By Dr. Stan Norman

President, Williams Baptist University

[Perspective] Providence and gratitude

By Dr. Stan Norman

President, Williams Baptist University

One of the favorite designations for Williams Baptist University (WBU) is the phrase, “Child of Providence.” Although we do not know exactly the circumstances around this phrase, this term likely arose from the realities confronting the school in its early days.  

WBU was founded in the midst of the greatest military conflict in human history – World War II. Also, we were birthed in the midst of one of the greatest global economic disasters – the Great Depression. Additionally, Williams Baptist University (known then as Southern Baptist College) came into being following several previous failed attempts to start a Baptist college in northeast Arkansas. And, we started without any significant financial resources or even a secure location.  

When all these factors are considered, it is understandable why those early Baptist educators likely prayed the words from the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day, our daily bread.” This is a prayer relying upon the providential provision of God. 

In light of this, when we describe WBU as a Child of Providence, what do we mean? What is the connection between Williams Baptist University and the doctrine of providence? 

Providence is a theologically rich doctrine that describes what the Bible teaches on God’s guidance and care of His creation. First, providence refers to God’s sustenance, or preservation, of what He has made. Providence means God cares for what He has created. Having brought the creation into being, God keeps it in being. The created order does not have an inherent power to sustain itself independently from God. 

When we refer to WBU as a Child of Providence, we are saying that God created, or birthed, the school now known as Williams Baptist University. And it is only by the power and provision of God keeps that Williams continues to exist – we do not have the ability or inherent power to sustain WBU independently from God. 

Second, providence means God’s guides what He has created toward its intended purposes. 

God has a purposeful end for His creation. He guides His creation with direction and design. 

He is leading His creation in such a way that the created order fulfills His plans for it. 

When we say WBU is a Child of Providence, we mean that God is mysteriously yet assuredly guiding the school. He directs Williams with intention and purpose. God has a purpose for birthing and sustaining WBU – we rely upon Him to direct our vision and mission. 

Arkansas Baptists – God’s Gracious Blessings 

When I consider the story of this Child of Providence – God creating, sustaining, providing, guiding, and fulfilling His purposes for WBU – I cannot help but reflect upon the role of Arkansas Baptists in the providential working of God.  

The dream of our school was birthed in the hearts of Arkansas Baptists (and southeast Missouri Baptists as well!). The plans for the school were developed and launched by Arkansas Baptists. The resources provided to create and sustain the school were provided by Arkansas Baptists. Those first students educated and equipped at the school were sent by Arkansas Baptists. Many of the personnel hired to teach, operate, and administrate the school were Arkansas Baptists. And these realities are still true for Williams. 

God has used, and He continues to use, Arkansas Baptist to providentially sustain, and guide our university! 

Providence and Gratitude 

One of the biblical intentions for the doctrine of providence is to instill within us a sense of dependence. Without God, we would not exist – He is the Creator of all things. God provides for our needs – sustaining and blessing us. God guides and directs our steps – He gives our lives purpose and meaning. In all things, we are dependent upon God. 

Another biblical intention related to providence is gratitude. God’s provision of our needs should fill our hearts with thankfulness. God’s guidance and direction births a sense of reliance upon and gratitude toward Him. God’s purposeful direction for each of us should engender a sense of wonder and encouragement. 

In all things, God’s providence should instill worshipful gratitude in all our hearts. This most assuredly applies to those of us who work at Williams Baptist University.  

I also believe it is true for all Arkansas Baptists. Our shared mission as Arkansas Baptists is a testimony to God’s graciousness to us. God, in His gracious providence, has blessed Arkansas Baptists with incredible ministries and leaders who join together in a Great Commission ministry.  

For me, this is cause for deepest gratitude and appreciation for all Arkansas Baptists. 

A Grateful Heart 

As we move into the Thanksgiving season, I want to express my gratitude to Arkansas Baptists for your support and prayers. I believe every Arkansas Baptist church, every Arkansas Baptist, is an expression of God’s graciousness and kindness to WBU – thank you! 

God has blessed Arkansas Baptists with incredible ministries to support and serve the ministries of Arkansas Baptist churches. In His providential kindness, God has blessed Arkansas Baptists with two outstanding universities – Ouachita and Williams. The task of educating and equipping the next generation of Christian leaders is too great for any single school. Arkansas Baptists are blessed to have two. Also, I am grateful that God in His providential blessings gave Arkansas Baptists the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home, the Arkansas Baptist Foundation, and Camp Siloam. 

In addition, God has expressed His gracious providence in the multi-faceted ministries of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. We are blessed to have ministries committed to church planting, disaster relief, collegiate ministry, evangelism, missions, discipleship, pastor and staff support, and many, many others. Our state convention is strong and vibrant – ready to move forward in innovative ministries that are biblically grounded and faithful to our Baptist convictions! 

God has blessed Arkansas Baptists with exceptional leaders. I am thankful for Dr. Rex Horne, Dr. Ben Sells, Bobby Thomas, Dr. Derek Brown, Jason Wilkie, and the many staff members who work in ABSC ministries. I believe each is an expression of God’s providential kindness to Arkansas Baptists. 

This Thanksgiving, I am renewed in my gratitude for God creating, sustaining, providing, and guiding Williams Baptist University. In every way, we are a Child of Providence. I also am grateful for Arkansas Baptists. In every way, God has and continues to use these faithful servants to support and sustain all ABSC ministries, including WBU. 

Thank you, Arkansas Baptist pastors and staff, for your leadership of your churches and your faithful service to the Lord. 

Thank you, Arkansas Baptists, for your faithful, gracious support – we are an extension of your discipleship ministry. 

Without a doubt, Arkansas Baptists are an expression of God’s gracious, providential blessings to WBU, to the ABSC, and to one another. Thank you, Arkansas Baptists, for loving and supporting this Child of Providence. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

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2 Responses

  1. What a glorious testimony! I live in Black Rock which is just a few miles from WBU. To watch it grow over many years is a testament to Gods power and grace! My son in law Shannon Byrd and daughter Angel Booth Byrd both graduated from there and continues to serve God in ministry. First as worship ministers and now as Pastor of Arkana Baptist Church in Norfork. God called my daughter home in 2021, but what a comfort knowing where she is now! Thank you for this beautifully written article highlighting the history of WBU and sharing what it means to be a “Child of Providence”.

  2. I started Southern in the fall of 1952. Never been on a college campus. I had no idea what to expect. I met my Betty and we worked most of our way through college in the library and as a janitor in the lab.
    The faculty gave us both a dream for an education. We graduated from ASU and then to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where I earned my Master’s and DM. We were challenged and received a vision of ministry. We pastored for 60 yrs.
    Jack Nicholas was my room mate. One day I would be on the Board and see him become the President. We were both from NE Arkansas. The first in our families to to college.
    I owe Williams far more than I can count. I have created a scholarship for WW to bless some one else.

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