My Story Matters; My Calling Matters
By Alicia R. Jackson
I’ll never forget sitting in my car in the Smith parking lot, feeling excited but terrified to take my first Vanguard University class from Dr. William C. Williams in Intermediate Hebrew. To say that I felt nervous and apprehensive was an understatement. I had taken one year of Hebrew several years earlier, but my Hebrew was rusty at best. Somehow, I eventually summoned the courage to open the door of my car. I remember distinctly that when I stepped foot on this campus, I felt the presence of God. I knew this was a sacred space where the Holy Spirit was moving, and I wanted to be right in the middle of what He was doing.
The only way I can describe that first Hebrew class was “deer in the headlights.” It is no exaggeration to say that I did not understand a single word Dr. Williams said—and I’m including the words that were in English! Sheepishly, I told him after class that I needed to re-take Hebrew 1. Those of you who know Dr. Williams won’t be surprised to hear his reply: “No, I will not sign the transfer form. You only move forward in language; never backward.” I remember walking to my car, and with tears streaming down my face, saying, “Lord, did really you call me here? I don’t think I can do this.”
Little did I know at that moment how my inauspicious beginning at Vanguard would not only direct the course of my life but would transform me as a person. I learned to work harder than I had ever worked, and I learned to new levels what it meant to trust God in my weaknesses. As I continued to show up for classes, something began to happen on the inside of me. With each class, with each paper, and in each conversation, the Holy Spirit was blowing gently on a little spark inside of my soul until it grew into a larger flame, and then into a burning passion to know the Word of God more deeply and to love the God of the Word more completely.
Night after late night, New Testament professor David Clark patiently answered my numerous questions after class and helped direct those questions into future research ideas. Dr. Clark’s courses fanned the flame of my passion for eschatological literature. Those of us who studied Hebrew with Old Testament professor Dr. Williams became like a little family, to the point that our advanced Hebrew course actually met at his dining room table in his home. His wife Alma would prepare snacks for us as we studied, or Dr. Williams would take us to the Pancake House or Norm’s, because it’s always more fun to talk about Hebrew and the Old Testament over a good meal.
I can remember picking my jaw up from the floor every time theology professor Frank Macchia opened his mouth in class, because of his profound theological insights into the Trinity and the character of God. And then after class, we would all grab a bite at Jack-in-the-Box or Dick Church’s. To this day, I still jot down notes on things he says during even brief conversations in the hallway.
Sheri Benvenuti, professor of ethics, became a close mentor, and I’ll never forget the times in her home, especially during Christmas with her elaborate Christmas village and her tree that seemed like it was about 500 feet tall. Even though Sheri was shorter than me in stature, I always knew she was about 500 feet tall in the Spirit. Sheri is with Jesus now, and as I type this, I’m sitting in my office at Vanguard, which used to be her office. In this sacred space, she prayed over me, prophesied over me, and made me laugh harder than just about anyone else could.
My passion for the Old Testament and for Hebrew grew as I studied with Old Testament professor April Westbrook. Her courses deepened not only my knowledge of the Word and my confidence in my calling to teach and preach the Word as a woman in ministry, but her courses also deepened our relationship. She had been my professor during my undergraduate theology program at Life Pacific University, and not only did I get to take M.A. courses from her at Vanguard, but I had the privilege of serving as her teaching assistant for 4 years. She taught me how to grade, how to minister to students, and how to teach. I learned by watching her and doing life with her. She even took the risk of allowing me to guest lecture for her on occasion! For years, we met at Corner Bakery weekly to read our Hebrew Bibles together, just for fun. She has been my mentor for 25 years now, and I feel so privileged to call her my friend.
As I share these snapshots from my story, I hope you are catching something really special about Vanguard: these professors did not just teach me information in the classroom. They invited me into their lives and showed me what it looks like to walk with Jesus and to love the Word. I would venture to say that as much education (and probably even more transformation) took place outside of the classroom than inside. They encouraged me when I wanted to quit, and like the early Pentecostals—they prayed me through until the end.
When I finally walked across the stage celebrating the completion of my M.A., I had no idea that it was just the beginning of my journey at Vanguard. Imagine my shock when Markita Roberson, then Coordinator of Undergraduate Religion (and now close friend), invited me to teach a section of Old Testament Survey. I eagerly replied, “YES!” and then thought, “What did I just get myself into?”
Little did I know that I just got myself into my life calling.
Let me rephrase that. The Holy Spirit led me, equipped me, and empowered me into my life calling, and He did it through the anointed and Spirit-empowered ministries of the professors at Vanguard.
I look back fondly on that first semester of teaching as the moment when I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And now, one of my students from that first Old Testament Survey course is teaching the same course at Vanguard. Through my nearly 20 years on this campus, first as an M.A. student, then as an adjunct, and now as a fulltime professor, the joy of loving God’s Word with students continues to grow.
I have seen the Spirit move more powerfully on this campus than I have at any other location on the planet in so many ways, including through His Word, through prayer and worship, through physical and emotional healing, through prophetic speaking and calling, through Spirit baptism and the gift of tongues, and through the encouragement that flows from relationships in the Vanguard community.
Three years ago, I had the opportunity to teach Intermediate Hebrew for the first time. Let me tell you, God has a sense of humor! If someone had told me after that first day of Intermediate Hebrew class when I was an M.A. student (remember that time when I didn’t understand a word and left the class crying?), that I would be teaching that very course someday, I probably would have laughed and then “pulled a Jonah” and headed for Tarshish. But God knew what He was doing in my life, even though I had no idea what He would do with my little “yes.”
I know that in the grand scheme of the universe, my little story and my little calling may not matter very much. But because my story and my calling mattered to Vanguard theology professors who poured their lives into me, I’m still here—now doing my best to pour my little life into Vanguard students, humbled by the opportunities to partner with the Holy Spirit as He calls, equips and empowers them for kingdom service across the globe. I believe with all my heart that each story and each calling matters to God, and here at Vanguard University, my story—and your story—matters.
Alicia R. Jackson, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Vanguard University.