Oxford trip impacts life, ministry

FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – At one time, Whitney Martin would have found little usefulness in visiting the home of William Carey, the grave of John Bunyan or the Canterbury Cathedral. After all, what has British church history to do with Martin’s ministry as a hospital chaplain?
A Master of Divinity student at Southwestern, Martin attended the seminary’s extension center in Little Rock, Ark., for about two years before moving to Fort Worth this January. While living in Little Rock, she served fulltime as a hospital chaplain at the Baptist Health Medical Center, where she knew firsthand the need for this ministry.
“I spent the majority of my formative years, in middle school and earlier high school, in hospitals,” Martin says. “My mother was very sick and battling cancer. And I saw the real need for ministry in that environment. There is a lot of hurt and a lot of neglect.”
Despite this need, many hospital chaplains do not have a solid foundation in biblical and theological truth, Martin says. This has helped her understand the value of taking in-depth courses on Scripture, theology and church history at Southwestern Seminary. This insight also encouraged her to study in England during the seminary’s Oxford Study Program, July 4-25.
“I understand the incorporation of theology into your ministry, and how important that is,” Martin says. Hospital chaplains, like other ministers, must have a firm foundation to help people cope with tragic situations, like the death of a newborn child.
“You can have your canned Scripture references, but you’ve got to know Scripture for every situation, because every situation is different. Each situation is complex and it has its own characteristics, and you’ve got to be able to take people into Scripture, where God’s promises are.”
The Oxford Study Program, Martin says, has impacted her view of Scripture, history and life. On the trip, Martin earned six hours of coursework, studying Scripture, theology and church history, while experiencing the history and scenery of England. With a group of 15 people led by professors Malcolm Yarnell and Terry Wilder, she learned firsthand about the English Reformation, Baptist history and the modern missions movement. She also learned about archaeology at British museums and saw classical texts that had been preserved at British libraries.
One such library “had a theology pamphlet by Martin Luther from 1525,” Martin says. When she saw this tract, she realized the impact that Luther’s writings must have had in the lives of people who had previously never heard that God saves by grace, through faith alone. “I cried when I saw that.”
Martin also visited the home of William Carey, seeing his letters, his journal and the bed where he took his last breath. “It makes him a real person,” she says. “It makes the missions he did that much more real.”
Martin and the other participants in the Oxford Study Program also visited historical sites in England and Scotland related to John Wyclif, William Tyndale, John Knox, William Shakespeare, Andrew Fuller, John Wesley and Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The house where author J.R.R Tolkien once lived lay behind Regents Park College, where the group resided during their stay in Oxford. On the other side of the college lay the pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis once gathered with the literary discussion group called the Inklings.
“Everything, every single thing there, has so much deep, rich history in it,” Martin says. “There is a story to everything, everywhere you go.
“I knew it was going to be good to go (on the trip). I knew that I was going to get credit for it, but I didn’t know the impact it would have on my life. It is not just a trip. It is something that will change how you view things completely.”
For information about the 2012 Oxford Study Program, email Madison Grace at oxford@swbts.edu or stay tuned to swbts.edu/oxford.

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