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Service in the 'DNA' of ETBU through center

By Joe Holloway
Jan. 8, 2013 at 10 p.m.

As a handful of incoming new and transfer students from East Texas Baptist University dug around in a new flower bed they were planting at Robert E. Lee Elementary on Thursday, the elementary school's principal, Kresha Lane, couldn't help but be excited.

Volunteers with ETBU's Great Commission Center had been instrumental in building Robert E. Lee's new playground in the Fall semester and, even though classes didn't start until Monday, there they were again, planting flowers and shrubs around the walkway to the school's main entrance.

"After we did the playground, she said 'OK, what's next?'" said Lane, referring to GCC Director Dr. Melody Maxwell. "I told her we wanted to continue beautification and make the school look nice and feel like a home to the students.

"They're just always willing to serve."

Maxwell said the projects at Robert E. Lee are just a handful of ways the GCC is trying to make sure ETBU students are involved in and helping their community.

"Basically the goal of what we're doing is to connect our students and others with opportunities to serve," she said. "We say we have the light on the hill here and as Christians our goal is to let our light shine for others so they'll see God and glorify him.

"It can be easy in campus life to get absorbed in our own things, classes and stuff like that and we want our students to have a broader view of what God is doing around the world, starting right here in Marshall."

That was a sentiment echoed by ETBU President Dr. Samuel "Dub" Oliver, who said the work the GCC does is representative of much of what ETBU stands for as a whole.

"I think it's such an important piece of who we are as an institution," he said. "You talk about institutional DNA and the culture of an organization, the Great Commission Center is certainly that for us."

Between the GCC and ETBU's "Learning and Leading" classes every freshman is required to take, Oliver said he hopes the services opportunities create a pattern students will follow not just for the remainder of their college careers, but after they graduate as well.

"We say up front that service is important to us," he said. "We had students serving even their first week on campus. That's the same kind of idea. Let's make sure we're saying and doing and being the things we really say that be should say and do and be. I think the Great Commission Center really provides excellent leadership."

In addition to the playground project at Robert E. Lee, the GCC was involved in a fall festival at the elementary school as well. It also worked with Wiley College in a cleanup of historic Love Cemetery in Scottsville.

Maxwell said she'd like for the two schools to team up on as many service projects as they can.

"I would love to work closely with the other schools here," she said. "They've already been doing such great stuff there so for us to be able to join in is an honor."

Oliver said the two schools teaming up to tackle Love was a no brainer.

"You think about the students who have served out there," he said. "They start asking the questions like 'What is Love Cemetery? Why is it there and why do we need to care for it?' Then there're the friendships that are built between Wiley and ETBU students through that service. It's just, why would we not want even more of that?"

As for the future, the GCC has a number of service opportunities lined up for ETBU students in the spring semester.

"We have a lot of other big things coming up," said Maxwell. "We'll be helping with Habitat for Humanity. Of course, anybody in the community can come help with that, but it's probably going to run every Saturday through May."

Bruce Simon, former president of the Marshall branch of Habitat for Humanity, said it's impossible to put into words how much volunteers from ETBU have helped as the organization has built houses over the years.

"They've helped us on about six or seven houses, maybe eight," he said. "They supply some great, great young people who volunteer. They're just fabulous."

According to Simon, the ETBU volunteers work hard and have fun.

"They do a lot of hard work and they don't shy away from it," he said. "They can be so dedicated. It makes you really proud of the young people going through school."

The GCC is also planning a mission trip to Appalachia over spring break, an international fair where the community will have a chance to come talk with ETBU's international students and students who have been on mission trips, and a service day aimed at all of the school's students, faculty and staff called ETBU Cares Day in April.

"We're going to be going out in the community and get just every student we can to go out and do service projects all over," said Maxwell. "This will be the first time that we try it. It's basically inviting all the students, athletic teams, student organizations, dorms, anyone connected with ETBU to go out and serve in our community."

Based on what Oliver's seen from the GCC and the students, the event, and the semester, should both be very successful.

"I'm so thankful for Melody and the leadership she's brought to the Great Commission Center and I'm certainly thankful for our students who have such a strong heart for service," he said. "They want to be engaged in the community and they want to make a difference and be the hands and feet of Christ, as well as our faculty and staff."



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