by Vicky Kaniaru
CLEVELAND, Ga. (TMCNews) — An assistant professor of English at Truett-McConnell College, Cierra Winkler was a mere 7 years old when she committed her life to Jesus Christ at a revival.
"Even children as young as that can realize their need of a savior," said Winkler, who struggled with whether she was too young to fully understand salvation.
"Now that I'm older, I realize I'll never understand it completely; and I don't think anybody ever can," Winkler said. "Obviously, I learned more about the faith as I grew up in church, but I do believe those as young as a 7-year-old or even younger could be convicted of their sins."
As a high school senior, Winkler interviewed for a counselor position at SuperWow, a youth summer program of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Disappointed she did not get the position, Winkler said she has learned "God always comes through. ... There's always something better waiting for you, you just have to be patient," she said.
Winkler noted that living in a generation of "instant gratitude" makes one think God doesn't answer prayers quickly enough, and then "we feel like something is wrong -- that God has abandoned us." Through the disappointment, the waiting, and the applied patience, Winkler realized God was calling her to accept a position in Wasilla, Alaska, at the LaVerne Griffin Camp.
LaVerne Griffin Youth Recreational Camp, Wasilla, Alaska. Photo courtesy of LGYRC
Ministry requires tenacity
Reflecting on ministry aspects in America's largest state, Winkler said some Alaskans can be antisocial and resistant to the Gospel. She attributed this behavior to Alaska's shortage of churches in both rural areas and native villages, and to the lack of discipleship after missionaries share the Gospel with them. Without an available, consistent proclamation of God's Word, many born-again Alaskans never grow beyond infancy in their relationship with Christ. That's why at the youth camps Winkler focused on not only leading the campers to Christ, but also encouraging them regarding the importance of church membership.
With more than 100 campers during some weeks, Winkler said she "learned perseverance. ... You have to be willing to be flexible in the ministry and as a missionary. I learned how to work well with others," she said, adding that it was "humbling to be under the leadership of others, and to lead also."
She hosted campers all summer; but when schools opened, Winkler ministered on the weekends and acquired her master's degree at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.
Additionally, Winkler said she learned how to share her faith publicly while studying for her master's degree. "Every week I would go out into a public [college] and represent Christ there and share my faith there as well ... God taught me how to stand up for my faith by placing me in a liberal academic environment while on mission."
After graduating from the University of Alaska, Winkler returned to Georgia to her alma mater, teaching at North Georgia College & State University; but two years later, she realized God was calling her to work in a Christian atmosphere.
Unsatisfied at NGSCU, Winkler believes God "opened this position at Truett-McConnell and He allowed me to come here." Winkler said TMC's emphasis on missions drew her to the college.
"Even in our local churches, missions is something that is placed on the back burner far too often," she said. "Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in our own church activities that we forget our true calling to actually go outside the church into the communities and share the Gospel."
Teaching from a Christian worldview
Truett-McConnell's missions emphasis is not the only thing that brought Winkler to the college. The English professor told TMCNews that "one of the unique benefits of teaching at Truett-McConnell is that I am free to approach literature from a Christian worldview. Even if the text historically has not been criticized from that Christian perspective, I am free to teach my students the text that way."
This opens up a new variety of conversations that students would not have if they did not come to Truett-McConnell, she said, adding that there are ways to incorporate worldviews into the study of rhetoric and literature, and to analyze literary genres and particular texts through the lens of a Christian worldview.
Biblically training students is essential because "as Christians, it's our responsibility to approach everything we do in life, including our careers and our disciplines, with a biblical perspective," she said.
"I think it would make a difference in the work place whether you have that Christian education so you can approach any situation or task with a biblical mindset," said Winkler, who melds her spirituality and pedagogy in the classroom.
Her philosophy for teaching English begins with clarifying that the skills and knowledge she represents are life-long skills that will be expected of students in any undergraduate course and beyond, Winkler said.
Truett-McConnell students need to realize that this college is a place where students are challenged both academically and spiritually, added Winkler, who wants to ensure there is no disconnect between the experiences students have in the classroom and in the workplace when they graduate. The professor deliberately chooses controversial topics for her students so they can "realize this is what they're going to be facing when they graduate, and they go out into the workplace into their real lives."
Winkler said she is thankful that she taught in the public school system: "It makes me realize how careful I have to be in sharing the Gospel, setting a good example for my students, and watching what I say, do, and choose to talk about. Being at Truett-McConnell is humbling, but also very uplifting."
Vicky Kaniaru is senior staff writer at Truett-McConnell College.