EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s From the Colleges includes profiles of two May 2018 graduates of The College at Southeastern, the undergraduate arm of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
How one advocate for justice found her place at Southeastern
Brianna Copeland is not just learning about global justice; she is actively participating in it. Her passion for justice in high school is what led her to The College at Southeastern.
Copeland, who is from Winston-Salem, N.C., is one of the founders of Save Our Sisters (SOS), an organization that advocates for social justice specifically in the area of sex trafficking.
“The Gospel isn’t just an idea. It has to affect your whole life,” said Copeland, who sees Jesus’ life and ministry as an inspiration to participate in justice on any level, which can open a door for the Gospel that would otherwise be closed.
As a ninth grader in 2010, Copeland, her sister and four of her friends were burdened about injustice and wanted to make efforts to rescue girls caught in the evils of sex trafficking. Starting with a sleepover, it grew into a reality with the birth of SOS. The six of them were regularly asked to speak at churches to promote and fund their organization. In 2011, SOS partnered with Moldova Mission to support a safe house for girls coming out of sex trafficking as well as a separate space for orphans, which both opened in 2017.
“That was one of the most shaping things still to this day of who I am and who the Lord is making me to be,” Copeland said.
Copeland has seen how caring for people in their need can lead to helping others better understand the love of Christ. Natalia* is one example of this. A believer in Christ, Natalia was trafficked from her home country of Moldova to Russia. Natalia and another woman who had been trafficked tried to escape. While Natalia made it out, her friend was killed. Even after coming out of something so traumatic, the Lord has redeemed Natalia’s situation. After escaping her captors, she found a local church through Moldova Mission and began going through personal counseling and discipleship with the organization to help heal the wounds of her past. Having experienced the healing love of Christ, she now plays a major role in counseling women who come out of sex trafficking through Moldova Mission.
“She doesn’t run from her past experience but instead engages others who have and are experiencing the same injustices,” Copeland said of Natalia.
When Copeland and her friends went their separate ways for college, SOS looked very different than it had in high school. Soon, Copeland realized that the organization that she had spent much of her life pursuing was only a part of what the Lord was teaching her in His greater plan for her life.
Copeland is learning that the Lord wants to broaden her experience with social justice even further by giving her other avenues to serve. Currently, Copeland and her husband Travis serve on the advisory board for Refugee Hope Partners, an organization that aids in refugee ministry at Cedar Point apartments in Raleigh, N.C.
“Things like that have been huge parts of my story since coming to college. It doesn’t just look like doing this one thing. It looks like being faithful in a lot of different areas,” Copeland said.
As she pursued a major in English and minor in justice and social ethics at Southeastern, she learned how to think more deeply about the problems facing society today.
“That’s hard work, and it’s really hard to teach something so intangible,” said Copeland, explaining that she appreciated the way her professors at Southeastern helped her learn how to form her own informed opinions on issues.
Copeland crossed the stage on May 11, received her diploma and will continue to fight for social justice while in Wake Forest just as she did from a young age.
During the graduation ceremony, Southeastern President Danny Akin quoted missionary John Keith Falconer saying, “I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light.”
“It all boils down to what Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,'” said Copeland.
How one Nepali student is taking his training home
Ashish Bhandari is the only Nepali student at The College at Southeastern, but he is certainly not alone when it comes to the community he has found at the school.
“Never, ever think you’re alone,” Bhandari remembers Jake Hatfield, director of student activities and discipleship at Southeastern, telling him when he was new to campus.
Bhandari was assured that he had Hatfield to turn to if he ever needed anything. This reassurance came as a comfort to a student who had moved nearly 8,000 miles from his family in 2014.
It was that same family who raised him in a Christian home. Bhandari’s father converted from Hinduism and eventually began working on his theological education in India as there were no opportunities for training in Nepal at the time. Bhandari himself, at the age of about 10, remembers understanding the Gospel in light of the story of Noah.
“I still remember my dad was talking about how during the time of Noah, the world was sinful and then Noah found favor in God’s eyes, and God saved him in spite of all the other people,” Bhandari recounted. “For me, that was the turning point.”
Almost a decade after he made that decision to follow Christ, the Lord led him to The College at Southeastern, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in theology on May 11.
When Bhandari first arrived on campus, community was limited. However, two years later, the dormitory House System was created to enhance the undergraduate community life for Bhandari and others.
As a leader for the Schaeffer House dorm community, Bhandari has been given experience in leading others effectively, a skill he knows will be necessary for the work he wants to do as a pastor-missionary in Nepal.
“If I can handle a small group of students here and lead them in discipleship group,” Bhandari said, “it’ll be really helpful for me to go back home and do the same, but it will be a larger congregation.”
While his long-term goal is to preach and minister to those in Nepal, Bhandari makes this a priority even now as he goes back to his home country each summer to teach in the Bible training center his father founded in 2016, along with an orphanage in 1999 and a church in 2004. Macedonia Baptist Church in Holly Springs, N.C., where Bhandari is an active member, is a supporter of the orphanage.
Some of his friends from Southeastern have been able to return with Bhandari to Nepal to help teach ministers in Nepal who are going through a five-month program at the Bible training center. He and his friends have taught various courses that they have been through at Southeastern, including New Testament survey, Old Testament survey and personal discipleship.
“When I listen to classes here, I want to go and spend this somewhere, teach it somewhere. That’s what happens when I go back home,” Bhandari said. “I get to spill it all out.”
Bhandari plans to pursue a master of divinity degree at Southeastern before returning to Nepal long-term. In doing this, he hopes to be able to teach in the Bible college in Nepal to equip other believers the way he has been equipped at Southeastern.