Hardin-Simmons University


(Editor’s Note: Dr. Jennifer Eames is the founding director of the physician assistant program at Hardin-Simmons University. She and a group of students spent spring break on a mission trip to Peru. Eames sent the following report from the trip. Photos were posted on Facebook by team members.)
A team of students from the Hardin-Simmons University physician assistant program spent four and a half days at at clinic in Peru over spring break, seeing more than 700 people.

Jennifer Eames

The team, consisting of 15 students, five health care providers, and a Hardin-Simmons staff member,  partnered with Buckner International, well-known world wide for its work with families, children, and orphans. Buckner International is planning to build a Family Hope Center in the community where the Hardin-Simmons team served, outside Cusco, Peru.

This week we were able to treat patients, pray with families, provide glasses to over 300 people, perform procedures, distribute donated toothbrushes, and provide health education programs.
Patients were all weighed, had blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and respiratory rate taken. They then were given the opportunity to be evaluated for glasses and wait to be seen by either a physician assistant or physician in the education room.
The education area reviewed topics like skin care, hand washing, oral health, reproductive health, and the dangers of alcohol and tobacco use. There were great questions by the patients, who seemed very engaged in the education talks. Each adult also had a glucose level taken before seeing a provider.
HSU’s PA program carried over 20 large suitcases of donated medicines, hygiene items, glasses, and equipment from local and regional church groups, individuals, Global Samaritan Resources, Hendrick Medical Center, The Lions Club, and Dr. Rocky McAdam’s office. We were able to leave the few unused items with local providers for later use. The most requested treatments included multivitamins and anti-parasite medicines, as clean water is not available in the community where we worked.
The team has been covered in prayer by many around the world for months and have truly been fortunate to have both beautiful weather and great health. The group had one last activity, a trip to Machu Picchu before returning on March 18. We are so honored to have had this opportunity to share the love of Christ with people in South America. We have all been blessed by spending time with the vibrant people of Peru and are thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the healing profession.



I think my Grandfather first taught me. I’m not sure. What I do remember is the way he treated me.


Larry Baker

I recall some places he lived – in a white frame house on the side of a hill, “home” for a tenant farmer growing cotton and tending a garden; a rented, unpainted clapboard house a dozen miles northeast of my family home; a barracks-like building that housed an apartment during World War II when he worked at a munitions plant; and the only home he ever owned, a tiny frame building planted a couple hundred feet away from U.S. 80 on a spot of land he farmed for food and income.

You get the picture. No land baron he! He was “Granddaddy” who welcomed his grandson into his home every summer. “We” worked the farm, harvested the produce, and loaded his truck for a trek through the countryside that ended at a small grocery store in a nearby hamlet. On the way, he “peddled” his goods to folks who liked his butter beans, delighted in his sweet corn, or relished his freshly picked strawberries. At the end of each trip, he sold the remainder of the day’s produce to store owners. That, his income earned by the sweat of his brow and the strain on his back.

After a week or two, I packed for home. That visit always ended with a ritual. Granddaddy would pull out a Mason jar almost full of coins. I would count them – half-dollars, quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies. That collection: his gift to me and my “pay” for working with him. Out of each day’s sales, he put aside some coins for the grandson who had tracked him through the fields and ridden proudly beside him as he sold his goods door to door.

Any way you measure it, Granddaddy was generous with me! But, with others – family and church — as well. The table on Christmas Day was always laden with food and the tree surrounded with brightly-wrapped, but never expensive, gifts for everyone. Again, generosity! I don’t know where he learned it. I don’t know where it started but I know how it played out. The short, round-bodied man in bib overalls that I called “Granddaddy” practiced generosity when I didn’t know the meaning of the word and without ever making a big deal of it.

Lately, I have bumped into “generosity” often. One of the hottest management gurus in our time and the owner of Chic-Fil-A jointly penned a small best-selling book about it. A widely-known theologian, a noted physician-scientist, and the founder of Habitat for Humanity have as well.

Wonder why generosity has found its place in the middle of public discussion. Maybe because we are living in a “culture largely stripped of grace” as one described us. Maybe it’s an antidote to the me-myself-and-mine way of living that thinks first and only of itself. Maybe the seed of the Bible, planted but long dormant, has broken through the parched crust of American life with promise for new life. Maybe our spirits need the healing tonic. No matter the reason, celebrate the prospect of something much better than we’ve been. 

Maybe those folks are onto something my grandfather knew years when I was a tow-headed, barefoot boy logging days as his summer sidekick. They, at least, sent me back across the years to think about the first person I knew who lived generosity with big-hearted deeds and simple words.

I know others. Generous people are everywhere, but we don’t tell their stories often enough. My parents, like my grandfather, were generous. Men and women in the churches I have served have been. Generous people look a lot like those first Christians who worshiped with “glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). They’re kin to Paul who wrapped up his counsel to Timothy urging “Command them…to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).

And all look like the God who knows how to give good gifts and has poured out love to people in all walks of life. When we meet God in the Bible we meet the One with a lavish heart. God doesn’t hang on greedily to good gifts and doesn’t make deals as a way to determine who gets them Instead, God gives – “giveth and giveth and giveth” again.

On a tiny farm and along the roads of North Louisiana, I learned generosity doesn’t hinge on having much; it has to do with the way we see life and the way we parcel out what we have – experience, understanding, time, money, love.

Generosity is for every one of us. To become generous we need only two traits — a willing spirit and the courage to reach beyond ourselves.

