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‘God did it,’ says 60,000th student at Southwestern

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A bird in the bush was worth $600 in Traci Jackson’s hand. Along with balloons, a certificate suitable for framing and a footnote in history.
On Aug. 20, the 25-year-old Jackson became the 60,000 individual to enroll at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. The surprise scholarship was “worth a whole lot” but not nearly as much as the second clear affirmation of her vocational direction, she said.
Last March, Jackson’s struggle with whether to attend the seminary ended with an encounter with a scissor-tailed fly-catcher in a pasture outside Belton, Texas. The scholarship confirmed, to her, the rightness of her mid-August decision, against all financial logic and emotion, to choose Southwestern.
“I came to Fort Worth with $500 in my savings account with a $250 car payment and the first month’s rent of $250 due,” she explained. “I was looking down at my class schedule, wondering how God was going to provide when they announced my name.”
Students at orientation had been told one of them would be the 60,000th student at the seminary but there was no mention of a scholarship. As of Aug. 19, the registration count stood at 59,787. Registrar Rebecca Morton took the alphabetized list of students scheduled to register the next day, counted down 213 spaces: Traci Lyn Jackson.
Students #212 and #214 received gift certificates from the seminary Spirit Shop and the entire group got ice cream cones.
Jackson, a native of Belton and a graduate of Mary Hardin-Baylor University there, has been headed to the classroom most of her life. “For almost three years, I consistently said ‘no’ to Christian vocational ministry. I dreamed of being an English teacher.” But in her senior year at Mary Hardin-Baylor, she suddenly “hated the idea — I still loved children, but the thought of a career as a schoolteacher literally made me sick.” She was now haunted by the thought of investing her life “teaching something that had no eternal value.”
Still, she completed her degree and certification and after graduation in December 1996 began substitute teaching practically full time. But the day after Rebekah Retta, a Southwestern graduate and Jackson’s youth and college minister at Miller Heights Baptist Church in Belton, challenged Jackson to examine the things in her life she had been “saying no” to God about, she found herself without a place to teach.
She went to her favorite prayer spot beside the barn on her parents’ farm and spent the day praying, thinking and writing in her journal. At one point, she noticed the scissor-tailed fly-catcher sitting on a fence 20 yards away. When she returned to praying, the image came back, along with the biblical teaching that the God who cares for the birds of the air takes even better care of his children.
“When I opened my eyes, the bird was still there and I had confidence that God would take care of me and wanted me to go to seminary,” Jackson said.
Grounded in her “call,” she accepted a summer job as youth minister in Gastonia, N.C., near an aunt and uncle who have been very close to her since her father died when she was 6 years old.
The aunt and uncle offered her a home if she wanted to study at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in nearby Wake Forest, and Brookleigh Baptist Church in Gastonia offered to pay for almost all of her educational costs there.
Jackson liked Southeastern, and it looked like an easy decision. Still, she didn’t feel easy and kept praying. Finally, “with no job and no place to live,” she felt God’s call was to Fort Worth. “Calling my uncle and aunt to tell them was really hard — on them and on me — but I knew I was supposed to come here. I just didn’t know how it would work out.”
Jackson, who enrolled in the master of arts in religious education program, was clearly emotional after she was announced as Southwestern’s 60,000th student, but maintained her perspective.
“You can’t know how much the scholarship means to me,” she admitted. “But it would have been enough for me if it had stopped after Dr. Morton said, ‘Even though we didn’t know who you would be, many of us at the seminary have been praying for you for a long, long time.’ To know that was going on as I sought God’s will is very special.”
“God knew who our 60,000th student would be long before we did,” Morton said.

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  • Craig Bird