The unfinished walls of East Texas Baptist University’s new Chapel on the Hill were covered in heartfelt blessings of Scripture and prayers from ETBU faculty, staff, and community members. After an initial gift from the Ponder family of Marshall, the project, including Kenny Ponder Park, broke ground last August. Upon completion, the chapel and adjacent park will serve as a dedicated house of worship to focus on the power of prayer, the sanctity of biblical marriage, and the celebration of loved ones.

“As this project nears completion, thanks to God’s provision through the benevolence of the Ponder family and many generous donors, our excitement continues to grow for the day when people will gather in this sacred space,” ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn said. “We have reflected on the moments of joy, sorrow, celebration, and reunion that will happen within the walls of the Chapel on the Hill and throughout Kenny Ponder Park. Our written and spoken Scriptures and prayers will herald and honor what God will do through this icon and insulate the walls of this symbol for Christ-centered education and the Lord’s providence on ETBU’s campus.”

Founders of Master WoodCraft Cabinetry and devoted members of First United Methodist Church of Marshall, Gene and Patsy Ponder, along with their children and grandchildren, initially donated funds to create a park area with gardens, a walking path, an arbor, and benches. Expanding on the original idea, the Ponder family later contributed additional funds to construct the Chapel on the Hill. The park is named in the memory of Kenneth Eugene Ponder, son of Gene and Patsy, who passed away in 2017.

“As Kenny’s mother, it means a lot to me that so many people are remembering him,” Ponder said during the Scripture and prayer blessing. “Everything is beyond my expectations. This place is just beautiful, it’s exactly what we envisioned and more.”

Every aspect of the Chapel on the Hill and Kenny Ponder Park have been designed with intentionality. Upon completion, the chapel will overlook the gardens, pathways, and pond of Kenny Ponder Park to provide a sense of peace and serenity for guests on any occasion.

“This will be a place that will celebrate life,” Dean of Spiritual Life Scott Stevens said. “For some it will be a life well-lived, and for some it will be a new life together. We are providing a space here on campus because of generous donors where we can celebrate that and honor the Lord with it. It’s about the opportunity we have to participate in the really important moments in people’s lives, and there’s been a space created here to do that.”

The chapel will soon stand on the Hill and reflect the Christian foundation of East Texas Baptist University as countless supporters, students, alumni, faculty, and staff along with their families gather under the steeple for years to come. Following the writing of Scriptures and prayers on the walls, the construction moves forward towards completion.

“Psalm 119:11 says, ‘I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.’ Each one of us has the opportunity and responsibility to tuck God’s truths away in our hearts and minds each day so that our thoughts, words and actions might be pleasing to Him,” Intercessory Prayer Ministry Coordinator Cari Johnson said. “I was encouraged to see our campus community extend this symbolism by ‘hiding God’s Word’ within the newly constructed walls of the Chapel on the Hill. As I scratched my Sharpie against the rough wooden two-by-six boards, letter by letter, I claimed God’s promises, and thanked Him for being so faithful and true. There is nothing magical about scripted beams behind finished sheetrock. However, there are miracles to discover when you intentionally bathe a project in prayers of surrender to the Glory of God.”