Marshall anchors the eastern entrance to Texas near where Interstate 20 crosses from Louisiana. It is a smaller city that is home to East Texas Baptist University, which sits on a hill in the northwest portion of the city.
Once the fourth largest city in Texas (1860), Marshall has been an important community both for the state and its Baptists. Marshall has been a key transportation hub -- first as a stagecoach route, then a railroad center and now with highways (I-20 and U.S. Hwy. 59). But it’s the school on the hill that has been the Marshall focus for Texas Baptists.
Blair Blackburn is the newest president of ETBU. He and I visited Wednesday when I was in Marshall for the first Maston Lecture on the campus. I came away from the conversation excited in a new way about the potential of ETBU to positively impact the lives of students and the city where it resides.
Blackburn, in speaking to ministry students gathered for the Maston Lecture, spoke of the importance of the students being involved in church and community ministry now, while students, not just waiting until graduation. And the university plans to facilitate that involvement.
Any of us who have been involved in vocational ministry for a long time understand the importance of what Blackburn said. When a person feels a call to a ministry career, it is critical to figuratively roll up one’s sleeves and get to work in church and beyond-church ministry as quickly as possible. When such work is done hand-in-hand with a good education, a person is allowing God to shape them well for a lifetime of effective work in building up God’s kingdom.
Texas Baptists have nine universities involved in this process of educating future church leaders -- some who will be vocational ministers and others who will be leading their churches and communities through other vocations. No other state convention in the United States is so committed to the education of the next generation. A good portion of every dollar given to the
BGCT Cooperative Program goes to supporting ministry students at these colleges.
ETBU holds a special place in my heart because I spent seven years in Marshall as a committed church member after my graduation from college at what is now Texas A&M-Commerce. As a reporter and then editor for the Marshall News Messenger and as a member of Port Caddo Baptist Church, the community of Marshall did much to help me get my start in adult life. I also married a “Marshall girl” -- Trese Hill.
I’m personally excited about ETBU and Marshall’s future. Both the school and the community have a new leader in their midst, and he is a leader motivated by the same things that motivated Jesus -- love for God and love for neighbor.
I’m professionally encouraged because the Christian Life Commission seeks to help Texas Baptists engage positively with their communities by stressing the importance of ethics, justice, public policy, and hunger and care ministries.
Texas Baptists with a direct connection to ETBU and/or Marshall have reason to be encouraged. Those with no direct connection can know that they are supporting ETBU through their BGCT Cooperative Program gifts and they can be a great prayer supporter from hundreds of miles away.
ETBU is not alone. Our universities may have football, basketball, and other sports teams, but the most important teams on their campuses are the ministry teams that can change churches and whole communities now and for lifetimes.