Hardin-Simmons University


By Loretta Fulton

“Determined, dedicated, delightful.”

Those three words pretty well define Jan Eastland. Two words that she never let define her were “cerebral” and “palsy.” Even though Eastland has lived with the neurological disorder her entire life, she never let it define her. That was proven again Jan. 12 when a reception was held for her at Hardin-Simmons University marking the publication of her memoir, “Assorted Nuts.”

The book was made possible by Lanny Hall, chancellor of Hardin-Simmons who was president of the university when he first heard that Eastland wanted to get her memoir published. Hall took it upon himself to make sure that happened.

“We’re going to get that published,” Hall promised.

Eastland had the typed pages stored on a computer disk, which Hall, his assistant Donna Hall (not related) and others got into the proper format to be published through Amazon’s CreateSpace.

Eastland has proven all her 74 years that she wouldn’t let cerebral palsy, the result of an injury at birth, define her or limit her. It took her 17 years to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology from HSU, but she did it. One of her professors was Julian Bridges, who defined Eastland as “determined, dedicated, delightful.”

He recalled that when Eastland got her degree in 1978, something special happened at the commencement ceremony.

“All of the graduating class stood up and applauded,” he said during the Jan. 12 reception.

Hall noted in his remarks that Eastland first enrolled at HSU in the 1960s and has met all of the university’s presidents since then.

“She’s seen a lot of nuts,” he said, a reference to the book title, which Eastland chose.

In addition to seeing people buying her book, enjoying a beautiful cake, and being greeted by a crowd of well-wishers, Eastland received a couple of special notices. State Rep. Stan Lambert, who was unable to attend, got a state resolution adopted honoring Eastland.

Abilene Mayor Anthony Williams, who also was unable to attend, signed a proclamation naming Jan. 12 as “Jan Eastland Day” in Abilene. The proclamation was printed on a plaque, which was presented to Eastland.

Current HSU President Eric Bruntmyer said Eastland sometimes visits his office and always is a blessing.

“You can see her spirit,” Bruntmyer said, “as she goes throughout the campus.”





By Larry Baker

I caught myself acting on a childhood lesson on a one-way street.

I walked from a building and headed toward my car across the street. At curbside I stopped, as a voice in my head instructed, “Look both ways!” I looked first right, then left, and caught myself chuckling. “Why?” I wondered. “Traffic’s only coming from one direction.” That lesson had directed me for decades, and now barked its orders as I started across a one-way street.


Larry Baker

“Look both ways!” As I write, I am looking at a calendar about to say, “I have done my job. Get another one. Only a few days remain in 2017. Another annual trek almost over! Here comes next year, a time to “look both ways.”

The Bible wants us to be thoughtful, discerning, and mindful about our lives. “Consider” is a high-profile word in the Old Testament and New, in Jesus’ teachings and in the prophets.

Year’s end is a good time to look backward. Someone contended, “Strong and well-constituted persons digest their experiences (deeds and misdeeds) just as they digest their food, even when they have some tough morsels to swallow.” A longtime friend will sometimes end part of our conversation with a brief statement, “Well, I think I understand that better now.” Looking back can offer new understanding.

In midlife, another friend lost his wife to a rare cancer after a valiant battle. On Christmas he wrote, “We are experiencing Christmas in a sea of great joy and gratitude, while never being outside the looming shadow of debilitating grief.” He continued, “We…all of us, live on Dichotomy Circle.”

Before ending his lines, he observed, “We are not alone and neither are you! Yes, there is this ….all of us are always living within earshot of the Baby cooing and crying in a manger. Emmanuel, God with US! There is always this. Thanks be to God!”

Standing on the banks of tomorrow, we can look backward and see ways God guided us and blanketed our lives in goodness. Our backward survey will chronicle God’s loving kindness and tender mercies. We will recall happily those occasions when God met humankind and pulled us heavenward.

