indebted to all the pastors, theologians, campus ministers, friends, and practitioners who have helped me understand more deeply the implications of this statement. Because the gospel transforms every area of life, I have the freedom to follow a career path and bring great glory to God with everything I do.
My vision for life hasn't changed. I still want to play an active role in seeing the gospel go forth to all nations. But now, experiences have greatly expanded my idea of what a "missionary" can be. Work is not a waste of time---it is a network of relationships, a place to glorify God with the gifts he has given, and a way to provide for those who are on support for vocational ministry purposes.
Steps of Faith
Praise God---I am slowly learning that, at 22 years old, it's okay to not have my whole life planned. Unless the Lord has other plans, I will spend the next year studying for the CPA and finishing a master's degree in accounting, after which I will work full-time in Birmingham. I am planning to go on an overseas rotation with the firm and would love to spend several years with coworkers from unreached people groups.
But today, I'm walking into a job, begging God to be faithful in keeping my eyes on him. I want to be faithful in ministry at my workplace, faithful with the money I make, and faithful to go wherever and whenever he says. When I finally see his face in heaven, I want it to be familiar---because instead of planning out my life or living in anxiety about the future, I've been looking at his face in complete trust and surrender. And I trust that he has led me to this accounting firm and that he will continue to prepare the way that he wants me to go.
Your prayers are much appreciated for me and all those like me who are about to graduate and begin learning how to follow Christ in the real world!
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Finding Satisfaction in Places of Pain and Risk
Emily Lloyd is a graduating senior at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania, where she studies biology. Growing up in a Coast Guard family, she's moved every two years but calls Kodiak, Alaska, home. While in college, Emily led inner city outreaches to Rhode Island, Project Okello, and worked as a teacher's assistant. Upon graduation, Emily will be a Boston Fellow with plans to attend graduate school and eventually work as an international nutritionist. Emily is a baker, percussionist, early morning aficionado, and crazy about her golden retrievers.
Nowhere I'd Rather Be
As I lay on my plywood mattress and listened to the goats bleating from the next rooftop, their voices combining with the Muslim call to prayer droning through our neighborhood on loudspeakers, my thoughts strayed to the hardest things. Had I accidentally given diarrhea to the young gypsy girl when I recommended too much oil in her sambar and rice? What was I supposed to do about the anger I felt toward my alcoholic neighbor who---for his own selfish purposes---kept his son from school? Could I trust a loving God who allowed so much pain? Who was I---an inexperienced college senior---to take on malnutrition in India and imagine that I could stand against systemic poverty and the Hindu and Muslim juggernauts?
It was at that moment when, more piercing than the noisiest goat, a shocking truth struck me---there was nowhere I'd rather be. This place of greatest pain and greatest risk was my greatest satisfaction, and nothing could wrench this call from me. How did I get here?
From Affection to Calling
As a freshman at Grove City College, I chose biology because I loved the subject. The eukaryotic cell---more complex than an East Coast metropolis---was a wonderland that I was eager to explore. The treadmill diehards at the gym became works of art, ligaments rippling with power and grace. On any given afternoon, you'd find me in the library pivoting my forearm to visualize the tendons and bones just beneath my skin with my "x-ray" vision. Clearly, biology was where I belonged.
Affection became calling when I learned about God's redemptive work---creation, fall, redemption, and restoration---and our role with him in it. He calls us to be his hands and his feet, to restore what is broken, to heal and bring wholeness by ministering to souls and healing bodies---as Jesus did (e.g., Mark 2:1-12; 5:21-43).
For me, the call to use biology to love the world to life compelled me daily in college. I became a better student with a higher goal than a respectable GPA or a successful career. The extent to which I applied myself mattered---in extracurricular activities, in relationships, and in academics. It mattered because I was determined never to waste an opportunity to be an agent of reconciliation to those around me and to prepare for a career doing the same.
I took electives like organic chemistry and statistics to meet graduate school prerequisites, said "yes" to every speaking engagement that crossed my path (and a hearty "no" to my shy self), wrote papers on poverty and HIV/AIDS, hosted a college panel on nutrition, and taught students about their roles in addressing brokenness during short-term missions trips. I embraced the vulnerability of servant leadership, dared to hope big, and loved the jagged people despite the likelihood of winding up bloody. Routine meal dates and weekly meetings were elevated into opportunities for one eternal soul connecting with another, and I was elated to help restore wholeness to those around me.
In time, a glorious collision occurred---my passion for biology, compassion for people in need, insatiable wanderlust, curiosity of foreign cultures, desire to glorify God with all the parts of my life---that now leads me to pursue a career as an international nutritionist. I want to love God and others by healing bodies through nutrition. With this goal in mind, I parsed the last year into three parts---an internship in Thailand, a semester in Italy, and a volunteer opportunity as a community nutritionist in India.
In Chennai, India, I worked with a sister in Christ ministering to gypsy and tribal peoples. We taught them nutrition and sanitation, focusing especially on child and maternal health. While there, I also came to know intimately the gore of suffering. The hopeless pain I saw shredded my heart, and I doubted whether God, with whom I was quite angry, could stitch it back together. Frankly, I preferred he keep his distance.
