Sam White is a young preacher and worship leader who is optimistic about the future of God’s people. He is a 2nd year M.Div. student at Candler School of Theology. Sam has a Bachelor in Communication Sciences from the University of Alabama and hopes to pursue a Ph.D in Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.
[Learn how Sam’s grandmother’s secret gift of $5 inspired him to push through tough times and let his light oh-so-shine!]
Twelve children, forty-two grandchildren, seventy-nine great grandchildren, and twenty-eight great great grandchildren; that is what my grandmother’s obituary read when she died in 2008. Of that 161 people, I am the first male to graduate from college.
My grandmother, as wise and skilled as she was, died at the age of 93, having never learned to read or write. She was a deeply religious woman who believed in hard work and “loving thy neighbor.” When I was a child, it became customary that I would sing and pray with her each night before bed. Her favorite song was, “This Little Light of Mine.” In 2003, I went off to college and whenever I returned home to visit, my grandmother would call me into the room and secretly give me $5. She would always say, “I give you that ’cause you in school.”
Before coming to seminary, life had its way with me. I went from a kid with a zeal and passion for God, to a young man with many questions, full of frustration, struggling to find enough value in myself to complete my undergraduate degree. Church became this morbid weariness that further problematized my frustration. Christians were this hypocritical bunch that engaged in duplicitous living and believed in a selfish, idiosyncratic dispensation of grace.
I wasn’t smart enough to finish college and spent most of my entire undergraduate experience on academic probation. In 2008 my grandmother died and two weeks later my dad died as well.
In 2010 I quit a very stable job to finish my undergraduate degree and graduated in May 2011 with no job and no money. In November of that same year, I was taken to the emergency room to learn that I was a type 2 diabetic and dangerously close to losing my life. Unemployed with no insurance, my 4 day stay in the hospital would cost over $8,000.
Life had taken a sledge hammer to every theological assumption and religious paradigm that existed in my mind. What had once stood as a structurally integral monument of religiosity, now lay in discrete pieces all over the ground.
But then I came to seminary.
It was not only in the hallowed halls of academia at Candler School of Theology that my passions were awakened and excavated, but also in the time spent at Genesis, a homeless shelter for families with infant children. The hours I spent each week with children and families brought great clarity to the importance, and sometimes the futility, of what was being taught in the classroom. It is improbable for me to fully understand the philosophical ponderings of Immanuel Kant or the sociological substructure in the writings of W.E.B DuBois, except in juxtaposition to the smile and embrace of the children and families at Genesis.
When my grandmother died in 2008, the words to her favorite song became the underpinning of my ministerial formation: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
My seminary experience has scoured through the massive debris field left by life and exhumed the passions and theological beliefs that propel my calling. It has created an insatiable desire to overcome obstacles and gain knowledge. It has provoked me to challenge injustice and speak truth to power. It is the undercurrent of energy that gives power to the light within me.
But it gets hard sometimes.
Throughout this first year I have received multiple letters from my rent office that read “Pay or Quit!” Trying to study with the worry that you won’t have a place to live isn’t easy. I often go to Kroger to buy food and use the self-checkout because I am too ashamed to give the cashier $5 in dimes and nickels. I don’t buy clothes or shoes because I can’t afford it. I own four pair of pants, two pair don’t have buttons and three pair are too big. I only drive when it is absolutely necessary and even then I have no gas. I don’t go out because that would require money that I usually don’t have.
It gets hard.
But I remember the smiles of the children at Genesis. The warmth of their embrace and the confidence they maintain in their crisis.
I remember my 93-year-old grandmother. A matriarch, full of wisdom and skill, who raised twelve children, grew her own food, and successfully ran her household all without the luxury of education. I recall the late night songs and prayers that stirred emotions and reinforced our faith. I remember the $5 that she would discretely slip into my hand to encourage me, and although the numerical value was not great it sent a very clear message: Son, whatever you do, don’t let your light go out.
— Sam White