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‘God is good in all circumstances,’ Brunson tells graduates

Erskine College and Theological Seminary honored graduating students May 4 during a morning celebration under the towers of the Erskine Building. A highlight of the ceremony was an address by Erskine Seminary graduate Dr. Andrew Brunson, a pastor and missionary who came to the attention of the media when he was imprisoned in Turkey for two years beginning in 2016. (See more photos here.)

Dr. Andrew Brunson speaks at Erskine commencement.

Brunson began by honoring the Associate Reformed Presbyterian denomination in which he was brought up and expressing thanks for the prayer support he received during his incarceration. “It was a wave of prayer that brought me out of Turkey,” he said.

The former captive, who was falsely accused of aiding terrorism, among other charges, said that although he had been threatened before, and had even been shot at, he was not prepared for prison. “Prison was beyond me,” he said. “Prison tested my love for God. I broke badly. I was suicidal.”

Happy to be out of prison and reunited with his wife and family, Brunson nevertheless told his audience, “Something I miss about prison is how it made me cling to God. There was a rare clarity about what really matters. I miss being so completely dependent upon God.”

Declaring the truth that “God is good in all circumstances,” Brunson expressed his belief that “it is going to become increasingly difficult to stand for Jesus in this country.”

Out of his own experience, Brunson challenged the graduates, asking them, “Will you say God is true and just when there is a hostile environment?” and went on to warn them, “If you stand for Jesus, you will be marginalized, looked down on.”

He cited a “clarifying moment” when he was being moved to a high-security prison, passing close to his home in Izmir and knowing he faced the threat of life imprisonment. Brunson looked out and saw a man driving a car, oblivious to his presence, and realized that on that crowded road in Turkey that day, “I was likely the only one who knew Jesus Christ.”

It came to him then that he could fight for his spiritual life. “I determined that I would pursue God even in my weakness,” he said.

As he was “climbing up out of brokenness,” he wrote a song, “Worthy of My All,” and began singing it every day in prison.

He read for his audience from the fourth stanza of the song: “I want to be found worthy to stand before you on that day/With no regrets from cowardice, things left undone/To hear you say, ‘Well done, my faithful friend, now enter your reward’/Jesus, my Joy, you are the prize I’m running for.”

“If you make pursuit of Jesus the goal of your life, even if you have hardships, you’ll have no regrets,” Brunson said.

Erskine President Dr. Robert E. Gustafson, Jr. welcomed family members and guests. Board of Trustees Chairman Jill E. Gazzaway brought greetings from the board, urging the graduates to “Stop—take a moment to reflect and acknowledge those who helped you get here,” to “Look at the people God has placed in your life,” and to “Listen for the still, small voice of the Lord.”

The commencement speaker was introduced by the college senior with the highest grade point average, summa cum laude graduate Rachel Gayle Berkey of Myrtle Beach, S.C., a business administration major and member of the Women’s Tennis Team. She received this year’s prestigious Murphy-Osborne Scholar-Athlete Award from Conference Carolinas, recognizing her as the outstanding scholar-athlete in the conference.

College awards announced during the commencement exercises by Provost of the College Dr. Thomas Hellams included two faculty awards—the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities Excellence in Teaching Award, given to Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Briana Van Scoy, and the Younts Excellence in Teaching Award, given to Assistant Professor of English Dr. Christine Schott.

Student awards were the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, given to Zachary Stephen Morgan of Greenville, S.C., a magna cum laude graduate who majored in biology and minored in chemistry and psychology; the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award, given to AnnaTaylor Rae Hydrick of St. Matthews, S.C., a summa cum laude graduate who completed a double major in American studies and biology, with Departmental Honors in biology and minors in chemistry and healthcare management; and the H.M. Young Ring, the highest honor for a member of the senior class, given to Elizabeth Rebecca Bishop of Greenwood, S.C., a summa cum laude graduate who completed a double major in biology and English, with Departmental Honors in both majors and a minor in chemistry.

Seminary awards announced by Provost of the Seminary Dr. R. Leslie Holmes included recognition of Dr. Toney Parks and Dr. Max Rogland, both of whom are stepping down from their full-time work at the seminary but will continue teaching as adjunct faculty members.

Student awards included the Ray A. King Church History Award, given to Teresa Dawn Reed; the Zondervan Award in Biblical Greek, which went to Kyle Jay Keesling, Jr. of Greenville, S.C.; the Zondervan Award in Theology, given to Daniel Edward Myers of Columbia, S.C.; and the Bruce G. Pierce Award for Christian Leadership, given to John Craig Williams IV of Dacusville, S.C.

An honorary Doctor of Divinity degree was conferred on the speaker by John M. Bell Professor of New Testament Dr. Loyd Melton, who taught Brunson during his time as a seminary student.

Serving as faculty marshals were Dr. Howard Thomas, crucifer, and Dr. Loyd Melton, mace bearer. The Rev. Paul Patrick, chaplain, offered the invocation and benediction.

