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Her aim: ministry at historically black colleges

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Joy Pigg jumped at the opportunity to help launch a new Baptist Collegiate Ministry group at Southern University of New Orleans.

Pigg’s readiness for a ministry challenge stretches far beyond SUNO (the university’s initials). The vision of this student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavell College is to see Baptist campus ministry groups launched or reestablished at historically black colleges and universities across the country (HBCUs, as they’re known).

For now, her attention is on SUNO, less than two miles north of the NOBTS campus.

SUNO received severe damage during Hurricane Katrina. Caught between recovery red tape and state budget cuts to higher education, SUNO has struggled to rebuild and revitalize its campus after the storm. On top of the challenges posed by the slow recovery, the university has a large commuter population, making it more difficult for ministry groups to reach students.

Pigg nevertheless took up the challenge of establishing a strong Gospel witness on the campus, working as an intern with Jason Thomas, associate metro BCM director and NOBTS alumnus, and NOBTS student DeAron Washington.

She is meeting students, faculty and administrators and, so far, the campus has welcomed the new ministry with open arms. A Bible study has begun, with the goal of a worship experience in the coming months.

“We have so many new students [at SUNO] who are interested in BCM,” Pigg said. “I am so excited about that. Last year we had about seven or eight students in Bible study and now there are 15 to 20 people talking about it.”

With SUNO beginning to make recovery strides and BCM becoming a foundational part of the campus renewal, Pigg hopes the work at SUNO will inspire others to lead ministries at HBCUs.

“That’s where my heart is — the HBCU,” Pigg said. “There are 105 HBCUs in the country; only 19 have BCMs [or BSUs]. I think that’s a little bit tragic. I hope to be influential in bringing campus ministry back to these campuses.”

Pigg’s burden for black colleges began while she was attending Tennessee State University, an HBCU in Nashville. With her focus on ministry, she decided to transfer to the NOBTS/Leavell College extension center in Marietta, Ga., near her Atlanta-area hometown of Conyers. In 2013, she moved to the seminary’s campus in New Orleans to complete a bachelor of arts in Christian ministry.

“Joy has been a great addition to our ministry at SUNO,” Thomas said. “She has an insight into historically black colleges that has helped us navigate programming and networking. This assists in her ability to reach students for Christ.”

BCM leaders in New Orleans are not the only ones to notice Pigg’s giftedness for ministry. Last summer, she was one of the first recipients of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention Scholarship which was given during the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at the LifeWay Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center. NAAF created the scholarship fund to encourage and assist black students who are studying for ministry.

“It is a tremendous honor,” Pigg said. “I take it humbly and I hope that it is the first of many, because there are a lot more African American students coming through the SBC schools.”

The black student population at NOBTS, encompassing 300-plus students, has been growing in recent years thanks in part to initiatives such as the seminary’s African American Student Scholarship launched in 2011. This year, NOBTS awarded 73 African American scholarships. In addition, a number of Louisiana-based African American pastors and bivocational ministers were awarded full-tuition scholarships by the Caskey Center for Church Excellence at NOBTS.

Pigg said she is excited to see the growing number of black students in seminary and believes scholarships like the one she received and the NOBTS-based scholarships will help additional students receive theological training. She also is looking for ways to help with the process.

“I have been talking to Dr. Walter Strickland at Southeastern [Baptist Theological Seminary], who is the chair of the diversity initiative there. In some of our exchanges we have been talking about what Kingdom diversity will look like at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary,” Pigg said. “I am hoping to aid in that by bringing back the Black Seminarians [student club] and starting a gospel choir.

“New Orleans is a big ‘gumbo pot’ anyway,” she said. “I believe that the seminary is starting to reflect that, but more students need to get involved in making that happen.”