Such memories can help us live in the present. Memory can keep us in touch with who we are as well as our purpose and goals. Now one year prepares for the sleep of history and the other readies itself for birth, and I catch a new glimpse of the importance of looking back.

Year’s end is a good time to look forward. We can look, not with anxiety but with assurance. We can look, not with apprehension, but with anticipation. As we look ahead, we cannot be certain about much, but we know all we need. My calendar already contains notes – reminders, names, appointments, and signals, all tentative. As I think ahead, I remember a colleague who often ended a conversation with “I will see you, God willing.”

We know the Bible is chock-full of visions of good things coming. Promises of wonderful and exciting things in store for God’s people saturate the Bible. Read carefully, watch for the word “shall,” and remember the word runs in front of something good that will happen. God promises things to look forward to, even when skies are dark and life is daunting. That is what “anticipate” means – to look forward to, to await eagerly, and to foretaste.

Standing curbside and looking both ways, we might take a fresh look at some words from the psalmist: “I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago….I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:5, 12, NRSV); good for God’s 21st century people as for the ancients. We might recall Moses’ word: “….it is the Lord your God who goes before you’ he will not fail you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NRSV); true then, true now. Jesus’ words assure us, And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, NRSV) — even in our turbulent, unpredictable time.

On second thought, there are good reasons for looking both ways!

 Larry Baker is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Hardin-Simmons University. 

LIFE LINES: ‘Why did it take so long?’

By Larry Baker

During the middle of worship recently, I asked myself, “Why did it take so long?” Mentally I underscored “so long?” Two carols triggered the query: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” God’s ancient people lived, and died, with the promise unfulfilled for what seemed like an eternity. I know: Paul declared the promise became reality “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4, NRSV), but I still wonder, “Why did it take so long?”


Larry Baker

We know questions. Question marks play a leading role in the script of living and occupy a prominent place in the grammar of life. The question mark is one of our punctuation marks because questions are part of the lives of every one of us.

Questions have a central place in the Bible. The God of the Bible is a God who asks questions. Jesus himself is a man of questions. The people of God we meet in the pages of the Bible also know how to ask questions.

Nevertheless, questions seem out of place during Advent. This is the season for celebration and joy. This is a time for announcement and affirmation. These are days for parades and parties, for happy hearts and laughter. These are days of “Joy to the World” and “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.” Questions have dogged our lives before Christmas and are sure to come beyond Bethlehem; but, for now, they seem out of place.

But there is good news. We don’t have to lay aside the questions that plague us when Advent breaks. We don’t have to hustle them off into the back rooms of our lives as though we are embarrassed by their arrival at the family reunion. Instead, Christmas invites us to bring our questions to the cradle of Bethlehem and ask them there.

Take another look at the birth stories in Mathew and Luke. You will discover that the Christmas story has its questions too. Before ever the heavenly courier speaks to Joseph in a dream, the carpenter questions the most fitting way to deal with Mary. Mary, a chaste teenager living her life in commitment, devotion, and hope, is stunned by the angel’s announcement and asks, “How can this be since I have no husband?” In turn, Zechariah, already a member of the AARP, and Elisabeth, Mary’s cousin, ask questions. When the forerunner of Jesus is born and Zechariah announces the child’s name, the people ask, “What then will this child be?” Magi and Herod alike ask questions.

I, for one, am relieved and encouraged by those questions planted firmly in the Christmas story. Here is a God who is not embarrassed by questions. This God does not say to me, “No. No. You shouldn’t ask that.” Rather God takes my questions seriously because God takes me seriously.

God is like the mother who says, “Katelyn, go ahead, ask your question. We will see if we can find the answer.” Or God is like the teacher who says to a student, “Thomas, that’s a good question. Let’s put together an answer to it

Many of us come to this Advent season with questions. For some, familiar landmarks are gone. Institutions we have counted on have tumbled. People in whom we have trusted have failed us.

 Values we cherished have been discarded by many around us. The maps we used for our living do not match the countryside in which we now travel.

