TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–For nearly three decades, Larry Hunt has labored long and hard as the only full-time Baptist campus minister on any of Florida’s four predominately African American colleges.
The driving force that brought a fully operational Baptist Student Union into the heart of Florida A&M University’s campus in Tallahassee, Hunt led the ministry from a Bible club of 20 students to a thriving, growing outreach that draws as many as 700 students a year.
The BSU is a “source of fellowship, instruction and has given me a sense of belonging and ministry,” said California student Anton Ragoonan following a noon Bible study led by Hunt.
“I like being around people who have the same interests as I do,” added Shaun White. “I’ve never had a drink, smoked or gone to clubs like others do here on campus. Instead, I come here every day.”
When Hunt arrived at FAMU 29 years ago, an old home served as the student center. As the house began to decay around him, Hunt raised money from National Baptists and enlisted Southern Baptist construction volunteers to build the spacious and practical center that now serves as safe haven for his students.
Affectionately known as “Rev” among his students, he offers counsel, ministerial advice, personal assistance, as well as a place to study.
“I get involved in their lives and like to go beyond the call of duty,” said Hunt, a native of Newberry, Fla.
Knowing that 90 percent of FAMU students are on some type of financial aid, Hunt helps them find jobs and transportation to jobs — even if that means he drives them himself. He has been known to offer gas money when a student is tapped out and has driven students to their hometowns in times of crisis and family deaths. His wife, Dorothy, cooks a well-balanced meal for the students each week and the couple often hosts the students into their home.
“I used to say that I was a father figure, but I don’t anymore,” Hunt noted. “The 75 percent of students who come from challenged families do not see a father in a good light.”
Ragoonan affirmed that “Rev has very vitally taken care of us, giving us the freedom to worship in our creative spirits.”
Hunt’s efforts of cooking barbecue, hosting freshmen and their families, Bible study, witnessing on campus and weekly rallies have brought dividends. More than 200 students have made professions of faith through the BSU ministry in the past seven years. In 1997, 61 salvation decisions were recorded, leading all other state campus ministries.
With an enrollment of 12,000 students, “FAMU is like a mission field,” as Hunt put it, drawing students from many Caribbean nations. “Baptists need a voice on this campus. [The students] come here looking for the truth and cults prey on university campuses. Students are vulnerable.”
Hunt was called in 1971 to the position funded through the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, the Florida Baptist Convention and the First Bethlehem Baptist Association of the National Baptist Convention. Classified as a national missionary, Hunt is supported in his work through Cooperative Program funding both from the Florida Baptist Convention and NAMB.
But it has not been easy for Hunt. For most of his tenure, he was the only African American on the Florida Baptist Convention staff. Unassuming in nature, Hunt has drawn little recognition to his work over the years. Funding for the student ministry has been a problem. Co-workers say Hunt has often subsidized the ministry from his own pocket.
A graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., Hunt also has had to deal with the perception on the part of some peers that he left the ministry when he assumed the campus positions.
“It was hard for African Americans to understand that God can call full-time ministers in a role other than as pastor of a church,” he reflected.
When Hunt arrived in Tallahassee, “I came to stay a year. But after a struggle, I knew that God had called me for the duration. Someone had to stay here and build this program.”
His call was once sidetracked as he was given other responsibilities in the Florida Baptist Convention. But he remained in Tallahassee and continued working with the students on a volunteer basis until he could continue the role in a staff capacity.
Hunt’s tenure and commitment to the students has earned credibility with the FAMU administration and with National and Southern Baptists alike.
“He has a heart for God and students,” said Loy Reed, director of Florida Baptist collegiate ministries department. “He has impacted lives, developed long-term relationships and has tremendous respect at the university.”
“Larry had been working in the trenches for a long time,” said Joe Johnson, pastor of the Unity Baptist Church in Tallahassee, a church that Hunt started. “It’s has taken him 29 years of struggling to make this ministry flourish. The resources were limited. But he’s been faithful.”