A Woman Preacher?
After nine months of college I was back in my little town of Hamilton, Ohio. Exhaustion filled every pore of my being after surviving the 18 hour load of classes and the daily cafeteria job. That first week home I became one with my twin bed, sleeping twelve hours a day.
Mr. Sykes, a nice man from church, got me a secretary job typing orders at his work called Mosler Safe Company. After five days of pounding on an electric typewriter for a week I was ready to sign up for the Army. The monotonous gray walls of the crowded office room were closing in on me like an early coffin. The focused typists all around me tap, tapped on their keys in perfect precision as they met their high quota from last week. I was still fumbling along and using up all the bottles of white-out!
One day right before I started over on an order for the fourth time, I heard a weird voice in my head. “You will become a preacher!”
I shook the ridiculous thought from my head and kept typing but the voice got louder. A chill ran up my spine and slam dunked a basket of fear over me. I had never heard of a woman preacher before! The scary thought of shy me becoming a Baptist preacher turned my liver and guts into liquid goo, instantly. I made it to the restroom in the nick of time!
One night after supper the nagging voice screamed so loud in my head I had a strong thought of suicide for the first time in my life. It scared me so badly I started to sneeze and then I coughed like a seal with the flu! Mom jumped up from the table and found some Vicks cough medicine and a jar of vaporizing rub. She rubbed the eucalypti salve on my back and made me a hot water bottle. The best part about being totally, physically depleted was getting some much needed TLC. I was glad I couldn't hear the preaching demands over my loud hacking and blowing my nose.
If my summer vacation earned a movie title it would have been, "My Lonely Summer and I'll Cry If I Want to!" or "Where the Boys Aren't!" Dad worked all night so we four kids had to be really quiet during the day when he slept or we got a lecture. Mom and I were busy with the housework so we didn't go any where except for church. I turned our garage into a family room and Mom and I watched TV late every night. We cried over movies like "Random Harvest," and, "The Loretta Young Show.
I was so glad to be back at school the first week of September! I hadn't realized how much my friends and my freedom meant to me! I hurried across campus to meet our new Baptist Student Union director! I was so pleased with the spiritual, tender heart of Mr. Wilkerson. His boyish face, wooly, short hair and his small frame were no match for his huge concern for reaching the lost and his dynamic plans for leading his flock to grow strong in the Lord. He told me all about his goals for BSU weekends, Christian music outreach and one-on-one witnessing.
My small, Sophomore Dormitory was nestled between some professor’s modest homes on the other side of the campus near the First Baptist Church. When I climbed the stairs to the third floor and met my roommates I wondered why worldly girls would come to a small Baptist College. Maybe it was the college lower tuition or it was their parents’ last resort to get them on the straight and narrow.
I couldn’t have picked better, or smarter roommates! We laughed so much and we took good care of each other in little and big ways. Those three girls were so protective of me and I tear up now just thinking about them. Yes, they drank, smoked, cussed and told dirty jokes, but not around me. I couldn’t believe it when one of them wrote in my yearbook at the end of the year that she had never met a true Christian until she met me.(I still don't know what this shy girl did.)
A whole bus load of Cumberland College students rode to Hopkinsville, Kentucky for a BSU Convention. They let the students preach and the singing was so anointed the holy spirit exploded in a liquid love that melted our hearts to become one with Him. As the Spirit lead, students from audience took turns leading with songs or giving their testimony. We didn't want the service to stop.
I sat in the balcony so moved by the love of God. I went forward and gave my life to Him for full-time, Christian service. The haunting voice had stopped harassing me. I was back in a healthy setting where I could hear God's sweet words and experience His love. He wanted me to surrender to Him to do whatever He wanted without there being a big demand.The counselor said I should make plans to go to seminary after college. That seemed so many light years away!
My friend, Cora Elizabeth Sweet, better known as Libby, gave an astounding missionary call that stilled the sanctuary and pricked every heart with deep wonder. Little did she know that her future husband, Howard Atkinson, was sitting in our midst and being stirred by God through his future wife.
A few weeks later Howard Atkinson came to Cumberland looking for Libby. He wasn’t familiar with the campus so he asked some students passing by if they knew her. They said, “Do you mean that dark haired girl from Corbin who goes to church three times a week and talks about God all the time?”
Howard's smile lit up his whole face, “Yes, that’s the one!” He found her that day and they started corresponding until he came to Cumberland to court Libby and while he finished his ministerial schooling.
Libby and Howard married in December of 1969 and I was in the beautiful Christmas wedding. After Libby graduated in May of 1970 they took off for language school. They served as International Missionaries through the IMB in Richmond, VA from 1979 to 1999 as foreign missionaries to Costa Rica. They have served in Cuba since 2000 while retired in Paducah, KY where they live and take care of their elderly parents. Howard became the Director of Missions in 2009 over 52 churches in Kentucky. They have two grown, married daughters: Amy Bernal is a Physical Therapist and Worship Leader at Women’s Conferences; Susan Carreno teaches Special Education and supports, “Babies Can’t Wait while she rears Libby and Howard's four, lovely grandchildren.