Some of us are feeling the harsh power of the hard blows of human experience. Death has taken cherished loved ones from us and Christmas will be tinged with tears and sadness. Disease has riddled the bodies of some of us and broken health has taken up residence in our own bodies. Our love for others has given birth to hurts and disappointments that nag us constantly. Some of us feel the power of the old cliché, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all. We come to Advent filled with questions.

Back now to the music of worship. The mood shifted from longing to announcement: “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” This one “dispels…the darkness everywhere….from sin and death He saves us….lightens every load.”

Advent brings good news. It comes wrapped in swaddling clothes and crying under the night sky. It comes in the unusual birth of a remarkable baby.

Listen again to the music of the season: “Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing.” Here is the way through our questions. Christmas invites us to bring our questions to the cradle of Bethlehem and ask them there. Advent assures us that we can bring our questions to the God who came among us and ask them, with no hesitation and without embarrassment.

 Larry Baker is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Hardin-Simmons University. 



Drs. Robert and Teresa Ellis help Virginia Connally celebrate her 105th birthday Dec. 4 at Copper Creek restaurant. They were among many friends of Connally’s from her alma mater, Hardin-Simmons University. Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

“And we hope you have many more.”

That toast to Dr. Virginia Connally, Abilene’s first female physician, ended a special celebration Dec. 4 of her 105th birthday. Connally’s daughter, Genna, who lives in Waco, joined friends in Abilene for the celebration.

A special gift to Connally from her alma mater, Hardin-Simmons University, was the Jesse C. Fletcher Award for Distinguished Service in Missions. Robert Ellis, interim dean of the Logsdon School of Theology at Hardin-Simmons, presented Connally with a citation, written by former HSU President Lanny Hall.

Part of the citation read by Ellis cited the Great Commission, Jesus’ directive to his disciples to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” according to the King James Version of the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, verse 19.

Connally, a member of First Baptist Church since she was a student at Hardin-Simmons in the early 1930s, is a long time supporter of missions. She served on medical missions in Venezuela during her years of practice, from 1940 to 1982.

Connally, who was born Ada Virginia Hawkins Dec. 4, 1912, in Temple, earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and education from then-Simmons University in 1933. She returned to Abilene in 1940 after earning a medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine and serving an internship and residency at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Her first office was located in the Mims Building downtown, where she specialized in diseases of the eye, ear, nose, and throat. She retired in 1982.

Among her medical highlights were serving as the first female chief of staff at Hendrick Medical Center and the now-closed St. Ann Hospital, serving medical missions to Venezuela, receiving the 2004 Pioneer in Medicine award at the 100th anniversary celebration of the Taylor-Jones-Haskell County Medical Society, now the Big Country County Medical Society, and receiving the Distinguished Service Award in 2012 from the Texas Medical Association.

Of equal importance to Connally was her interest in missions. In 1981, Connally and her late husband, Ed Connally, established the Connally Endowed Professorship of Missions at Hardin-Simmons. Virginia Connally provided the lead gift to establish the Connally Missions Center at Hardin-Simmons, which was dedicated in 2000.

Ellis noted in the citation that the Great Commission seal is displayed just above the entrance to the Connally Missions Center.

“The Connally Missions Center is a constant reminder to Hardin-Simmons and Logsdon students,” Ellis read, “that we are all obedient to the Great Commission today.”








Click on link below to see Allison Ball, a Hardin-Simmons University physical therapy student, in a promotional video for Joni & Friends, a foundation to raise money and awareness about disabilities. Ball also was invited to speak to donors to the foundation in October.
Click on link below to learn more about funding a Hardin-Simmons University mission trip to Peru.

By Loretta Fulton

Appearing in a fundraising video for a foundation that advocates for people with disabilities and speaking to a donor meeting in California came naturally to Allison Ball, a second-year student in the Hardin-Simmons University physical therapy program.

