Chasing Your Dreams

Chariots of FireThis is the “purpose” paper that I sent to Mercer and Oxford as part of my recent application. Thought it might prove to be an encouragement to others who are currently “chasing their dreams.” Take care.

I blame it on “Chariots of Fire.” Maybe you remember that Oscar-winning movie from 1981? Maybe you don’t. But for me it was a defining moment in my life. I still remember seeing it for the very first time as a young junior high school student in Athens, Ga. It was a tremendous movie recounting the outstanding accomplishments of two young British runners, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, at the 1924 Olympics. But the thing that truly captivated me was the early scenes that showed the experiences of Harold Abrahams at Cambridge. The sense of heritage and the commitment to character that so permeated that school simply amazed me as a young adolescence. To think that there were places in the world where education was actually combined with learning, integrity and a relentless pursuit for excellence. Indeed, such a school could truly be called “a place of higher learning.” At that point in my life I knew that I wanted to one day attend one of the two prestigious and world-renown universities in England, either Cambridge or Oxford. As I set my sights upon this new horizon I began to pursue this newly realized dream and distant destination.

But then “I” got in the way… By my second year of high school I was out of control. I don’t blame any of it on my past or my parents. Through my own personal choices I forfeited my future dreams upon the altar of temporary pleasure. During the next 5 years my life story would become a dark chapter of alcohol, drugs, and countless wasted opportunities. Before the age of 21 I had managed to barely graduate high school, I had been expelled from a private Methodist college in north Georgia, and I had lost any and all hope for my future. At that point in time it was far more likely that my name would appear on the local police report than any acceptance letter from Oxford or Cambridge. My life had become a race to see which I would reach first… a jail cell or the grave.

In April of 1988 I reached a crossroads in my life and made a life-changing choice. I turned my back on the previous half-decade of self-destructive behavior and entered the “professional” ministry (I became an “ordained” Assemblies of God missionary/pastor). After a brief 10 month period in Argentina, I spent the next two decades working almost exclusively in urban and ghetto environments, seeking to bring hope and life to the disenchanted and discouraged masses who called the most desperate parts of this country their home. We fed and clothed the poor. We counselled hurting parents. We worked with addicts. We visited the imprisoned. We tutored children. And we did all this within the framework of the local church. Our goal was to restore broken families, to renew their hope for a better day, and to improve their lives. In many ways it was one of the most difficult and demanding seasons of my life. But it was also one of the most insightful and rewarding.

About 5 years ago I made another major transition. I left professional ministry and sought secular employment at a local paper mill. Shortly thereafter, a company-wide award for job excellence afforded me the opportunity to return to college and complete the long ago previously abandoned degree. At the age of 44 I was accepted back to Mercer and began striving to complete the unfinished classes I needed for my degree. I set my sights on a business management major with an accompanying minor in economics.

But the previous 20 years in the ghetto had left an indelible mark upon my personality. One of the great frustrations of my earlier experience in the ghetto was our inability to bring any real or substantial change to the working environment of the people in our sphere of influence. We ministered to their soul. We counseled them in their time of need. We provided them with practical expressions of assistance like food and clothing. But in the end we saw so few break free from the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty. In spite of 10 years of incredible labor and sacrifice, the poor in our church were still undeniably poor.

Even at this stage my heart still burns with compassion for the “less fortunate” in life. During the past 2 years I have been experiencing an internal metamorphosis, a reinvention of the “soul” so to speak. In the corners of my mind a dream has begun to unfold, a vision has begun to take shape; a previously unforeseen possibility has begun to arise from the ashes of my past failures. As I enter the “second half” of my life I long to return to the urban centers of America (and the world at large) armed with the tools to help people with this last missing element from my previous tour of duty. I want to work with people and help them find ways to create jobs, to enter into the market place and realize practical, long-term ways of breaking the cycle of poverty. Instead of ministering solely to their spiritual considerations, we would also be equipped to train them in successful entrepreneurship.

All of which brings me to Oxford… Late last year I was invited to participate in the Rhodes/Fulbright program. I saw the word “Oxford” on the list and all of those childhood dreams were instantly reignited. Unfortunately, after meeting with Dr. Brown I realized the time commitment was more than I could do. And so, once more I abandoned the dream. And then, fate mercifully intervened this past semester. I learned about Mercer Abroad and the opportunity to attend Regents Park College in Oxford.

I see this chance to finally attend Oxford as an opportunity to “cement” in place the foundation stones of this present dream. I have reached an age in life now where the only thing that probably exceeds my present level of passion is my sense of discipline. I am convinced that through my work ethic and commitment to excellence I could extract more from even one semester than most others could glean in a year or more. I do not lack for drive. I do not lack for determination. And while my confidence may well be misconstrued as pride, I am certain that the opportunity to study abroad during the fall semester of 2014 will most certainly be life-changing. I know it will be life-changing for me. And my greater hope is that in time the seeds of this opportunity will prove life-changing for countless others as well.