Even my stubbornness, however, was no match for a Lover who stops at nothing. While I was infuriated with the formal theological God, the Jesus whose eyes were puffy and red from crying over the brokenness of this world (e.g., John 11:35; Luke 19:41-44) refused to leave me alone. As my accusations died down to worn-out sobs, Christ whispered to me that he does not crush the bruised reed (Isaiah 42:3). He didn't tell me why the gypsy women are abused or their children starving, but he did remind me that he loves them more than I can fathom and that their pain hurts him, too. He didn't make my efforts in India very effective, but he did make it clear that he is in the business of making all things new (Revelation 21:5). He entered into the greatest suffering to bring justice, and I surrendered with quietness at his love and for letting me be part of both his cross and his triumph.
Walking Toward Suffering
Since India, I'm more determined than ever to use nutrition to bring about shalom wholeness in the way God purposes---that is, to bring "peace with God, peace with self, peace with others, and peace with creation," as Amy Sherman says in Kingdom Calling. Loving people as I walk towards their suffering terrifies me, but God is enough for today, enough for tomorrow, enough for Indian gypsies, and enough for this cracked pot putting her small faith in Christ. He is enough.
In light of this, I plan on working for a few years in Boston and then attending graduate school for nutrition and public health before returning overseas as a nutritionist. I'm eager for the future, knowing that the deluge of suffering is no match for the faithfulness and goodness of God.
Those goats in India were annoying. Ever an American, I craved chirping robins and chorusing crickets outside my window. I'll admit it: some days I fell far short of appreciating God's good creation in the goats. But I'll listen without ever tiring to one thing: Christ is reconciling all things to himself, and he wants to use someone as hopelessly inept as me to be part of making everything good. That truth will never grow old.
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From College Quarterback to High School Quarterback Coach
Ben Neill is a graduating senior at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. In college, Ben studied sports administration and business. He was a permanent team captain on the football team, led a student ministry called RANDOM, and was involved in Campus Outreach and the student athletic advisory committee. He loves to do anything outdoors and now works with D1 Sports and QB Country.
Affection for Football
In John 14:5, Thomas asks Jesus, "Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?" I have asked God this same question at many times and in many ways: Where are you going? Where are you leading me? What do I do next?
In 2009, as my high school football career was drawing to a close, I was asking this question. I loved football and didn't want it to end. After my team's last game, I bawled my eyes out over our loss. An 18-year-old boy, who thought he was a man, crying over a game . . .
But it wasn't just a game for me. Sports were how I connected with people. Football was how I loved and served others. And with the end of high school, my days with the pigskin were coming to an end---or so I thought.
Where are you going?
During those last days of high school, when I was visiting colleges and listening to my friends talk about where they were going, I felt a strange peace about attending Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. It wasn't, though, because Samford was my first choice. In fact, in some ways, it was my last. But I wanted to play football, and I knew that Samford offered the best opportunity for me to get on the field.
God may have used my love for football to get me to Samford, but he shaped my heart to love him more than football after I arrived. By freshman year, I was sitting in a Bible study with the football team and---although I didn't know it at the time---this would be the place where I would meet the man who would disciple me and the place where I would do ministry for the next four years. In his typical style, the Lord used a seemingly unlikely situation for his glory and my joy.
Where are you leading me?
Throughout my life, sports have given me ways into the lives of others. In the South, especially in the rivaled state of Alabama, there's an unbelievable infatuation with football. I played four years of college football and had a blast, but my best memories are not of winning games or playing well. My greatest memories are of seeing my life and the lives of my teammates changed by the gospel.
Football is great, but nothing compares to knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection---moving from death to life, from stone to flesh. There is no touchdown, game, or championship that compares to the victory in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:4-11). There is no fumble, interception, or loss that can separate from the love of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:18, 35-39).
What do I do next?
Approaching graduation, I'm faced again with the question: Lord, what do I do next? I weigh my options---either stick with what I have done well for 13 years in football or explore the newly found joy of doing ministry without football "in the way"? The late theologian Howard Thurman once advised, "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." What makes me come alive? Jesus has given me life, and God has given me a heart of flesh. Sharing that life with others is the obvious answer. This should be my vocation, right?
On the contrary.
I decided not to go into full-time vocational ministry because I am confident that God's passion for people is displayed in all sorts of work, including football. So I am going to stay around the game of football as a quarterback coach in Birmingham, Alabama. I pray that the Lord's name---like the fire in Jeremiah's bones (20:9)---will not remain silent in my life. I hope to be a small voice in the Lord's calling of young men to himself in the same way God used football to place me around godly men who have helped bring me closer to him.
Since God used football to change my own heart, I see how it is an incredibly strategic medium to change the hearts of others, too. Intangibles that come along with this game set the stage for the glory of God to be revealed through his faithful servants. Opportunities to show grace, servanthood, commitment, and sacrifice are abundant. Levels of trust that are created in lifelong bonds pave the way for ministry amongst peers. The sheer amount of time spent together is ideal for teammates growing in Christ together. The potential is astounding.
I'm sure that I will ask God these questions throughout my life: Where are you going? Where are you leading me? What do I do next? For now, though, he is calling me to share with young football players the answer that Jesus gave Thomas when he asked where he was going: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). And my prayer for them is the same prayer that I pray for myself--- that we might come alive in him and, in turn, love the world to life in him, too.