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ONe to one: the brother-in-law

by Keith Burden, executive secretary, National Association of Free Will Baptists. Email Keith at

IT WAS A PRECARIOUS PERIOD between my freshman and sophomore years in high school. I sat with my brother-in-law in casual conversation. “What are your plans after high school?” he asked. I didn’t know what to say.

“Do you plan to go to college?” he continued. Too embarrassed to say no, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I suppose.” Frankly, going to college was the last thing I was planning to do.

My family moved while I was in elementary school, and I fell behind as a student. From that point forward, I struggled to keep pace with my classmates. Each year became increasingly difficult. My academic self-confidence was low, and the thought of college was overwhelming. Deep inside, I wanted to attend college, but I didn’t believe I could survive the academic requirements.

As a result, I had decided to take only the basic courses required for high school graduation. With additional classes in industrial arts (woodworking), I would follow in my father’s footsteps as a carpenter.

My brother-in-law leaned forward in his chair and said, “I think you should consider going to college. I think you’ve got what it takes.” His words ignited a spark within me. No one had ever challenged me at that level.

He quickly mapped out an academic schedule for the next six semesters that would prepare me for college. I sat in disbelief and fear as I read his notes. He suggested advanced algebra, geometry, chemistry, biology, English, Latin, sociology, economics, and speech.

I wrestled with his challenge throughout the summer. Inexplicably, I mustered my courage and followed his advice. By the grace of God and a whole lot of hard work, my scholastic skill and confidence increased each semester. My poor grades improved and I graduated in the top 15% of my class.

In retrospect, God directed my footsteps. It was no coincidence that my brother-in-law, a professional educator, discussed my future at such a pivotal moment in my life.

I answered the call to preach one year after that conversation. It is unlikely I would have made that decision if my attitude toward education had not changed drastically.

Today, I realize that life is one continuous learning experience. I look back at a number of “forks in the road” when challenges affected the direction of my life. At each crossroad, God strategically placed people with good advice. It is staggering to think how different my life would be had I chosen any of those alternate paths.

God often uses unlikely people or circumstances to alter a life. Don’t discount your influence! Your words may provide the confidence and encouragement someone needs to make a hard decision. And when God challenges you to head in a new direction, trust Him. Take the first step. An exciting journey waits!






©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists