When Charles Carpenter’s students in the College at Southwestern see him in class for the first time, wearing a suit and tie, and when they hear that he is a Ph.D. student with two master’s degrees, they never imagine that he once aspired to work at and retire from the Dr. Pepper factory in small-town Manteca, Calif.
“I am not a guy who has been in ivory towers,” says Carpenter, associate professor of English and director of the writing center in the College at Southwestern. Because of his professional dress and position, he adds, “students assume that my aspirations have always been in the academic world and that, as a result, I have never struggled with anything.”
Born and reared in Manteca, a small farming community, Carpenter expected to work at the local Dr. Pepper factory or else “do something agricultural or in mechanics.” He came to faith in Christ as a teenager, and when he was a junior in high school, he sensed a call to ministry while at a church camp.
“God lit a fire in my heart to serve Him through the capacity of teaching,” Carpenter says, admitting that he had no idea what this would mean at that time. “Academics was not something that was praised in any capacity” in Manteca, “probably because it was an agricultural town that focused on selling and trading,” on growing crops and raising livestock.
Carpenter, however, desired to know Christ and teach others about him, and God blessed him as he started the Fellowship of Christian Athletes on his high school campus and as he led the county’s Youth for Christ program.
Even when he drove five days from Manteca to Lynchburg, Va., in order to study at Liberty University, he simply desired to gain a better understanding of the Bible. He expected that, once he completed his bachelor’s degree, he would return to Manteca and work at the Dr. Pepper factory again.
Carpenter could not have imagined that he would someday direct a ministry in Virginia, serve as an assistant pastor in Texas, teach English, Greek, history, the Bible, health and special education at various high schools and colleges and, now, serve as a professor in the College at Southwestern. Carpenter attributes all of these opportunities to God. As he understands it, he must simply bloom where God has planted him.
“I never look for something else,” Carpenter says, explaining that he wants to be “fully present” wherever he is serving. He also wants to bless people and help them grow in their relationships with Christ. This philosophy defines everything he does, even if he is ripping massive phonebooks in half, running through wooden beams or bending metal bars over his knee—feats of strength he performed as a part of Firm Foundation Ministries soon after college.
This philosophy also defines his ministry in the College at Southwestern. Next semester, he expects to teach literature, theological interpretation of Scripture, and wrestling. No matter the subject, however, his purpose is the same.
As a matter of fact, Carpenter does not teach a subject: “No,” he says, “I teach students. English is just the venue.” Encouraging students and equipping them to follow Christ matters most. For this reason, Carpenter desires to be completely “present” in the classroom.
“I foresee myself dying in the classroom,” Carpenter adds. At the same time he admits that, for all he knows, God may someday call him to bless men and women for the cause of Christ elsewhere—perhaps, even at the Dr. Pepper factory in small-town Manteca, Calif.