“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”- Frederick Buechner
Michelle Hill sat beside her 85-year-old patient, quietly reading aloud while his wife napped in another room. On some visits, Hill would chat with the patient while his wife gardened or went to the grocery store.
The volunteer coordinator for Avalon Hospice and Palliative Care in Tullahoma, Tenn., Hill spends her days thinking about the needs of her patients and their families. It’s a job, yes, but for Hill, it’s more than that.
“I just really love serving people and want to fulfill what God has called me to do,” Hill says. Hill, who is completing a bachelor’s degree in management and leadership through Trevecca’s School of Graduate and Continuing Studies, feels called to serve others. To walk beside patients and families during one of their most difficult seasons.
Youssef Sabet’s calling looks a little different.
A senior biology major at Trevecca, Sabet plans to go to medical school after graduating in May. Sabet and his family immigrated to the U.S. from Egypt when he was 14 years old, navigating a new country, a new culture and a new language all at once.
Finding healthcare for Sabet’s mother, a diabetic, was one of the family’s first priorities—but the language and cultural barrier made that process difficult. As Sabet watched, the smallest seed of an idea began to take shape in his heart. One day, he would find a way to bridge the culture gap in America’s healthcare system, using the gifts and talents God had given him.
“I want to help find ways to provide for those who are helpless, ignored and unnoticed,” Sabet says, referring to his goal of becoming a doctor who helps immigrants and others with limited access to medical care. “I’m trying to live out my Christian life, doing what God wants me to do. Serving is living out God’s plan, witnessing for Him.”
Hill and Sabet aren’t alone.
A recent study from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and Econosult Solutions discovered that graduates of CCCU schools pursue careers in human service fields at a higher rate than those who those who graduate from other institutions. Often, this means that over the course of a career, graduates of Christian colleges and universities tend to earn less than counterparts who pursue careers in more lucrative fields.
So, why? The answer, when it comes to Trevecca graduates, seems to boil down to one word: calling.
The concept of calling may need a little explanation. Mary Schmitt, an assistant professor in Trevecca’s Millard Reed School of Theology and Christian Religion and a Pauline scholar, says that all believers are called into a relationship with God.
“Paul often talked about those who are loved and called, which would seem to be anyone who is being invited into following God,” she says. “And for some people that takes a vocational form. For some, it takes a temporary form. For others, it has nothing to do with vocation but rather their family, or a personal commitment. Calling is actually a pretty big category.”
The concept can be confusing in Christian circles, especially when calling is seen as finite rather than broad. Schmitt is quick to stress the “wideness” of God’s calling.
"I had a professor when I was in college at Southern Nazarene University, and he used to say that the more you try to be in the center of God’s will, the more you realize how big the center is,” she says. “[Being in Christ] is not a clamping down of possibilities or a restricting of possibilities, but instead an invitation to live out who God created you to be, to live into that fullness. Finding that oneness with God now opens you up to all the good things that God wants to do through and in you.”
It’s the idea that Frederick Buechner once penned in his book Wishful Thinking: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Clearly, the gifts, talents and passion God gives to us are to be used for His glory—and discovering how is often a journey characterized by faith and trust.
A CALL TO CREATE REFUGE
For Amy Alexander, (’05 MMFT) that sense of calling came from seeing a need and knowing that she had the desire, resources and creativity to meet it.
“I had been in social work and knew so many people needed emotional wellness care and couldn’t afford it,” she says.“Hardly anyone puts counseling in their monthly budget.”
So, Alexander, who was then completing her master’s in marriage and family therapy at Trevecca, co-founded the Refuge Center in Williamson County, Tenn., and her Trevecca classmate, Jennifer Gillett. The center is designed to serve the counseling needs of the whole family in one place and to pair excellence with affordability—offering its services on a sliding scale, making counseling more affordable and accessible.
Over the past 13 years, the Refuge Center has provided more than 125,000 counseling sessions and serves clients from 15 Tennessee counties. In 2018 alone, the center provided about 23,064 counseling sessions to more than 3,079 people.
For Alexander, success isn’t found in those numbers; it’s found in what they symbolize: people and families who’ve found hope and healing through the work of the Refuge Center.
“I think about therapy as the vehicle of helping people be freed from the burdens, barriers and shame stories that keep them from experiencing freedom in their lives,” she says. “We are a Christ-centered organization. ... We live that out here in relationships with one another and as a staff. Whether our clients decide to pursue Christ—that’s ultimately their decision—we are the ones who become the vehicles for allowing that to occur as our clients are freed from those shame stories."
Alexander, who serves as the center’s executive director, and her staff want to continue to offer these types of counseling options long into the future—just on a larger scale. The Refuge Center is under contract to purchase seven acres of land off Long Lane in Franklin, Tenn. The plans for the site that will allow the center to serve more families in need.
“Over the next two-and-a-half years, our vision is to build a campus-like facility,” Alexander says. “There will be a 14,000-square-foot lodge facility, a children’s wing, a multi-purpose room where we can do yoga therapy, dance therapy, art therapy and more.”
Outdoor plans include walking trails, gardens, a prayer labyrinth and chapel, a picnic pavilion, playground and more, all designed to create a holistic environment that Alexander describes as “physical manifestation of refuge,” a nod to the Isaiah 4:6 Scripture the center was founded on: It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.
A CALL TO RESTORE
“When God began to show me this issue and began to break my heart and call me to it, I wasn’t daunted by the task,” Dr. Rondy Smith (’85) says. “Because I knew that He would do it and I would just be His vessel. I say that very humbly—because there have been very hard times when I said, ‘I can’t do this. This is too hard.’ But I had confidence that the One who called me would equip me.
“I feel compelled,” she continues. “I can’t not do this.”
Smith is the founder of Rest Stop Ministries, a nonprofit aimed at helping restore survivors and stop the criminal oppression of sex trafficking. She currently serves as the nonprofit’s executive director. The two-year residential restoration program is designed to help victims begin to deal with and heal from the trauma of their experiences but also aims to equip them with skills they need to join the workforce and become financially independent.
She vividly remembers God calling her to the work, creating Rest Stop Ministries ex nihilo—out of nothing—while she was on a silent retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky.
“I had started asking God what my next step in ministry was,” Smith recalls. On a summer sabbatical from Hermitage Church of the Nazarene where she served on the pastoral staff, she started to prayerfully seek God’s direction.
“He began showing me different types of oppression of women worldwide,” Smith says. “The sex trafficking issue just broke my heart. I just couldn’t imagine a worse fate myself, as a woman, and particularly as a child.
“I just knew that this couldn’t happen,” she continues. “Not on my watch.”
Her calling may have seemed insurmountable. What could she do to curb the second largest and fastest-growing crime on the planet? But Smith wasn’t deterred.
She’d been called to this work. And she knew God would be faithful because He had been every time before.
When He opened the door for her to return to Trevecca as a faculty member, then to pursue a corporate career and complete her doctorate.
When He called her back to Trevecca to lead the University’s degree-completion program and launch Trevecca’s first master’s program in organizational management.
When He called her to preach, and she joined the pastoral staff of Hermitage Church of the Nazarene and completed the course of study for ordination.
“It’s interesting,” she muses, “we can sometimes sense a call of God and it may feel a little outside our comfort zone. But as this (Rest Stop Ministries) started it became very clear to me how wise God is, because everything I had ever done had prepared me for this.
“Rest Stop Ministries really brought everything together,” she continues. “It all makes sense in hindsight."
Visit refugecenter.org to learn more.