She knew firsthand what she was talking about. Ball’s brother suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car wreck when he was younger. Now a student a McLennan Community College, he is doing well. But the experience left Ball with a desire to help people in similar situations, so it was no wonder that she was the perfect person to be an advocate.

“A lot of it, I could relate to,” Ball said.

Ball, from Arlington, was invited in October to fly with her husband to California to talk to donors to Joni & Friends, a foundation started by Joni Eareckson Tada, who in 1967 suffered a diving injury that left her a quadriplegic. In 2010, she suffered another setback when she was diagnosed with breast cancer but today still keeps an active ministry schedule.

The Hardin-Simmons Department of Physical Therapy partners with Joni & Friends to offer a course titled, “Beyond Suffering.” According to the Joni & Friends website, people with disabilities are considered one of the world’s largest under-represented groups. One of the primary goals of the “Beyond Suffering” is to address this issue by preparing leaders in ministry, education, medicine and science to become involved in this life-changing ministry.

The course shows what disability ministry looks like, Ball said. One thing she learned is that most churches are not prepared to welcome people with disabilities.

“That was  a surprise to me,” she said.

“Beyond Suffering” is taught is six one-hour sessions in the Hardin-Simmons program. The course ended in June and was followed by students participating in a family camp near Houston and then in a mission trip to Peru.

In October, Ball was invited to speak to the Joni & Friends donors in California about that trip and to appear in a promotional video. The summer trip to Peru was a first for Ball. She had been on a mission trip to Louisiana as a high school student but had never been on a trip like the one to Peru. That kind of opportunity was a draw for her when deciding which physical therapy school to attend.

“That was one of the big reasons I chose Hardin-Simmons,” she said.

Ball, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Baylor University, is focusing on neuro-developmental pediatrics in physical therapy school and plans a career working with children suffering such disabilities as Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy.

The trip to Peru was a first for Ball, but definitely not a last. Ball learned how to incorporate ministry with her work and to practice what she had learned in the “Beyond Suffering” course, which focused on compassion and a bringing a positive perspective.

“You literally get to be the hands and feel of Jesus,” Ball said.







Jonathan Storment, preaching minister at Highland Church of Christ, addresses Hardin-Simmons University students during a forum Nov. 7. Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

“Is Christianity intolerant?”

Yes, and we should be thankful for that. Christianity makes us intolerant of racism, super-nationalism, and other “isms” that are hurtful.

“Praise God, it makes us intolerant of certain things,” said Jonathan Storment, preaching minister at Highland Church of Christ.

Storment was one of the speakers for a student-led forum called “Inquire” Nov. 7 at Hardin-Simmons University. Five questions were covered during the day: Is Christianity intolerant? Is Scripture reliable? Does the reality of suffering prove that God doesn’t exist? What’s God’s will for my life? and What’s God’s design for my sexuality?

Other speakers in addition to Storment were Daniel Rangel, with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Andy Flink, and Stan Allcorn, pastor of Pioneer Drive Baptist Church.

When wondering whether Christianity is intolerant, look at Genesis, Storment said. Genesis Chapter 1 was not written to argue with Darwin, Storment said, but to show that only God deserves our worship.

Genesis tells of the Pharaoh believing in nine gods. The one true God sent 10 plagues to destroy Pharaoh’s dynasty.

“If you want to know where the Bible is intolerant,” Storment said, “it’s on idolatry.”

Storment suggested that asking whether Christianity or the Bible or the church is intolerant might be the wrong question. Yes, Christianity is intolerant of false gods, or idols, but Christians shouldn’t be intolerant of people who worship those instead of God.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute is a biblical mandate. Storment posed a different question:

“How are you going to treat people on the other side of the boundary?” he asked.

The “Inquire” forum was put together by a team of Hardin-Simmons students. One of the leaders, Molly Warren, a senior from Indiana, said the team wanted students to be inspired to inquire about their faith.

“We want them to really ask questions about why they believe what they believe,” she said in a news release from Hardin-Simmons.

