Planting Seeds at Hampton University

By Jennifer Abegg
Carla Jones planting seeds jpg
Photo by Guy Gerrard

Two chimes from the clock tower echo across campus. From under a tree near the river, Carla Jones closes her textbook, stands up and begins walking to class. She takes no shortcuts across the manicured lawns, because whether on campus or in town, she represents Hampton University, a prestigious historically black college in Virginia.

"Hampton girls ought not walk across the grass," she declares, echoing the university's Code of Conduct.

People noticed Carla, beyond her obedience to the rules, even during her freshman year. The Connecticut native sang in the halls, befriended strangers and readily talked about her faith in Jesus. To Carla, following God was fun and interesting, and fellow student Aneisha Cook noticed.

"Seeing Carla and seeing her relationship with God, and how much she loved Him," Aneisha says, "I wanted that too." Carla helped Aneisha reconnect her heart to Jesus.

In the Works

Hampton's high standards -- for example, men can't wear caps in buildings, and women are asked not to expose their belly buttons -- train students to respect themselves and others, which helps position the university to graduate top leaders. Of all the colleges in the country, including the 105 historically black colleges and universities, Hampton was recently rated 3rd-best for African-American students by Black Enterprise magazine.

With so many potential leaders on one campus, Jermayne Chapman felt compelled to pray for Hampton in the fall of 2004. The missionary living in Orlando, Fla., had even asked his co-workers to join with him in praying for the school, which boasts impressive alumni such as Booker T. Washington, a historical African-American leader and a confidant of presidents in the late 1800s.

After visiting students at nearby Old Dominion University, Jermayne and a friend drove to Hampton to pray. They prayed for the students, the administration and the professors. They specifically asked God to surface a Hampton student or a group of students to ignite a fire for Jesus there.

Jermayne works with a mission organization called Impact. Previously connected to Campus Crusade for Christ, Impact reaches out to emerging African-American leaders to help them become spiritually focused, financially free and morally fit -- taking the truth of Jesus Christ to the campus, the community and the world.

Since Impact is often started at a grass-roots level, where an interested student or group of students might rally peers together, Jermayne is a full-time coach, but not in athletics. Instead, those students who desire to pioneer the ministry on their campuses can call or e-mail him. He answers questions, challenges and encourages students, sends them resources, and prays with them.

Two Dreams Collide

Carla yearned for an avenue to get other students at Hampton excited about Jesus. And not just the girls down the hall: She wants all students to hear about Him -- even those she doesn't yet know. Carla, who plans to become a civil-rights attorney, thought she would be taken more seriously if she had a platform to tell others about the difference Christ had made in her life.

She began talking to God about this idea of starting a ministry. After a while, she felt like God was asking her to do something for the other students at Hampton that would help them know Him better.

A friend from home told Carla about a Christian group called Impact that was hosting four conferences around the country that year -- in December 2004 -- so she signed up to attend the one in Washington, D.C. The biennial conference includes seminars and social time, as well as outreaches such as distributing boxes of food to people in need.

In between singing with hundreds of other African-American college students and listening to speakers talk passionately and candidly about spiritual issues among African Americans, Carla noticed something else offered at the Impact conference -- a seminar about how to start an Impact movement on her campus. She chose that one. She hoped she could learn how to concentrate her passion for Jesus in a way that would attract her peers to Him.

The seminar excited her about the possibilities at Hampton. Afterward, she introduced herself to the speaker, Impact staff member Jacqueline Bland, who directs the coaching ministry with Impact.

Upon hearing that the young lady in front of her was from Hampton, Jacqueline immediately thought of her co-worker -- Jermayne.

The Roadblock

When school started again in January 2005, Jermayne began instructing Carla every week by phone from Orlando on how to start a movement for Jesus on her campus. They discussed how to establish credibility, ways to initiate conversations about Jesus, and various tools -- such as CDs and books -- that she could give away.

"I want to maximize my time in college by sharing the gospel with people who want Him," says Carla.

One day, her coach suggested that Carla register Impact as a student group at Hampton.

That's where they hit a roadblock. Just as she was filling out the necessary paperwork, Carla discovered that administrators at Hampton had instituted a moratorium still in effect: no new school-recognized organizations allowed until further notice. It could be 3 months, or a year, or after Carla graduates. And even if it is soon, who knows if they'll approve Impact?

Dismayed and feeling like a failure, Carla prayed. She thought her dreams were shattered. All she had learned, all she thought God was telling her to do, all her conversations with Jermayne -- all wasted.

But Carla decided to continue anyway. Like the Holy Spirit, Impact could work whether recognized by the school or not.

She had recruited 7 Christian friends to be a part of the core group of leaders to help launch Impact, including Aneisha, who 2 years later feels the way Carla does about telling their peers about Jesus.

"I want to help other people find what Carla helped me find," says Aneisha.

For now, Carla and the other leaders meet weekly, plan outreaches, and wait for the moratorium to be lifted.

Freedom Is a process

On the Hampton campus grows a gigantic tree called the Emancipation Oak. So broad are its limbs and bark that it takes up the same amount of space that a sorority house might. More than a century and a half ago, slaves gathered around that tree and heard the Emancipation Proclamation read to them; they had been freed.

No one knows who planted the oak; it doesn't matter.

Likewise, Carla has planted a seed at Hampton. She is working and waiting, hoping that one day Impact will grow into something by which generations of Hampton students will learn of true freedom, the kind only Christ offers.