By Jordan West
CLEVELAND, Ga., TMNews – Junior education major Ethan Stafford grew up hearing about the goodness of God’s grace and chose to follow Christ at an early age, but his life has since taken a turn into a career field he never expected.
Salvation in the woods
Stafford calls Gray, Ga. his hometown. He explained, “When I was younger, we moved around a lot because of my dad’s job, and so we never really had a solid church family until we moved to Gray in 2008. I remember going to several different Vacation Bible Schools and hearing the Gospel, but never really understanding it.”
His hearing of the Gospel but never truly listening lead to a unique salvation experience.
“One day after school, I was 8 years old, and I started a fire in my yard to burn an old school workbook,” he said.
“I was sitting by myself looking at the fire, and I remember thinking, ‘If I knew Jesus, I would be saved, and I wouldn’t go to hell.’ I knew that at some point I was going to die, and I would need the salvation that Christ offered, however that looked in my 8-year old life.”
He continued, “So I prayed and accepted Christ that night, and from then on, I knew that Christ was my salvation. But that was it – there was no relationship with Christ yet.
A call to ministry and missions
Stafford said, “I recognized that I wasn’t living a life that was sold out to Christ, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. I think a lot of it came from a lack of discipleship in my life, because I was just moving along on my own.”
“This went on for several years, and the summer before my sophomore year of high school, my best friend said to me, ‘You go to church as much as you can; you’re always there – it’s obvious that you know Christ. But your actions don’t reflect that. Who you are is very different when you’re around other people, or when you’re at school.’”
His friend’s words struck him. Stafford stated, “It was then that I realized I was not living the same life at all times.”
“I started asking the Lord to change me and draw me towards Him. He started removing the things from my life that caused me to stumble.”
“Around that time, I realized I was being called into ministry. I started telling people about it, and they were so excited, but I was unsure. I didn’t like talking in front of people and I was extremely introverted,” Stafford said.
“My youth pastor asked me to speak one night, and the Lord really cleared it up for me that though I may have been scared, He would pull me through. I would be able to do it because of Him.”
As he neared the end of high school, Stafford began applying to Christian schools where he could study to be a youth pastor. He visited TMU and though the campus’s beautiful view from the cross impressed him, it was really his lunch experience that sold him on the school.
He said, “When we went into the ‘caf’ at TMU, they had these meatball subs, and they were delicious. That was really what sealed the deal.”
The summer before he started college, Stafford went on a mission trip to Zambia. He stated, “The Lord showed me how I can be used in the context of missions. I changed my major to include an emphasis in missions, and that is where I stayed for the next five semesters.”
A heart change into the classroom
Stafford had always planned to go from his undergraduate studies straight into seminary. After spending five semesters in the Christian Studies program, God began to change his heart.
“I felt like while I was in undergrad, I could get something that would be different but helpful in ministry so I could still go on and do Christian Studies in seminary,” he said. “I started praying, and it seemed like out of nowhere, the Lord placed the idea of education in front of me.”
He added, “Education can be used in the mission field to reach people who, otherwise would not be receptive to the Gospel.”
Halfway through what would have been his junior year, in December 2015, he officially changed his major to early childhood education.
This decision set back his graduation date by a year and set him up for a very full semester to meet the requirements to join the education program. Knowing the financial burden an extra year of school would cause, Stafford learned he had to trust in the Lord to provide.
“I felt like that was where He was leading me, and something He continues to give me peace about every day,” he said.
His family helped him feel at ease about this decision. “My parents were very supportive. They said, ‘If this is what you feel like you need to do, we’ll find a way to make it work,’ which was a huge relief. I knew this was what the Lord wanted to use me to do.”
Serving on and off campus
Last year, Stafford joined TMU’s student-led ministry, the Young Scholars Program. He recalled, “I started going and built a lot of friendships with others serving. I started going to the main Foothills campus, helping out with the kids and doing some of the tutoring.”
YSP seeks to build relationships with families in these impoverished communities, meeting needs and sharing the Gospel. Stafford said, “One of the classes I’m taking is about how to deal with impoverished students, and I can see so easily how it could be used in ministry.”
Stafford has been given the opportunity to lead at one of YSP’s three locations. He said, “We have hopes of building a strong foundation with the families and finding people who will invite us into the community so we can start tutoring and doing bible studies.”
The Lord has continued to confirm Stafford’s decision to study education. “I realized how useful in these communities being a teacher would be and it reassured me that what I am studying is a need these kids have. They come home and their parents aren’t stressing the importance of education.”
He continued, “We get to offer this free thing where the students come out and the value of education is amplified in their lives. When you present it in a way that seems fun and in a way they can connect with, it’s something children can love. They realize that they can enjoy learning something, it’s not just something they’re forced to do.”
“I can take that mindset in to the classroom and hopefully reach kids with this idea that they are bettering themselves for whatever their purpose is, so their learning does have a purpose.”
During Stafford’s freshman year at TMU, he met Resident Assistants who genuinely cared about him, and their impact inspired Stafford to apply to be a part of Student Life Staff as well. This year, he serves as an RA for the second year in Garrison Hall, a dorm occupied mostly by freshmen.
He explained, “You have to have this intentionality and responsibility, and the residents are always watching. The Lord continued to humble me, which prepared me so much for this year.”
“I’m the only returning RA in my dorm, and I was able to see where I was last year, and help point the new RAs in the direction they need to go. I’ve been so encouraged by the guys that came in this year. It’s a great group.”
After his graduation in 2018, he said, “My plan is still to go to seminary, and getting certified to teach there while I work on my degree. I’ve talked to a lot of people that have gone overseas to teach, and that’s something I think sounds incredible. I’m absolutely open to wherever the Lord leads me.”
“I had in my head when I applied here that I would get a degree in student ministry and go on to be a youth pastor,” Stafford concluded. “Since then, the Lord has just been broadening in my mind with what He can do when we put our trust in Him.”
Jordan is a 2016 graduate of TMU.Return to News Archive