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


The Christians-14

Pastor Paul looks down at the pulpit as he addresses his congregation in The Christians, a play at Hardin-Simmons University. Photo courtesy Ben Burke


What: The Christians
When: Jan. 31-Feb. 4 (7:30 p.m. Jan. 31-Feb. 3; 2 p.m. Feb. 4)
Where: Hardin-Simmons University Behrens Auditorium
Tickets: Order online at www.hsutx.edu/tickets General admission, $10; senior citizens, military and non-HSU students, $5; groups of 10 or more, $4 (Call 670-1405 to order group tickets)
Details: The HSU Theater Department is presenting the play by Lucas Hnath (pronounced nayth); after the performances Wednesday-Saturday, a local pastor or chaplain will lead a 30-minute discussion for anyone who wishes to stay.

“It feels good to know people won’t just leave the show being entertained, but stirred in way that they want to look at their beliefs in a new way.”
Bridgett Mistrot (Elizabeth, pastor’s wife)


The theater department at a Christian university presenting a play titled The Christians seems like a no-brainer. Until you hear the opening.

On a day that a megachurch is celebrating its debt being paid off, the pastor drops a bombshell: The church will be going in a new direction–no longer will they believe in the existence of hell. The church will no longer be a church that says what it teaches is the only way to believe.

“We are no longer that kind of church,” Pastor Paul tells the congregation.

To say that all hell breaks loose would be an understatement. The congregation is confused, angry, and stretched to examine its beliefs. The audience may feel some of those emotions, too.

The 90-minute play will address those issues. Following the shows Wednesday-Saturday, a local pastor or chaplain will lead a 30-minute discussion. The audience is invited to participate or they can leave before the talk-back.

The play is directed by HSU theater professor Victoria Spangler. Cast members are Bridgett Mistrot (Elizabeth, pastor’s wife); Titanyna Hudson (Jennifer, congregant); Michael Kelly (Pastor Paul); Brandon Sparks-Moffett (Joshua, associate pastor); and Robert Taylor, Jr. (Jay, church elder)

Following are reflections from four of the cast members. Photos are courtesy of

Ben Burke, Hardin-Simmons University educational theater major

ROBERT TAYLOR JR. (Jay, church elder)
The Christians-3
The Christians is a very interesting show to me. After being cast, I was very excited to read the whole show and see how everything played out. My character Jay, is the only character in the show that seems to not be concerned with Pastor Paul’s sermon. His concern is that if people are leaving the church, there won’t be a church. He sees everything from a business standpoint which is very interesting to me. He puts aside personal views for what, in reality, is the most important aspect of the church. “What good is a church that no one goes to?” is a line Jay says, and it could very well be the theme of the show. If a church doesn’t have donors it will not last, that’s just the tragic truth.

TITANYNA HUDSON (Jennifer, a congregant)
The Christians-5 (1)
This play really opened my eyes up to the real theological questions that people are asking. At first, I thought this play was dangerous, because I didn’t want to be the one responsible for ingraining any doubts about the afterlife in people’s minds. But then I read the play again, I prayed, and God really opened my heart to the beauty of this play. I think God wants us to have questions. I now know that I can’t force someone to believe what I believe. All I can do is just be a witness and testify about why I believe what I believe and listen to others when they do the same.



Michael Bentea Kelly (Pastor Paul)
The Christians-17 (1)
When I first read The Christians it took me 20 minutes, (it’s not very long), but I’m still not done processing it. The show is one of the few I’ve read that keeps me up at night asking question after question and going in circles trying to figure out where I stand in all of the chaos I never knew about. I play Paul, the pastor of the megachurch that The Christians focuses on. He and the rest of the characters travel on an unexpected and almost terrifying journey of faith-crippling discovery. I’ve never connected so much to a character’s frustration than I have with Paul and his powerful yearning to connect with the people that he loves. It draws out of me a longing I’ve never experienced and a hunger to be understood. What I hope audiences take away from The Christians is the simple idea that we are all closer than we think we are. It doesn’t take much to make a small connection with the person next to you if we can all remember to see past ourselves and cherish the little time we have with each other.

BRANDON SPARKS-MOFFETT (Associate Pastor Joshua)

The Christians-20

The Christians is an uplifting play that battles with the internal struggles against the belief that many people feel strongly about. The script gives so much life to each character and challenges us as actors to understand the experiences these characters go through. Not all actors have been through what the characters have gone through, so it’s definitely a true test as actors to be able to present the struggles that I myself haven’t been through in my life. Its changed my opinion of how I view things, such as, I’ve found more compassion for others and the problems they face in their lives. When I take the script home and read over the lines I find a new personal message every time, which is a true testament of just how influential this play actually is. This play has helped me be more sympathetic and I’ve become more open-minded and realize that anyone can struggle with problems they face internally. In “The Christians” I play Associate Pastor Joshua, who has been given a sermon that not only disturbed his faith but opened his personal wounds that we don’t usually notice in people on a normal daily basis. It’s amazing that people can have these problems and we don’t even see it in them. I love this play and can’t wait to see the audience’s reactions and to see how well we as actors conveyed the message of the play.

BRIDGETT MISTROT (Elizabeth, pastor’s wife)

Bridgett (1)The Christians has been such a fascinating play to work on. Not only because of all of the layers I’ve found in my character but because of the theologically thought provoking questions it has made everyone in the cast ask ourselves. It has both challenged and affirmed my beliefs. I play the pastor’s wife Elizabeth who, along with the other characters, has to ask herself some extremely challenging and new questions. Her questions leave her wondering who she was, who she is, and who her faith will lead her to become–all questions that I have personally asked myself. What I love the most about taking on this show is that we have been given the opportunity to encourage the conversation about one of the most important topics of all: faith. It feels good to know people won’t just leave the show being entertained, but stirred in way that they want to look at their beliefs in a new way. 


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.”