By Grant Lilford
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Ps 133:1)
I was attending a conference at another Christian college when a friend of Brewton-Parker walked over and introduced himself. He had spent time working at our college and wanted to meet me.
“Look around you,” he said. “BPC is far more diverse than this school.”
In his time on BPC’s campus, the variety of people, cultures, and languages had really captured his attention. Statistically, BPC displays a diversity of background and experience that would be the envy of far wealthier schools, who make a far more conscious commitment to diversity and attempt to achieve that commitment by meeting quotas and promoting different interest groups.
At BPC, our commitment is not to diversity for its own sake, but to share the love of Jesus Christ to all people. As a result, we welcome people as individuals. We strive to apply 1 Sam, 16:7:
“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’”
Because Jesus can see into our hearts, in the Gospels He ministers to a diverse group of people. Outwardly, the people of his day saw Pharisees, Samaritans, fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, rich young men, lepers, beggars, and Roman soldiers. They judged them by the languages they spoke, the clothes they wore, their social and religious status, and the other outward signs of their existence.
But Jesus saw into them. He saw the virtue in a prostitute’s repentance and the deep emptiness in the life of a young man who seemed to have everything. He understood that Nicodemus was a Pharisee who genuinely strove for the truth in God’s Law but that Caiaphas was only interested in extolling his own righteousness.
Because Jesus sees our hearts, He knows our potential and our needs. As a Christian teacher, I strive to help each student recognize his or her potential. As a teacher, my role is to see the forensic scientist within the softball player, the novelist within the bass fisherman, or the preacher within the basketball player. But I need to look even deeper, to see each of us as we are: actual or potential children of God by adoption, sinners wrestling with, and sometimes succumbing to, temptation, and bearers of multiple God-given gifts and talents. More importantly, I am called to see my students as so beloved of Jesus that He gave his life for each one.
Jesus’ final charge to Peter, repeated thrice, was “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). As a Christian teacher, I treat this charge as sacred.
BPC nourishes its students in three ways
Firstly, we provide them with the concrete skills necessary to earn a living and feed a family. Secondly, we provide them with the intellectual nourishment necessary to appreciate the greatness of God, the wonder of His Creation, and the diversity of human responses to both. Thirdly, and most importantly, we nourish our students by leading them toward a relationship with the risen Savior. In this Scripture, Jesus was not only talking about disciples or church members; He calls us to nourish all people in all three ways.
BPC does not require a statement of faith from our students, even as we are very diligent in ensuring that our faculty and staff are mature Christians who wholeheartedly endorse the Baptist Faith and Message. We do not want to entrust the Lord’s sheep to false teachers (Matt. 23:13-15).
We provide any student who comes here with physical, intellectual, and, most importantly, spiritual nourishment. While our on-campus revivals and other missionary initiatives bear a great deal of fruit, we also recognize that we may plant a seed in a classroom or during practice, chapel service, or concert that will bear great fruit in God’s time. We also know that by sharing the love of Jesus Christ as faculty, staff, and students, we may lead others to know Him.
BPC nourishes its students intellectually by ensuring that its most experienced professors teach entry level courses. This nourishment is different from many larger institutions, where teaching assistants teach freshmen and senior professors teach graduate students who work as teaching assistants.
I am no exception at BPC. In Spring 2019, I taught four sections of freshman composition, as well as an upper-level seminar in African Literature, which is my area of expertise. My English 101 class, which met Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00 to 3:20 pm, was a study in diversity. I had students from Brazil, Curaçao, Grenada, Belize, and the United States. The American students came from Michigan, Alabama, Florida, Delaware, Texas, and Georgia. As with most classes at BPC, students of African and Latino descent were well represented. Several students were bilingual, and some were fluent in three or four languages.
My textbook for English 101 and 102 is “The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric” by Sister Miriam Joseph. First published in 1944, and updated in 2016, this textbook provides a classical and Christian approach to the study of thought, language, and writing. Unlike more recent composition texts, “The Trivium” recognizes that Truth is real and objective. It promotes the Liberal Arts as a means of educating the whole person. I base class assignments on “The Trivium.” One assignment encourages the students to explore the useful arts, such as cooking, carpentry, and auto mechanics, as part of their liberal education.
In this class, students revealed a great deal about their practical skills and about the family members who taught them those skills: the grandfather who taught her carpentry or the father who taught him how to be a stucco mason. Students who wrote about cooking told me of a grandmother who passed down an old family recipe. In another assignment, students wrote about their own relationship to idiolect, dialect, and language. Idiolect is one’s unique personal way of speaking, dialect is what joins the speaker to a linguistic community, and language is the standard form found in dictionaries and grammars.
Another assignment asks a student to interview a friend or relative who was an eyewitness to history and write a compelling narrative based on the interview. Each of these assignments allows me to know my students better – to see beyond visible diversity and gain a glimpse into their lives and the important relationships in them. Teaching composition offers me a brief chance to see my students as Jesus sees them: the heart, not the outward appearance.
Because we first seek the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, many gifts are added unto us (Matt. 6:33). One of these gifts is diversity. At times BPC offers us a foretaste of the Revelation:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands (7:9).”
This diversity in Christ allows students to learn from one another and helps professors – like me – to learn a great deal from our students.
Grant Lilford is a professor at Brewton-Parker College. This article was originally published in Brewton-Parker College’s “The Lamp.”