Stories of Four OBU Graduates at Princeton
August 13, 2004
OBU is in the ministry of preparing students for the many challenges of living a life worthy of the calling they have received. “Regardless of major, an OBU education is an investment which will serve you well in life,” Blake Connelly, ’02, says. Eric Barreto, ’01, agrees. “The OBU name carries a great deal of weight in many places and in many disciplines,” he says. “And even if one heads out to places where the OBU legacy has not yet spread, the quality of your work will only prove the quality of your preparation.”
One such place where OBU graduates are thriving is Princeton Theological Seminary. Blake and Eric, along with Amy Peeler, ’02, and Matt Porter, ’03, are current students at Princeton.
“My OBU foundation allowed me the opportunity to not only apply to Princeton, but also to excel here. OBU prepared me to meet the challenges in a more open, diverse community at Princeton by giving me a good theological basis and the skills to begin to think theologically,” says Blake Connelly. “Before attending OBU, I had a limited idea of ministry. I thought that being called into the ministry consisted of being a pastor, a youth minister, or a missionary. I came to realize ministry was much larger than my limited understanding. OBU opened my eyes to the world of theological scholarship.”
Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Blake grew up in a single-parent household with his mother, Charla, and his little sister, Amanda. (Amanda is currently a senior nursing major at OBU.) “In the small amounts of time outside of class,” he says, “I enjoy reading great works of fiction – The Great Gatsby, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Catcher in the Rye, to name a few.” His love for literature brings him to Scripture with an eye toward “story.” He finds “inspiration and comfort” in the book of Ruth, Jesus’ dealings in the Gospels, and the early church’s beginnings accounted in Acts. Blake is married to Courtney, ’02, who works as a high school Spanish teacher and is pursuing graduate work at Penn State.
“The strengths of my OBU education are numerous,” Blake says. “The ability to work closely with professors such as Dr. Kelly, Dr. Roark, and Dr. Hall who combine scholarly minds and pastoral hearts was an amazing basis for my study at Princeton. The strength of OBU’s biblical languages program is second to none in the country. I felt prepared in language requirements (Greek and Hebrew) as well as having a foundation in theology, biblical history, and historical critical hermeneutics.” Blake chose Princeton because of its “academic excellence and commitment to the local church,” he says. “Princeton Theological Seminary combines both world-class scholars with a mission to support church ministry.” He hopes that his OBU and Princeton educational experiences allow him to successfully continue on to post-graduate work and eventually into a professorship in New Testament.
Amy Peeler grew up in Oklahoma City. She came to OBU with her high school sweetheart, now husband, Lance, ’02. “During my time at OBU, I grew in my own understanding of my faith and my call,” she says, “and I came to realize that God had equipped me to teach his Word.” She switched from psychology to Greek and New Testament in her junior year. “I want to teach in the area of New Testament and especially Greek at a liberal arts school much like OBU,” Amy says. “I have always enjoyed school and for most of my life wanted to be a teacher. I envision this as a ministry. I want people to gain a better understanding for and a deeper appreciation of the Bible.”
This appreciation, Amy says, stems not only from the Bible’s devotional attributes that motivate the heart, but also its theological aspects that stimulate the mind. “God wants us to glorify Him with our mind as well as our heart. I want to pass that practice on to my students.
“OBU helped prepare me to interact in this very diverse environment that makes up Princeton,” she says. “OBU gave me a solid foundation and taught me how to interact with those who do not necessarily share my views. It allowed me to ask serious questions and help solidify some of my most important beliefs. OBU gave me the space to interact with those from different viewpoints, and it prepared me academically...better than I could have imagined. We OBU students have continued to perform very well in our classes here and sometimes ‘set the bar’ for other students.”
She credits her OBU professors as the reason she is not “overwhelmed” at Princeton, both for providing a rigorous curriculum and for their personal interaction and attention. “Dr. Roark, Dr. Kelly, and Todd Ream (former dean of students, now at Baylor University) had a profound effect on my academic, personal, and spiritual growth. They embodied what I hope to become as an educator and minister.” Her time at Princeton thus far has made her value her roots. “Sometimes people are embarrassed to be from a small Baptist school in Oklahoma,” she says. “But I have learned that OBU is a wonderful school and I received a wonderful education, and I have a unique voice to contribute as a Baptist Oklahoman.”
“It is said that upon graduation, those who know what they want to be start doing it, while those who are not sure go on to graduate school,” says Matt Porter, who decided to journey to the Princeton area with his wife, Michelle, ’03, after they graduated from OBU. Matt does not have “strong inclinations” for the next step in his life, whether he will continue in a Ph.D. program or move into a pastoral position. “I find that no matter what I do, I end up teaching,” he says. “Every time I preached on OBU Day in the Church, I ended up focused more on teaching. There is so much occurring in the academic branches of the church that would be so beneficial in the pews, and I hope to someday help bridge that gap.” Matt and his wife chiefly have one desire: “to live in one town for the duration of life, raise a family and grow with the community,” he says.
As a native Oklahoman from Cushing, he credits “blind luck” in reflection on the path that brought him to Princeton. “I really did a poor job of searching for colleges coming out of high school,” he says. “I didn’t know what a liberal arts education was, let alone how important it would be. But I chose OBU, and I am grateful it turned out as well as it did. In choosing a graduate school, I got ‘lucky’ again and stumbled upon a premier academic institution that still desires very much to serve the church.
“Go ahead and apply for graduate schools that intimidate you,” he says as advice to current OBU students. “Somebody has to go there, and you are certainly prepared.”
“I am pursuing a ministerial vocation because of an unmistakable call to serve the people of God,” Eric Barreto forthrightly says. “Though I can point to a specific time period in which I embraced this call, my vocation has been most profoundly affirmed through my time at OBU and now at seminary. Reading, thinking, and teaching theology is truly fulfilling to me.”
Born in Puerto Rico, his family moved to Louisiana when Eric turned age 9. They moved several more times before they landed in New York, where Eric spent his teenage years. His grandfather, a Baptist pastor, provided much of the “ministerial inspiration” and direction to study theology. Don Craig, his high school pastor, also discipled him. “Although my future plans will not necessarily include a pulpit every Sunday morning, my hope is that I can teach the texts, contexts, and effects of the New Testament in such a way as to inspire students, he says, “whether or not they go on to serve in an ecclesial setting. I want them to look to the Word of God to find direction and purpose.”
As to his OBU preparation, Eric names it as, “simply priceless. “I had little trouble passing the placement exam for New Testament Greek at Princeton,” he says. “I jumped right into an upper-level exegesis course in the book of Acts and felt excellently prepared to tackle a whole new level of academic and theological challenges. I also found that the writing skills instilled through the Unified Studies program – especially ‘Western Civ’ – served me well. Many of the first-year tests at seminary are essay exams similar to those proctored in ‘Civ’ and so writing for three hours on a couple hundred years’ worth of church history or systematic theology was within my grasp.”
Eric is currently enamoured by the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. “From Mary’s Magnificat to the Ethiopian eunuch,” he says, “the Gospel emerges from the most unexpected sources. This, I believe, is due to the active presence of the Holy Spirit, who shatters the arbitrary division we have between our neighbors and us. In a world fractured by hate and violence, this is the core of a gospel the world yearns to hear.”
Blake Connelly says it well: “An OBU education is an investment which will serve you well in life. OBU sets you up to accomplish anything in your career and to attend anywhere for graduate school, whether in medicine, education, law, or theology. OBU has some of the best scholars in all of the various fields, and they take time to get to know you and invest in your life. All of this makes it the premiere Christian liberal arts university in the country, one with a commitment to academic excellence and spiritual depth.”