To be honest, I never intended to go to college. And yet, I am currently in the end of my junior year in my quest for an English B.A. My journey to reach this point involved more than stressful finals or scholarship applications. It also contained truth-seeking dialogue with friends and mentors as well as the realization that higher education can be valuable to Anabaptist women, such as myself, no matter what stage of life we are in.
To clarify myself, I define higher education here as anything on a post-high school level, both secular or Christian. This includes short programs such as Bible schools and teaching certificates as well as two, four, or eight-year college programs. However, in this article, my focus will mostly be on the latter.
When I graduated from high school, my goals were set on the practical, the hands-on, the immediate. I argued that it was not worth spending the time and money achieving a secular education when much could be achieved without one. A year after graduation and a term at Bible school, I flew down to Mexico to live with a missionary family for seven months. One of my projects there was teaching English to middle-school girls.
I realized then how inadequately prepared I was.
During that time, I also read multiple missionary biographies, increasing my vision for long-term mission work. The combination of my ESL classes and my choice of books during that time started to show me the opportunities that exist in mission work for those with a college degree. And opportunity is one reason I believe Anabaptist women can benefit from higher education.
Having a college degree brings a plethora of opportunities, both during and after college. One is the ability to minister and connect with fellow college students. For example, one of my friends attending a local college has been able to start multiple Bible studies with her fellow nursing students. In the US, international students arrive from around the globe, and many of them come from countries that are difficult to reach with the Gospel. And, yet, here they are in our towns and cities. As a fellow student, one can build connections and friendships in ways that outsiders could not.
Not all of us will attend college on campus—especially right now with the many COVID restrictions. However, doing college online – a cheaper and more accessible option – still brings opportunities. Though we are not able to minister on campus, online students have the opportunity to instead reach out in their community and churches. I have chosen to take the online college route, and I have experienced the positive and negatives aspects of it. Doing school at home while working full-time and also being involved with church activities has brought some tension between my priorities. Not everything can be done to the best of my ability. Because of that, I am constantly choosing what I want to focus on – school, work, church, family, friends, neighbors, and the list can go on and on. Yet, on the positive side, I am still able to be involved in my church at a level beyond most full-time students’ capability.
Having a college degree also allows Christians to live and work in countries that do not grant missionary visas. This was part of my original purpose for pursuing higher education. For instance, having a BA in English and a TESOL certification will allow a Christian to work directly in a country that otherwise forbids Christianity. Fellow believers, think of the opportunities to reach the many unreached people groups! And my fellow Anabaptist women, a college degree opens the door to minister to thousands of women around the globe who otherwise cannot be reached by Christian men. When viewed in the light of eternity, a few years preparing for ministry or opening a door into mission work is only a blink of an eye.
BENEFITS I HAVE REALIZED
One of the greatest benefits in attending college in and of itself has been the mental and physical discipline needed in continual study. Studying for a CLEP exam after a long day of work is not easy, and, admittedly, I have more than once chosen sleep over study. However, always having college studies in the back of my mind has forced me to better evaluate how I spend my time and money. If I forgo studies one night for an entertaining read, I have to work extra hard another night. Saving for college courses means I cannot travel right now the way I would like to.
Besides the side benefits, like discipline, the courses I have taken throughout my time in college have shaped me and challenged me like few things have before. Taking a required math course stretched my mind and has also given me a deeper understanding of logic. Literature courses have taught me the value of learning from others’ experiences. Multiple writing and speech courses have honed valuable rhetorical skills.
I believe the Anabaptist world can always use more women who know how to articulate themselves well—women who can clearly and boldly proclaim the truth of God to other women in churches, cities, suburbs, homes, and foreign countries. I strive to be a woman like this, and some of the courses I have taken have propelled me toward that goal. However, I still have a long way to go.
By no means is my story meant to be a formula for all to follow. However, in my personal experience and from the experience of others, I have found many opportunities and benefits that college can bring. However, questions still arise. What if one gets married – is college all lost? Should Anabaptist women be focused on a career? What about the time and cost involved? In my second article, I plan to discuss the experiences of some of my friends in college as well as look at the drawbacks of college. We as an Anabaptist culture have a certain definition of higher education, and I believe this should be redefined.