I jumped into the activities of my newly adopted parish and faith with both feet. I immediately started attending Sunday School, worship on Sunday morning and evening, a college Bible study on Friday evenings (more on this later), and I even joined the college choir. Despite all my church activity, however, my spiritual growth was minimal. Sadly, no one at the church took me under his wing and mentored me in the spiritual life. And I was too young and spiritually immature to know to seek someone out. As a result, I lived a life that was almost exactly the same as the one that I had led before my conversion, with little or no evidence of the change that the Gospel can bring.
One of the church activities that I became involved with was a weekly Friday night Bible study series that was held in one of several church members’ homes. This study would draw anywhere between 50-100 college students each week. Best of all, the host fed us each week! At about the third study I attended, during the pre-study meal, I found myself at a table with three girls. The one across from me was a preacher’s daughter from Texarkana, Texas. She was a diminutive, soft-spoken and very attractive blond named Jennifer Tuckett. We quickly became friends, although I soon began dating another girl.
After a couple of months, however, that relationship fell apart, and I decided to call Jennifer and ask her if she would like to go out with me. To my delight, she agreed! Soon, we began to date regularly, and by the end of 1989, we were sure that we were in love. In September of the following year, we were married. Three months later, I graduated from college and accepted a position as an electrical engineer with International Paper in Georgetown, South Carolina. I was not excited about the prospect of working in a paper mill, much less one halfway around the country, but it was the only decent firm job offer that I had, and Jennifer and I felt that we had no other choice. Little did I know that God would use our experience in South Carolina to lead us down a path that we had not envisioned at all.
In the small town in South Carolina where we lived, there was little to do other than go to church. So, we did—every time it was open. Freed from the distractions of my college life, I finally began to grow spiritually. At the same time, however, I became increasingly dissatisfied with my job. I had actually lost all interest in Engineering during college and had seriously considered changing my major to History twice. But my father used a “carrot-and-stick” approach (heavy on the stick!) to persuade me to stay with engineering. Plus, I kept hearing from professors and fellow students that working in the “real world” was much more enjoyable than school. So, I had decided to stick it out.
Unfortunately, I found that working in the “real world” (or at least in my job) was no more enjoyable than school had been. After about nine months on the job, I decided to apply to some Masters’ degree programs in History. Jennifer and I and our new baby daughter Audrey would return to Texas, I would earn a Master’s and a PhD in History, and then I would get a job somewhere as a History professor
When I spoke to my pastor about my plans, he suggested that I consider working toward becoming a Church History professor in a Baptist seminary. I thought, “Why not? It’s worth a look!” and I sent off for a catalog from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. After receiving the catalog, I read through it and soon realized that to become a professor in seminary, I would first have to take a bunch of courses that I had little interest in, such as Greek, Hebrew, and Theology. I just wanted to study History! So, I filed the catalog away on the shelf, thinking I would never look at it again.
But God had other plans for me. One day in December of 1991 I was not feeling well, and so I stayed home from work. That afternoon, I was sitting at my desk, and all of a sudden, something (or someOne) directed my attention toward the seminary catalog that was still on my shelf. In an instant, I somehow knew that God wanted me to go to that seminary and study toward a career in full-time Christian ministry. My desire to begin a Master’s program in History (along with about $100 in application fees) was instantly gone. Although I heard no audible voice, I feel that this was God speaking to me, through my heart and my mind.
So, Jennifer and I began plans to return to Texas and for me to begin seminary. I began teaching Sunday School and even to preach when our pastor was absent. We were excited about returning to Texas, almost euphoric. That is, we were until the reality of what we were about to do hit home.