As classes moved to an online format in March this year, in-person gatherings became impossible, and Erskine’s chapel services came to a halt. We asked three members of the Erskine community who were scheduled to speak in chapel—Lee Sartor, Dr. Deborah Caldwell, and David Pendergrass —to tell us a little about their lives and the heart behind the messages they prepared but did not deliver.
Head Men’s Basketball Coach Lee Sartor came to Erskine in 2018, after 15 successful years of coaching at Spartanburg Day School. Sartor says he is “blessed with the opportunity to lead, teach, and develop” students, helping them reach their potential both “in the classroom and as player[s] on the basketball court so that they can be the best people possible when they graduate from Erskine College.”
As a coach and mentor, Sartor wants to inspire students to use the gifts and talents that God has given them. Speaking about the chapel address he had planned to give, Sartor referred to Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25. In the parable, a man entrusts his three servants with his money (talents). Two servants please the man by investing the talents wisely. Sartor draws a parallel between the talents in the parable and the gifts that God has given us in this life.
“What we are is God’s gift to us,” he says. “What we become or do with our gift is our gift to God.”
At the end of the parable, Sartor points out, the man is angry with the third servant because he buried the talent entrusted to him, instead of investing it responsibly. In verse 30, the man says, “Take this worthless man [the servant] and throw him into outer darkness.”
“This is some of the strongest language used in the Bible,” Sartor says. “The [servant] didn’t lie. He didn’t steal. Neither did he kill someone. What did he do? He buried his talent. He hid what God gave him.”
Just as the first two servants used the talents wisely, Sartor hopes Erskine’s students continue to strive for excellence, using the gifts God has given them.
“God is real, and He loves us,” Sartor says. “He created us to be the best person we can be.”
Touching on a similar point in the chapel testimony she had planned to offer, Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Instrumental Studies Dr. Deborah Caldwell says that “God has given each of us spiritual gifts as well as talents. He is pleased when we use those talents for His glory.”
Caldwell joined the Erskine College faculty in 2019. She, like Coach Sartor, wants to help her students develop their talents.
“My faith provides a higher calling within the classroom,” she says. “I want to train students to be excellent musicians and teachers, but I also want to train them and encourage them to walk closer with the Lord each and every day.”
Caldwell focused her chapel testimony on how the Lord has taught her to trust Him through a variety of life circumstances. She describes her own journey through several difficult times, including periods of loneliness, interpersonal conflict, the death of a loved one, under-employment, and disappointed hopes.
One of these difficult times, Caldwell says, occurred while she was earning her doctoral degree. Her studies were intense, she did not have a strong Christian community, and she faced stiff competition in her field, which often left her feeling inadequate. Upon graduation, she struggled to find employment and eventually accepted work as an adjunct instructor.
“It was also a season of coming to grips with the fact that I was not anywhere I thought I would be when I was growing up,” she says. Yet through those challenging times, she has learned to “rehearse the truth of God’s goodness and provision.”
Quoting from Isaiah 30, Caldwell emphasizes the nearness of God in times of trouble: “[T]hough the Lord give[s] you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’”
Caldwell views challenging circumstances as an opportunity to either “reject His [God’s] truth and pay the consequences,” or to trust in the faithfulness of God.
“We cannot choose our circumstances—or we can only rarely,” she says, “but we can choose how to respond to those circumstances. That choice is an important opportunity to trust the Lord, seek His face, and lean on Him.”
Speaking about his planned chapel talk, Erskine alumnus and staff member David Pendergrass also describes the faithfulness of God in the midst of uncertainty and difficulty. Like Caldwell, he encountered a number of disappointments in the years following his graduation in 2012. He found himself in a series of jobs seemingly unrelated to his degree in Bible and Religion or to his dream of teaching in higher education. As it turned out, this time in his life was its own form of education.
“What I learned…was that God has a knack for humbling you,” Pendergrass says. “Trust that God will always, and forever, be God; that God does not abandon His own, even in your darkest times.”
Pendergrass says that many students believe, as he once did, that they need to come up with a perfect plan for the rest of their lives. In fact, he has often encountered students with this belief since joining the Erskine staff in 2019 as Accelerated Ministry Program Counselor and Church Relations Coordinator.
“So many students feel like they must have a plan in life,” Pendergrass says, “that if that plan shakes up, or gets altered, or derailed, that they have failed. Additionally, many believe that if their post-graduation plans don’t line up perfectly with what they envisioned then it’s been a wasted time in college. Neither is true.”
For those times when life seems like a dead end, Pendergrass has three pieces of advice: work hard for God’s glory, remember your brokenness and redemption, and love others.
Pendergrass said it is also important for Christians to seek out mentors and friends who will help us remember the truth of God’s word in difficult times, finding freedom from our brokenness and relief from our burdens in the cross of Christ.
“The Lord is faithful,” Pendergrass says, “He is faithful in plenty, but He is faithful in want. He is God. He will forever be God. Even when things are darkest, He does not leave us, nor forsake us. Plans may change, but He never does. He is without change, and there is no shadow in Him.”