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ETBU finds ways to serve at a time when they cannot be together

April 12, 2020

From Tyler Morning Telegraph

The campus might be empty, but so is the tomb!

That’s the message East Texas Baptist University celebrated during what is normally Passion Week on a packed campus.

Passion Week is typically a campus wide week of worship and service, but this year the university had to find new ways to connect and share in worship.

“Being that today is Good Friday, when God gave us his greatest gift through Christ’s sacrifice, we wanted to support our local community by gifting,” ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn said.

ETBU started Easter weekend by spreading love in their community through support of small businesses.

ETBU donated 100 tacos at Jucy’s Tacos, 100 coffees at Joe Pine Coffee and 100 small blizzards at Marshall’s Dairy Queen for their first 100 customers to support small businesses and say thank you to all the citizens of Marshall for all they do to support ETBU.

Later in the day, Blackburn and volunteers continued to serve by making filtered cloth masks for local hospitals, healthcare workers and students and staff.

Each of the 1,000 masks they’ll put together are partially made ETBU t-shirts. They hope to make enough to meet the needs of local healthcare personnel and be prepared for when students return to campus.

“My daughter and I were just talking about masks, and she said ‘dad what can we do to help people, especially healthcare professionals who have limited PPE and equipment? What can we do as a family, what can we do as ETBU?’” Blackburn said.

He reached out to staff and found out Jamye Ferguson already was making masks.

Blackburn, his daughter Elizabeth Blair, Ferguson and others spent the afternoon cutting campus t-shirts into hundreds of strips to make comfortable straps for the masks. Ferguson has been coordinating with others sewing at their homes in her new role as the Mask Ministry Coordinator.

“I feel like it’s such an honor to be part of this. It’s fun, and it’s certainly a place where my heart is very inclined. I have four children on the front lines, so that was my impetus to start this,” Ferguson said. “I wanted to make sure they were going to have good protection at their jobs if at all possible.”

Ferguson researched the best mask makeups and settled on a polypropylene filter sewn between two pieces of fabric. Polypropylene is also the material used for filter in N95 masks.

Blackburn said finding ways to serve around the Easter holiday is part of who they are as an institution.

“For us, a Christ-centered institution, our commitment is to develop Christian servant leaders. That’s the product we are striving to produce with our students,” he said. “Students are called here to receive a faith integrated education and we want them to understand that whatever field God calls them to, he calls them to be a servant leader.”

Building students to be eager to find ways to serve others when their need is greatest is what ETBU strives for every day, and the coronavirus crisis has brought out the spirit of servant leadership in faculty, students and alumni.

“This is just a reflection of our mission, to develop servant leaders, particularly today. We understand what it means to give your life in service to Jesus Christ on Good Friday,” Blackburn said. “It’s somber, yet we have hope. With Christ’s sacrifice on the cross we know we have a resurrected, risen savior that we celebrate on Easter Sunday.”

Even though he can’t bring the ETBU family together in person, Blackburn said they have worked to do so at a distance. Each day they’ve been running advertisements in local newspapers with suggested scriptures to help others worship at home. They’ve also asked staff to read from the Book of John each day.

“We’ve challenged our faculty, staff and friends of the institution to read through the Gospel of John,” Blackburn said. “Three chapters a day of the Gospel of John, reading about the life and the ministry of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice to the cross and, praise God, his resurrection on Easter Sunday."

Crosses that read “He is Risen” have also been placed all over campus.

While the East Texas Baptist University Family cannot be together in person this Easter, it is their hope that they can come together through prayer and service.