Rich history, growth mark 90 plus years for organization
When the need for a new director of the Baptist Student Ministry arose, university Chaplain Dr. George Loutherback knew exactly whom he wanted to fill the position.
At the time, Shawn Shannon was at Houston Baptist University, but Loutherback was certain God was calling her to Belton. The two had formerly served together at Baylor University, where Loutherback was BSM director.
“I knew there was only one person I wanted here, and it was her,” he said.
Since Shannon’s arrival in 2000, the pair has been instrumental in turning the university’s BSM into what students know it as today.
With more than 20 active ministries, it is likely that many students are aware of its presence on campus, but what all may not know is that the nationwide organization has its roots right here at UMHB. On Oct.15, it celebrated its 91st anniversary at the school.
As museum curator, Betty Sue Beebe has done much research on Baptist Student Ministry’s origins at the university.
“I think that there’s not a lot of credit given openly to Mary Hardin-Baylor for being that first lab experiment, so that’s why I’m really interested in it,” she said. “It’s not that we were the first ones that thought about having a student group, but we were the first to try it out.”
From the days when UMHB was still known as Baylor College for Women, students would meet together in different religious organizations. In order to organize and bring coordination to all of the separate groups, they were combined and known as the Student Christian Association.
In 1919 Joseph P. Boone became secretary of the Student Department of the Baptist Executive Board in Texas, and had a special burden for Baptist student work.
In July of that year, Boone presented his idea for what would become the Baptist Student Union and chose Baylor College for Women as the campus to develop a model of the new organization because of its already existing Student Christian Association.
“I like to say that we were the laboratory for trying out the organization,” Beebe said.
When the second Baptist Student Convention was held here in 1921, students from other schools were able to see and learn how to successfully operate a chapter of the BSU, and many were inspired to do so after leaving the convention.
The organization has been growing ever since and became known by its current name, Baptist Student Ministry, in 1994.
When Loutherback arrived at UMHB in 1997, he had a desire to update and expand the university’s existing BSM chapter to create more opportunities.
“I had what I would consider a limited exposure. There was an effort to do some ministries, but it just wasn’t working well,” he said. “I began the process of encouraging the director I knew here at the time to think more campus wide.”
Loutherback believes that the BSM is somewhere students can know they are loved and find their identity as well as a chance to serve.
“There’s a place through this organization for anyone at Mary Hardin-Baylor who wants to find a ministry position. And if it’s not here, we’ll create it. There’s an openness to try to provide opportunities for anyone who wants one,” he said.
Director Shawn Shannon said that one of the current core values of the organization is growth.
“In whatever ministry someone is involved, they’re being encouraged to grow in knowing and loving God and people, to grow in developing, discovering and deploying their gifts.”
While some things have changed over the years, Shannon said her experience with the BSM is like her childhood experiences on the Buffalo River. Though she would float the same sections every day, the scenery was not always the same.
“In many ways, BSM is like floating rivers. It’s kind of familiar, but it’s different every year because the students are different and other life circumstances are different. I anticipate that it will be familiar and surprising,” she said.
Shannon believes that behind the organization and its different ministries, the core inspiration for it all is the Lord.
“The love of God must be the motive and the means for anything meaningful to happen with and through BSM,” she said. “Hopefully those involved in and impacted by ministry here grow in knowing that God is near, good, working and worthy.”