Why We Give: Dr. Richard '15 and Evangelina Darden
My connection with HSU began when I was serving on the Board of Directors for the Baptist General Convention of Texas and met Dr. Lanny Hall, then President of HSU, as he would regularly report about the university. I learned through the years of knowing him that HSU was the "real deal." After a couple of years, Dr. Hall asked if I would consider serving on the Board of Trustees for HSU. I agreed and after serving for three terms, it has become a situation where we have felt as if we were the ones being ministered to, and as a local church Pastor, those experiences are especially dear to us.
Evangelina and I just celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary this past August 20. I had served in the military, finished my seminary degree and was working at a church in the Garland area when we were invited to serve as an associate pastor at a local Hispanic congregation in Abilene in 1999. Evangelina is originally from west Texas and actually grew up in Rotan where many HSU students came to serve through her growing up years. We looked forward to settling in Abilene. As time went by the Abilene Baptist Association asked me to consider a church plant of a multi-ethnic congregation in Abilene, and Shining Star Fellowship Church was the result of that collaboration. We had our first service on Dec. 10, 2000 and are now celebrating our 20th year in ministry here.
While serving as a trustee, I decided to pursue my doctoral degree from HSU. I wanted to do this at a university where I felt the process would help me answer some of the questions I encounter in ministry. I consider ministry to be a practice, God is leading us, but more importantly it is a learning process about reaching people. The Doctor of Ministry program at HSU lead me to feel I could research challenges I saw in my congregation; challenges like multi-ethnic connection, poverty and leadership. Especially now in our current national health crisis, people want to read something that is relevant to what they are going through right now. I felt continued ministry training and education needed to help me answer the question of how to address people's needs. I feel that right now, God is doing a new thing and sometimes we need to give him space to do that new thing. My education process at HSU helped me really focus and address issues that I felt were most important to our church at the time.
My favorite teachers and mentors from my time at HSU are many! First, I must mention Dr. Larry Baker, who from the very beginning told me all about the program. He has a pastor's heart, and when one pastor meets another one with the same heart, you notice it. Dr. Baker is one of those folks who instead of looking at you as only a prospect, he sees you as a person and wants to draw the best out of you. I must also commend Dr. Hefflin who cared about us and was a great gate-keeper. You had to present your DMin project to him, and then he helped you go from your prospectus into the project itself. He was an avid writer, and I have gotten to read his books through this process and gleaned a lot of help and thoughts from those. When you know a professor and read their book, they become even more precious. There are so many more HSU teachers and staff who are dear to us, but I had better stop there since I could go on forever about the wonderful people HSU brings to your life.
I have so many favorite stories from my time as a student! I think about my cohort of five other ministers and pastors who were in my class. We bonded together as we would all take our classes, eat together and process the information that was coming at us like a machine gun, all together. We had so many books to read and papers to write, and the interaction with your cohort helped you realize you were not by yourself. It had been nine years since I had been in a classroom of any kind, and I was a bit rusty. But by learning together, I was able to collaborate, and we brought out the best in each other. We'd get together and talk through things and figure out ideas we didn't catch the first time. Part of learning was figuring it out together. Learning is a lifelong journey.
Evangelina says it didn't surprise her that I wanted to go and continue my education. "I've been able to be at all his graduations. I have watched him walk across the stage all three times. I have never been so proud! He is the type of a person who is a preacher or teacher all the time, and he is that way at home too. I learn a lot from listening to what he says and what he learns, I learned along with him."
We know HSU looks out for the well-being and education of all students. We see the love the professors have for their students. We have had several students from HSU who have done mission work at our church, some for over 5 years, and even now, we see students at HSU who are continuing to get loved on by the school. We see the motto "education enlightened by faith" lived out in these people.
We love giving to HSU! Dr. Simmons wanted the name of HSU to be "Christlieb," which means Christ's love, and when you think of the implication of that, you give with a purpose. Purposeful giving is important, helping those who would want to have an education enlightened by faith but may not be able to afford it. You are able to help others realize their dreams by giving. Just as with me, people have poured into my life. I'm not here just on my own resources, but others have given to me as well. As a pastor, we have a calling that compels us to invest in the lives of others. HSU helps one to have an academic background and a framework to deal with today's issues, a diving calling and a divine leadership.
One of the best days of my life was when I walked across the stage to receive my diploma from Dr. Lanny Hall. That was one of the greatest moments of my life, and one I will always remember.
Dr. Richard '15 and Evangelina Darden live in Abilene where he is the founding and current senior pastor of Shining Star Fellowship Church, a multi-ethnic Baptist church in Abilene, Texas. He is a substantive leader drawing from his Vietnam Era military experience as well as corporate and electronic industry employment experiences. Richard is also a published author and his book is based on his ministry project dissertation and is titled, "Leadership Shaped by the Potter's Hand." Having served in the pastorate for the past twenty-seven years, he has devoted his energies toward developing people influenced by poverty to overcome hindrances, seek out and embrace available opportunities, and take leadership positions in the local church.