I’m sure we’ve all heard a story like this, “Johnny was raised in a Christian home, went to church every Sunday, got baptized when he was 10, was an active member in youth group, graduated from a Christian high school, then went to college, met a liberal professor, and lost his faith.”
Or another common example where professors shine in helping their students learn to respect faith. “I went to college and learned that the Christian faith is a joke and is entirely made up. It’s completely illogical and lacks any supporting evidence. You’ll learn too when you go to college.”
The need for strong gospel-centered voices and godly examples in the collegiate field is understated. When I hear about my peers who are becoming professors, or college ministers, and engaging with students in both private and public sectors, I’m excited.
That brings me to introduce you to Charity Yost Reed, an English professor at Anderson University, who speaks truth, hope, and grace to her students. I was inspired to ask Reed to share about her love for her students when I saw this post on her Facebook.
I met her as Charity Yost nearly ten years ago in Anderson at the off-campus housing where her now-husband Ben Reed lived. I think Ben and his housemates were hosting a fellowship for BCM or another campus ministry. Though it was dark on the porch and people were moving in and out, she and I stood together and chatted about life.
The Journey to Becoming A Professor
Now with a large dose of life experience between the two of us, I was happy to delve into her life once more. Reed explained to me that she always knew she wanted to teach. “While most of the girls I knew growing up loved Barbies, I only liked one— Teacher Barbie,” she joked.
It wasn’t until she started taking college classes that she realized what grade she wanted to teach, as she had loved every grade until she “realized that higher education never stops.” What drew her to teaching was “the fluid learning environment of an intentional classroom” but becoming a professor seemed “distant and unattainable” as she is a first generation college graduate. As she finished her masters, she worked many different jobs that missed the mark of what she hoped to accomplish as a professor. But “now those experiences enrich [her] lectures.”
“What I saw as meandering was a purposeful path to where God wanted to use me most,” Reed explained.
Reed started as an administrative assistant in the Art and Music Departments before moving to teaching in the English department, where she currently holds her position. Now that her goal has become reality, she appreciates the work her previous professors have taken to get the jobs they had due to now having an awareness of the politics that come to play within university systems.
“I remember being in complete awe of my black female professor who was the chair of my department because I knew that as a minority she had overcome more obstacles than many of the other people in similar positions,” she remarked. Then added, “Now, I’m even more in awe of the women in leadership positions in universities.”
Despite viewing the reality of this system, she doesn’t lose hope by keeping her eyes on who really matters. “…The more I learn about it, the more I know it needs freedom that comes only from Jesus. I have no desire to work the educational system or be political, but I do have a great desire to work for His glory exactly where he placed me and to be a balance of professional and personal in that environment.”
School Anxiety Isn’t Just for Students
And working for His glory shines through, from her enthusiasm for her students to her prayers in class. Being a professor hasn’t been without sin struggle, though. Her particular struggles are perfectionism and anxiety.
“I expected teaching to be an outlet for me to use those characteristics for good, but it ended up being just another place to rely on myself instead of Jesus.” She still struggles with these tendencies, and relies on God to give her “grace upon grace to overcome it.”
“Like Philippians 3:12 says, I don’t consider myself perfected, but I’m pressing on. This has made me simplify my life of stressors, and I continue to do so. I’m often asking myself what else I can throw off in this race, what else I can sell and give to the poor so I can follow Jesus better.”
Her struggle has made her more aware of her student’s struggles with anxiety. “I am able to be more understanding, more genuine, and more gracious with them.”
When I asked for her to share with me a specific example of that, her vulnerable answer blessed me.
“Students should know they aren’t the only ones who get first day jitters. One semester, I wound up in the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack, but really it was a panic attack. My stress over the first week of school had built up so gradually that I didn’t even notice it. Balancing school with family and some other responsibilities we had taken on like renovating a house and some leadership positions with a nonprofit had gotten the best of me. Now I know how destructive anxiety is for my mind and body. Coping mechanisms had become my excuses to rely on myself. The Spirit is still showing me my biggest and tiniest tensions, and replacing my coping with trusting.”
Love Coming from Lectures and Assignments
Though Reed knows this is exactly the work the Lord has given to her at this time, it hasn’t always come without feelings of awkwardness.
“I shied away from praying aloud or incorporating spiritual truths for fear that I would sound preachy,” she admitted.
“I still have no idea whether my fellow professors do this, but it no longer matters to me what is the norm. In the past four years of teaching, I have gained confidence in speaking openly and vulnerably in my classroom about my relationship with Jesus, a confidence that continues to transform my mind and that I cannot wait to use everyday.”
Reed confesses that she is privileged to work at a university where she can openly talk about her faith, as this has become an integral part of how she prepares her students for life after college.
“Preparing these students to discuss everyday topics in the light of truth is another advantage I have in my teaching role. College isn’t always the training ground for the next stage of life as it should be, so I try to present my students with scenarios and assignments that make them think more about how they may minister to others after college.”
Reed knows that she has precious little time to minister to her students, as her class is for their first semester of their college career. “I rarely get to see where my students lives and careers lead beyond my class.”
Her goal for ministry in her role as professor is “to be a reflection of grace and love” in the hours she spends with her freshmen students each week.
“One way I get to minister to my students is to simply care about them. It sounds simple, but it’s what I teach them about writing—care about your audience enough to get to know them.”
As just one example, she is careful to notice if the class is stressed. She’ll pray over them and might even postpone a due date to exemplify grace and love. “Slightly less grading time is a small price to pay for the way little graces open up communication in my class.”
Though she cares and loves for both the traditional and nontraditional college student, she understands the difficult circumstances for the nontraditional college student.
“Most of these students have full-time jobs and families and are coming back to college after years out of school. Their classes are double the speed of my traditional classes, but these students are intrepid,” she commented.
“Many of them are seeking a degree in order to get a raise or a promotion, and I am beyond proud of how well they do in my class because I know how hard they work for it,” she added.
Along with her ministry goal, her professional goal is to make sure that both types of students are well prepared for the work ahead of them, and she is joyful in seeing that accomplished by comparing their beginning writing assignment to their final portfolio work.
And I think that’s important in ministering holistically. Her students have come to her for writing skills; not only does she give them these necessary tools, she’s filling up their hearts and lives with holy truth, grace, and love.
A Growing Burden for College Students and Young Professionals
Reed has grown in this role and didn’t necessarily intend to stay in Anderson city as long as she has, but recently God has been putting a stronger burden on her heart and her church’s heart to reach out to college-aged and young professional adults.
“The Lord is doing big things in that subculture right now… We’ve been going to NewSpring, and they just started a 18-25 year old ministry called Rally that I hope to be involved with.”
She added, “They also have NewSpring Leadership College, where I just led a workshop on writing in ministry. It seems like the Lord really wants me to focus on this age group lately.”
Professors certainly have a captive audience, but what Reed is doing in the college classroom and through her chruch is just a few ways adults can get involved in the largely unreached group of college students and young professionals.
Just this year, dear friends of mine left China to continue college ministry in the US, and I am also learning about the work of college administration in sowing hope among college youth. There are also unlikely ways to minister to college youth and young professionals, like CARES ministries in apartment complexes near college campuses, or job preparation ministries churches could start.
If you’d like to follow along with Reed through her journey of ministering to her students, you can find her at The Country Professor, where she writes and shares some of her DIY home decoration projects.
Do you have any ideas about reaching out to college students or young professionals?
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Or let me know your thoughts via email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com.