On March 11, 2004, Robert McGugin’s life changed.
He’d been in the army for eight years, and he was in Iraq serving with the United States Army Special Forces. On March 11, he was taken hostage.
“That date is seared into my brain, and it will be for the rest of my life. That day, we were going after bad guys, and we ended up going into a town right outside Sadr city. We were ambushed, and I was taken out of the car and shoved up against a wall,” he said. “They put a camera and a gun in my face, and they were getting ready to execute me.”
McGugin, who is a student in Trevecca’s Master of Arts in teaching program, said he knew instantly that if he wanted to survive, he needed to comply with what the men were asking.
“We were surrounded by them, and they shoved us back into the vehicle and set it on fire. We were in the backseat, and a gun comes through the window. I’m wrestling with it as they’re shooting it, and you could hear the glass shattering and bullets cracking and popping into the car. We ducked down even further, the three of us who were in the backseat, and then all of the sudden we were rescued. An army unit came in,” he said. “For my whole life, I’ve struggled with faith and with the existence of God. I thought maybe I was an atheist or an agnostic, but that day, when that army unit came in, it was at that point that I realized there had to be some divine intervention.”
It was March 11 that changed his mind—McGugin said he knows that without God, he would have died that day.
“I am a soldier, through and through. I always have been and always will be. But God has worked me over,” he said. “After that day, I prayed and I prayed, and I’m not just talking about bowing my head and praying. I’m talking about that knee-bending, Bible-squeezing, deep and meaningful prayer. I kept praying to God and seeking His counsel and telling Him, ‘God, if you lead me to the door, I promise I’ll walk through it.’ Boy, oh boy, did He answer.’
McGugin retired from the army this year after 20 years of military service. But he said God wasn’t done with him. He just had a different kind of service in mind.
To answer God’s call, McGugin plans to go into teaching.
“Education is a higher calling, and for me, it’s pure obedience to Christ. I know without a doubt that education is His next calling for me. I’ve realized the past 22 years only prepared me for His true purpose for me in this life. It’s why I survived, knowing very well I should be dead. I’ve become a pencil in God’s hand,” he said. “Think about what Christ did while on this earth. Aside from performing miracles, He taught. He was teacher—the ultimate teacher. What greater way to serve than to follow in the footsteps of Christ.”
McGugin said one of the ways Trevecca prepared him was by bringing Andrew Burnham into his life. Burnham is the director of the Master of Arts in Teaching program, and McGugin said it was Burnham who showed him the door God was leading him to next.
“Dr. Burnham is someone I’ll never forget. He is like that one teacher we all remember as a kid,” McGugin said. “ I didn’t really know what to make of my military experience—a part of me was going to put it in a box, put it on the shelf and leave it be, but I’m a storyteller. It’s like I was trapped in this Army cage, and Dr. B. walked by, opened the unlocked door, pulled me out and said, ‘Just be you.’ I’m forever grateful for that.”
Burnham said McGugin didn’t need much of a push—he already had his calling—and all he needed to do was realize he had all he needed to answer it.
“Rob could go in any direction and to choose to go into education after serving for as long as he has—I don’t think it's a career choice. It’s a real calling,” Burnham said. “He knows he’s been given a second chance at life, and to choose to serve kids because that’s where he felt God wanted him to focus, that's special. I really do think he’ll be a great advocate for kids who may not have the best outlook on life, and I think he’ll be able to show them that there’s a way to better themselves through education. He’ll be able to meet them where they are and encourage them and affect that change.”
Today, McGugin starts his new position as eighth grade social studies teacher with Wright Middle School in the Metro Nashville Public School System, and though he said he’s not sure a first-year teacher will ever feel very prepared, he knows he is doing what he’s supposed to be by entering the classroom.
“I know I’ve got God on my side. I stopped experiencing fear on March 11, 2004, because I knew if the Almighty saved my life, He must have a really important journey for me in the future,” he said. “And God’s enlightened me to the fact that I have been teaching for the past 22 years. Yeah, it’s been mostly spent in the Middle East and teaching a very peculiar skill set, but it’s been teaching nonetheless. Trevecca has prepared me in the ways I needed without a doubt. God led me to Trevecca, and I know now that Wright Middle School is His next journey for me.”