Herb Jordan ’68, president of the Alumni Association, inducted the graduates into the association.

Hope Noelle Crenshaw of Columbia, S.C., president of the Erskine College Class of 2019, thanked Jordan on behalf of the class and announced that the class gift is a contribution toward renovation of the gazebo on Bonner Circle. The gazebo was originally given by the Class of 1986.

Kyle J. Keesling, Jr., of Greenville, S.C., senior class representative of the Erskine Seminary Class of 2019, responded to Jordan on behalf of seminary graduates.

The Erskine College Choraleers, directed by Dr. Keith Timms and accompanied by Prof. Tobi Otekayi, pianist, offered special music. Erskine College Sinfonia, conducted by Prof. Kory Vrieze, played processional and recessional music. Senior Katherine I. Deak of Norfolk, Va., a summa cum laude graduate, led the singing of the alma mater.

Erskine College graduates were:

Bachelor of Arts

Graduates, Jan. 10, 2019: Kayla A. Blackston, Piedmont, S.C.; Analise Maurine Miller-Wells, magna cum laude, Seattle, Wash.; Denisa Zani, Greenville, S.C.

Graduates, May 4, 2019: Hayden Lark Banks, Carrollton, Ga.; Hope Noelle Crenshaw, Anderson, S.C.; Christopher Kyle Douglas, Moncks Corner, S.C.; Michael Logan Franks, Anderson, S.C.; Austin Jesse Hough, cum laude, Ninety Six, S.C.; Sara Elisabeth Johnson, summa cum laude, Sumter, S.C.; Dylan Ryan Kelley, Honea Path, S.C.; Adrian Brent Premo, Duncan, S.C.; Robert Nelson Spence, Lexington, S.C.; Amanda Ellerine Stevenson, magna cum laude, Florence, S.C.; Callum Joseph William Watson, Southhampton, England; Grace Anne Williams, Conway, S.C.

Candidate, August 23, 2019: Taylor Marie Eskew, Anderson, S.C.

Bachelor of Science

Graduates, Jan. 10, 2019: Samuel Raphael Antonelli, Lexington, N.C.; Joshua Harold Covey, Waldorf, Md.; Dwayne Terry Hall, Jr. Anderson, S.C.; Natalia Hernandez Toro, magna cum laude, Bogota, Columbia; Morgan Elizabeth Keefe, Florence, S.C.; Kayla Marie Kieffer, cum laude, Middleburg, Fla.; Fineto Andy Lungwana, Roswell, Ga.; William Patrick Mace, Charleston, S.C.; Taylor Key Maxey, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Corey Hunter Sox, Swansea, S.C.; Saige Marie Stermin, Clover, S.C.; Chase Bradley Watts, Rock Hill, S.C.

Graduates, May 4, 2019: Samuel C. Adams Saluda, S.C.; Mikayla Corrin Austin, Anderson, S.C.; Rachel Gayle Berkey, summa cum laude, Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Ritwik Bhriguvanshi, magna cum laude, Patna, India; Elizabeth Rebecca Bishop, summa cum laude, Greenwood, S.C.; Robert Tyler Bond, Upper Malboro, Md.; Zackery Scott Bowers, Lugoff, S.C.; Brandon Austin Brasher, Boiling Springs, S.C.; Emily Lane Bray, magna cum laude, Williamston, S.C.; Hunter Austin Bullock, Fountain Inn, S.C.; Candyce S. Butcher, Lexington, S.C.; Alex Richard Calvert, La Plata, Md.; Julia Diane Cole, North Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Jonathan Bradley Costello, Spartanburg, S.C.; Cori Jean Damron, summa cum laude, Aiken, S.C.; Megan Alisa Davis, Columbia, S.C.; Reagan Nicole Davis, Piedmont, S.C.; Katharine Irene Deak, summa cum laude, Norfolk Va.; Sarah Elizabeth Dodd, Mount Airy, N.C.; Sara Eleanor Dooley, summa cum laude, Pickens, S.C.; Thad Michael Estes, Walhalla, S.C.; Joseph Ray McRay Griffith, Rockingham, N.C.; Halley Addie Ham, Hartsville, S.C.; Adam Christopher Hartley, Mooresville, N.C.; Kyle Robert Heiss, Bayville, N.Y.; William Austin Hicks IV, cum laude, Camden, S.C.; Shelby Lane Holliday, Gable, S.C.; Marcus Thomas Hood, Easley, S.C.; AnnaTaylor Rae Hydrick, summa cum laude, St. Matthews, S.C.; Grayson James King, Bethune, S.C.; Jillian Mary Koves, Bluffton, S.C.; Marley Cope Littleton, cum laude, York, S.C.; Joseph Thomas Long, cum laude, Anderson, S.C.; Alexis Paige Lyda, magna cum laude, Woodruff, S.C.; Robin Heather Martin, Taylors, S.C; Matthew Dominic James Massullo, Greer, S.C.; Zachary Isaac Matos, Mint Hill, N.C.; Jordan Brooke McBrearty, cum laude, Piedmont, S.C.; Anna Katherine McCraw, Gaffney, S.C.; Holden Dwight McGill, Clover, S.C.; Laurel Kennedy Middleton, Williamston, S.C.; Destiny Sierra Miller, Taylors, S.C.; Christopher Xavier Moody, Columbia, S.C.; Zachary Stephen Morgan, magna cum laude, Greenville, S.C.; Chance Waymon Murphy, Bluffton, S.C.; Andrea Leigh O’Malley, cum laude, Elgin, S.C.; Salem Danielle Ortiz, Hobbs, N.M.; Taylor Elizabeth Payne, Columbia, S.C.; Emily Elizabeth Peak, summa cum laude, Irmo, S.C.; Miles Keith Perdue, Atlanta, Ga.; Joe Tyler Russo, Farmingville, N.Y.; William John Ryan, Inman, S.C.; Abbigale Daly Schmidt, Columbia, S.C.; Sidhartha Sharathram, cum laude, Coimbatore, India; Keshav Sharma, New Delhi, India; Peggy Alycia Skerratt, magna cum laude, Panama City, Fla.; Leonard Ray Stephens, Walhalla, S.C.; Jennifer Lynn Teachout, summa cum laude, Rock Hill, S.C.; Benny Carl Trefsgar, Chapin, S.C.; Raven Symone Valentine, Ridge Spring, S.C.; Kari Jo West, cum laude, Easley, S.C.; Zoey Lee White, Easley, S.C.; Sarah Amanda Williamson, cum laude, Belton, S.C.; Trevor Blaine Wood, Dexter, Ga.; Andrija Zagorac, Belgrade, Serbia

