Overcoming odds the theme of Divinity School Commissioning Service

BUIES CREEK – The calling. It’s the one thing, most Divinity School students will say, that led them on the path of a career in the ministry.

For Kenny Vandergriff and Amber Myers, that calling didn’t come until after their undergraduate studies. For Vandergriff, it didn’t come until years later.

“For years, I knew this is what I wanted to do, but I kind of ran from it,” said the 32-year-old Vandergriff, who earned his degree in history. “It came down to a leap of faith. I stopped running, and I’m where God wants me now.”

He and Myers were among the eight students welcomed into Campbell Divinity on Feb. 7 at the School’s annual Service of Convocation and Commissioning in Butler Chapel. The service featured keynote speaker Dr. David Moffitt, a professor of New Testament and Greek at Campbell, published author and graduate of Duke Divinity.

Challenging Vandergriff, Myers and their classmates to not back down from perceived insurmountable tasks, Myers compared the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with a loaf of bread and a few fish with the Gospel of George Lucas … i.e., the sci-fi film, “The Empire Strikes Back.”

In the film, he said, the hero Luke Skywalker is stuck on a swamp planet and has to get back to his friends who are in danger. His Jedi mentor, Yoda, tells him he can leave if he lifts his ship out of the swamp … a task Skywalker deems impossible.

“Then along comes this little green guy, all 900 years of him, and he lifts the ship out,” Moffitt said. “To which Luke says, ‘I don’t believe it.’ And Yoda replies, ‘That is why you fail.’”

Moffitt said that scene connects with Jesus’ disciples, who also didn’t believe he could feed the hungry with so little.

“The disciples had forgotten to have faith that when God commands us to do what looks impossible, God will do the impossible through us,” Moffitt said. “It’s a story that resonates in each one of us, especially as we answer the call of the ministry.”

And it was a story that resonated with Vandergriff, who worked his way through Campbell University’s RTP campus while working full-time in retail to earn his bachelor’s degree in history. Several things, he said, kept him away from the ministry, chief among them a bad marriage that ended in divorce. It wasn’t until he began dating his current wife when he began thinking of the ministry again.

“I told her that at some point, I’d be going to Divinity School, and if that scared her, then perhaps it wasn’t going to work out between us,” Vandergriff said. “Six months earlier, she had accepted Christ, and she told me to go for it.”

That was four years ago. It took an anniversary trip to San Antonio last April for Vandergriff to break the news he was going to apply for Campbell Divinity.

“I would have been here in the fall, but I missed the application deadline,” he said. “But I’m happy to be here today.”

Like Vandergriff, Myers wasn’t thinking of a career in the ministry as a graphic design major at High Point University. The 23-year-old Lexington native said she did want a career in designing in a ministry setting, but the jobs weren’t out there after she graduated last spring.

Then she took a mission trip over the summer to Brazil to help disadvantaged children. It was there, Myers said, where she received her calling.

“In Brazil, I had the opportunity to preach and be in my element,” she said, “and I felt that this was where God wanted me to be permanently. I liked graphic design and that whole filed, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about. I’ve found that now.”

Myers said she chose Campbell because its male-to-female ratio (60-40 men to women, she said) was more even than other universities offering similar programs.

“As a woman, I felt accepted here, and I felt I could have a part in the ministry equally as important as anybody else,” she said.

Vandergriff chose Campbell for several reasons, one of them being the University’s stance on accepting students with circumstances other universities may scoff at. In his case, his divorce.

“I also liked Campbell because they’re keeping with the times and moving forward within this post-modern world,” he said. “They teach from that perspective as opposed to the old style, which focused very much on content and assumed you’d learn to minister later. Campbell is more ministry focused, and that was one of the biggest keys for me.”

The two are currently enrolled in courses like “Intro to Theological Education” and “Life and Works of a Minister,” and both will need 90 semester hours to earn their graduate degrees. Vandergriff, who wants to be a chaplain in an assisted living setting to help what he calls an underserved segment of the population, said the biggest difference in graduate school is the sheer volume of work involved.

“You cover so much material in your once-a-week, two-hour class, and you have to read so much between classes, it’s demanding,” he said.

For Myers, who wants to minister to urban families and children after graduation, said she enjoys the fact that her classmates have different backgrounds, but each have similar goals thanks to their calling.

“It’s nice to be in a classroom where everyone is heading in the same direction,” she said.

According to Moffitt, their next four years will be a challenge. But like the chapter in Mark … and like the scene in Star Wars … overcoming that challenge will make them better and will go a long way in making believers of the people they serve.

“Each one of us can look back and see the hand of God working in our lives,” Moffitt said. “Each one of us has been called, and each one of us can testify to the ways God brought us to this place. Some have been on more amazing and successful missions than others. Nevertheless, each one of us can give word praising God and telling how he has provided even when it looked impossible.

“When our God commands us, he provides us with what needs to be done.


Story and photo by Billy Liggett, Assistant Director for Publications