TIFTON — Kassandra Morris couldn’t drive any longer. She was crying and talking to God as she traveled alone to Adel after a weekend of binge, under-age drinking in Savannah with other Valdosta State University students.
The ordeal climaxed when her group lost track of a female friend who was supposed to be back at their hotel. Eventually, they found her behind a bush in a different shirt than she had been wearing earlier.
Morris calls that her moment of clarity. She was mad after allowing herself to be in that messy situation, so she packed her clothes and started driving through the darkness.
“I can’t do this,” the Anchorage, AK, native said. “So I walked into a field, got on my knees, and prayed and prayed.”
When Kassandra stood, she felt lighter and cleaner than ever before. She had decided to follow Jesus.
She made another decision. Kassandra decided to get out of Valdosta and finish her college studies elsewhere. Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) in Tifton admitted her, but she knew no one there.
“Where am I?” she asked herself. “I’m in the middle of nowhere.”
The only time Kassandra spoke during her first three days of classes was during roll call. Then she noticed Amanda Morris (no relation) in her journalism class and took a chance.
“Do you mind if I sit with you?” Kassandra asked Amanda. “I’m really lonely.”
Amanda was a leader in ABAC’s Cooperative Program-supported Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM). Kassandra was soon attending Bible studies, suppers, and other activities.
“This is home,” Kassandra concluded about BCM. “I can grow here.”
Thirty years of BCM growth
More than 30 years ago, Penny Chestnut was a career counselor at ABAC when it was a junior college. In her spare time, Chestnut worked as ABAC’s BCM director.
There was no BCM building, and every year was like a startup because student leaders were gone after two years.
The woman whom many BCM students call mom has often mentored students like Kassandra.
“She will tell you what you need to hear,” Kassandra said of Chestnut. “She practices what she preaches. She’s always there, always encouraging.”
Being always there makes for long days. The BCM meets two nights a week, and she often doesn’t get home until after 10 p.m.
“What would you do if you got home at five o’clock?” Chestnut asks.
With more than 100 students attending BCM, Chestnut has plenty to do. Tifton doesn’t offer many entertainment options for college students outside of class, so the BCM is proactive to sponsor weekend ministry events for students.
“We’re not going to spend a bunch of money on [events] unless you’re going to have God in there somewhere,” Chestnut said.
BCM’s on-campus ministry at ABAC includes volunteering at events like the recent Red Neck Olympics, sponsoring faculty breakfasts, and distributing bottled water to students on Monday mornings following a 7 a.m. prayer breakfast. Meanwhile, Chestnut reminds students to open their eyes to ministry opportunities.
“Your class is your mission field,” she tells students.
Collegians change through the years
When Chestnut began with BCM, most of the students came from solid homes. Rarely did she see evidence of abuse. Today, the issues are more severe.
“You can’t believe what’s going on,” Chestnut said. “Abuse is pretty bad.”
The family of many college students today neglected them. She describes parents as being so busy getting stuff for their children that they don’t spend time with their children. Consequently, many college students in this social media age can’t relate or even speak to others one on one, she said.
“Before you share your faith, you have to learn how to talk with people,” Chestnut said. Find a common ground like the woman at the well in John 4, she tells students. “Jesus’ common ground with her was water. I tell them to go find the water.”
Most of ABAC’s students are from rural south Georgia, and one third are agricultural majors. For the past several spring breaks, Chestnut took students to Atlanta where they rode MARTA, the city’s transit system.
“They were sitting there praying with people on MARTA,” she said.
After 30 years of BCM ministry, Chestnut remains highly motivated.
“Why would you retire from something you love?” she said.
And why would you retire from fulfilling ministry with people like Kassandra, who has since spent a year on a mission assignment in California and another summer on mission back in her native Alaska. Locally, she serves as a church youth minister.
Kassandra will graduate this December with a degree in business and economic development. Her plan is to follow God’s leadership.
“They (BCM) made sure the things planted in me would grow,” Kassandra said.