Candidates, Aug. 23, 2019: Caleb Braden Armour, Brighton, Tenn.; Christopher Alexander Grandy, Laurel, Md.; Travis Kelley New, Abbeville, S.C.; Keegan Allan Sullivan, Port Saint Lucie, Fla.; Ryan Dale Teems, Greer, S.C.; Jonathan Douglas Thompson, Woodstock, Ga.

Erskine Theological Seminary graduates were:

Master of Arts in Practical Ministry

Graduate, Jan. 1, 2019: Charles Robert Conner, Jr., Florence, S.C.

Graduates, May 4, 2019: Heather Bloemsma, Sebring, Fla.; Chester Randolph Replogle, Columbia, S.C.; Rontreal J. Tyler, Lexington, S.C.

Master of Arts in Theological Studies

Graduates, May 4, 2019: Kyle Jay Keesling, Jr., Greenville, S.C.; Zeeshan Sadiq, Pakistan

Candidates, Sept. 1, 2019: Triyoko Nicole Boatwright, Thomson, Ga.; Rhonda D. Heyward, Hollywood, S.C.; John Allen Lewis, Columbia, S.C.; Jordan Blake Morales, Milwaukee, Wis.

Master of Divinity

Graduates, Jan. 1, 2019: Marvin O’Neal Hughes, Chester, S.C.; Chandler Jones Machemehl, Johns Creek, Ga.

Graduates, May 4, 2019: Trevor D. Allen, Orcutt, Calif.; Patrick Daugherty, St. Augustine, Fla.; Michael Anthony Hill, Columbia, S.C.; Daniel Edward Myers, Columbia, S.C.; Eric Antonio Ramsey, Sumter, S.C.; John Craig Williams IV, Dacusville, S.C.

Candidates, Sept. 1, 2019: Cameron C. Anderson, Lookout Mountain, Ga.; Robert James Duran, Gastonia, N.C.; Russell Brian Harless, Columbia, S.C.; Evelyn T. Jones, Eastover, S.C.; Catherine Douglas McCracken, Florence, S.C.; Brandon Edward Newell, Columbia, S.C.; Joseph Sutton Womack, Manning, S.C.

Doctor of Ministry

Graduates, Jan. 1, 2019: Samuel Lee Fletcher, Heber City, Utah; Paul Anthony Villano, Columbia, S.C.

Graduates, May 4, 2019: Lane F. Campbell, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Asher Salmon Din, Punjab, Pakistan; Jonathan R. Fisher, Niles, Mich.; Bee Shepard Kirk, Nashville, Tenn.; John G. Panagiotou, Charleston, S.C.; Aaron Donald Roberton, Lakewood, Wash.

Candidates, Sept. 1, 2019: Henry L. Jenkins, Jr., Clermont, Fla.; Timothy Milan Lanier, Sanford, N.C.; Todd Edward McCoy, Greenwood, S.C.; Paul Riley Wrigley, Virginia Beach, Va.


Doctor of Divinity

Graduate, May 4, 2019: Andrew Craig Brunson, Black Mountain, N.C.

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