Warren said she and other students struck up a conversation last spring about asking the questions that were posed at the forum, plus others. Many of her friends have analytical minds, and she wanted them to know that it is OK to ask those questions.

“Loving God with all your mind is a huge part of their faith walk,” Warren said.

The team of students posed their plan to Travis Craver, HSU chaplain, who gave them the green light. From there, the team whittled an original list of 30 questions to five and lined up speakers. Then, Warren said, they turned it over to God.

“Lord, we’re just being obedient,” they prayed. “We’re going to work hard, but you’ve got to make this a success.”

Warren, a business administration major, said a high school friend, who was a pre-med major, died after his freshman year in college. He was a strong believer but had an analytical mind, Warren said.

Conversations with him, and HSU friends who also are analytical thinkers, gave her the insight to see that people of faith need to understand that it’s OK to ask questions–God can handle it.

“God is not scared of our tough questions,” Warren said.










Photos courtesy Hardin-Simmons University

By Loretta Fulton

Usually, if a split occurs between a Baptist university and an affiliate state convention, it’s the university that fires the first shot.

It wasn’t that way in 2005 when the Georgia Baptist Convention severed its ties with Mercer University, Dr. R. Alan Culpepper, retired dean of the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer, told guests Oct. 17 during a dialogue at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology. The convention ended its ties and its $3 million a year in support, Culpepper said.

“They couldn’t control it,” he said, “so they weren’t going to pay for it.”

Culpepper, who served as dean of the McAfee School of Theology from its founding in 1995 to 2015, spoke on a range of topics at the dialogue, which was squeezed in between his lectures as guest speaker for the George Knight Lectures Oct. 16-17.

His opening lecture was titled, “Creation Ethics in the Gospel of John.” The second lecture was titled, “The Knowledge of God: Prophetic Vision and Johannine Theme.”

Culpepper first spoke for the Knight Lectures 14 years ago in 2003. He joked that he would see everyone again in another 14 years, in 2031. In visiting with students, faculty, and guests, Culpepper said that many colleges with historical roots in the church are moving away from those roots.

Most of the universities founded in the southeastern part of the United States between 1825 and 1850 were started by a religious denomination, Culpepper said, because the founders wanted to provide a classical and theological education.

“They wanted an educated ministry,” Culpepper said.

By the 1960s, those colleges were moving away from their roots. Hardin-Simmons, with its ties to the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and other denominational colleges are providing an important niche, Culpepper said.

“There is an opportunity for dialogue that involves religion and religious issues that’s both affirming and critical,” he said.

Culpepper grew up in a missionary family, living in Argentina and Chile. He later attended a church pastored by the renowned John Claypool.

“I had the Cadillac of Baptist upbringing,” he said.

Even so, he did not have a sense of patterns in the the scriptures. He didn’t learn that in church, and that is why a theological education is so important.

“I didn’t get that in church,” he said, “I got that in a freshman survey class.”

The face of a seminary has changed drastically over the years, Culpepper said. Some seminarians are not from Christian homes and didn’t grow up in the church. Also, there has been an erosion in basic liberal arts competency, he said, so that theological education has to start from a different point than it did 20 to 40 years ago.

Theology professors have to recognize that challenge and what it means for the future of theological education. Information today is accessed differently and is being used differently, he said. We live in an American society that is suspicious of authority and of religious leadership, Culpepper said, “but with a real sense of spiritual need.”

The question is, “How will the religious community help people achieve that quest for spirituality?” Cupepper cited Ephesians 4:12, which refers to the equipping of saints, or the whole church, for ministry. Generally, he said, “equipping” translates to providing gear or tools need for a task.

But, Culpepper said, the same Greek word also means “mending their nets.” So, perhaps the church should be thinking about “mending the saints for ministry” instead of supplying them with gear.

“We need to help them become whole persons,” he said, and how that’s done may shape the future of higher education.