June Scoggins' Story
Let me set the stage for you: It was May 31, 2018, and on the east side of the Mississippi State campus in the new BSU Building stood a woman who had poured her heart and soul into thousands of lives over the last five decades. I wasn’t there that day, but I can imagine that as she stood in the doorway of her office, scanning over its contents one last time, she was flooded with thoughts of the students she had offered guidance and direction to through the years. I can imagine that as she made her way through the lobby, it would have been hard not to think about the years of ice cream fellowships and barn parties that acted as a catalyst in helping students get involved in the ministry. I can imagine that as she made one last walk through the worship center, she recalled seeing God do some really amazing things in the lives of some of her students through the decades. And I would even venture to say that as she moved through the kitchen, it was hard not to think about the thousands of mouths that she had fed in the last 48 plus years with Frantic Fried Chicken and the seemingly never-ending supply of chocolate chip cookies in the freezer. Then, with no pomp and circumstance, she walked out of the back door, and it closed behind her, leaving nothing but silence in the building. And just like that, it was the end of an era.
I recently had the privilege to sit down with June Scoggins, former Associate BSU Director, and talk about God’s call on her life and her 48 plus years of ministry with the BSU.
Having grown up in Starkville and subsequently attending First Baptist Church all of her life, June was exposed to a love of college students at an early age. She grew up under a strong influence of FBC mentoring a love for college students and a vision for serving God. She said that as she thinks back over her life, there are five people who have played major roles in getting her to where she is today. They are Dr. D.C. and Mrs. Kate Applegate, Frank Horton, Mary Ruth Beatty, and Dr. Chester Swor. Through each of these individuals, the Lord laid the ground work in developing a love for collegiate ministry and missions in June’s heart.
When she was a child in elementary school, Dr. D.C. and Mrs. Kate Applegate came to be the pastor and pastor’s wife at FBC, and in June’s words, “They had a contagious love for college students.” She went on to say that Bro. Applegate felt like our church was to be a lighthouse and a harbor to college students: a lighthouse to show them Jesus; a harbor to provide a place where they could come and be nurtured and grow – a place where they could really learn how to live out the Christian life and learn how to serve God through the Church.
The teenage years of a young girl’s life are very impressionable. When June was in the youth group, a man by the name of Frank Horton came to be the BSU Director at Mississippi State. Nicknamed Sonshine, June said that she can never remember seeing him when he wasn’t smiling or encouraging students. He was yet another person with a contagious love for college students who crossed her path.
June went on to talk about how FBC Starkville has always had a strong emphasis on missions and missions education. One of the people who is a hallmark in that area to June is Mary Ruth Beatty. June recalled that Mary Ruth’s love for missions and her love for international students is what first sparked her interest in both, as well. Lastly, when June was in high school, there was a man by the name of Dr. Chester Swor who would visit FBC to do revivals. During her teen years, June was drawn to his love and commitment to college students.
In 1970, June had committed to working one year as a Graduate Assistant for the Baptist Student Union. During that fall semester, the BSU went to Calloway Gardens for Fall Retreat. At the end of the retreat, there was a full pipe organ concert held specifically for the MSU BSU. June was sitting in the front row, looking through stained glass windows that all pointed heavenward, and she was asking God what He wanted her to do with her life, long-term. She said that as she sat there praying throughout that concert, she felt as though her “whole entire life went before the eyes of God. It was just like Isaiah said. ‘I saw the Lord and He was high and lifted up.’” She responded, “Here am I, Lord. I’ll do whatever.” As the tears which filled her eyes began to spill down her cheeks, she recalled that the organist ended the concert with “Up From the Grave He Arose” and then she hit the “Hallelujah Chorus.” As she listened to the organist break into the “Hallelujah Chorus,” she said, “I went from feeling like a broken person, needing God to take this broken life and show me His plan to feeling as though I just wanted to shout! From that moment on, I knew that was God’s call on my life to be in ministry.”
At one time, she thought that God might be calling her to the mission field because she had a very strong interest in missions. After the opportunity at the BSU came up, she really struggled with that and wondered if she was correctly hearing from the Lord; however, she came to the conclusion that God asks some people to go, and He asks some people to stay. She says, “So, I’ve always viewed it as if my mission field was in my back door on the MSU campus. It wasn’t on the other side of the world although there were a lot of people who came from the other side of the world to attend State. My mission field was Mississippi State University, and that is where God wanted me to invest my life.”
A few years later, while prepping to go on a trip to the Holy Land, June met a tall, slender man from French Camp, Mississippi. They began dating, and in her words (which also happen to be one of my favorite June sayings), they “fell in love on the streets of Jerusalem.” June stated, “I knew that God had a call on my life, and I would have pursued that regardless of what it might have cost me.” However, “God gave me a wonderful husband who was very understanding and who knew that was God’s call on my life when we married.” He went so far as to say, “I want you to have the freedom to pursue God’s call on your life and I think we, as a couple, can make that happen. Once we have a family, I think we, as a family, can make that happen as well.” She continued, “He never wanted me NOT to follow God’s call on my life. And that’s why I say that God just hand-picked Charlie for me. Because there are a lot of men who would not have been willing for me to do that, nor would they have been gracious in giving me the freedom to pursue God’s call. From the day we were married, Charlie always wanted our home to be open to students and wanted us to use what God had given us as a tool to minister to others.”
June made the comment that she used to think that if she didn’t have over 1,000 students in her home during the year, then she had failed. Having witnessed she and Charlie live out this gift of hospitality for more than a decade, I can attest to the fact that they have indeed used what God has given them as a tool to minister to others. The mere fact that she strove to host no less than 1,000 students in a year’s time attests to that commitment.
With her call to serve the Lord in full time ministry, June broke the curve. She was one of the first women in full time BSU work. She was the first married BSU Director in Mississippi, and when she had her son in the early 1980s, the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board did not even have a maternity policy in place. On top of that, she doesn’t have a seminary degree. Because she held a Master’s degree in Counselor Education, the Board (MBCB) felt like she had “equal education” and that she could use the counseling degree in ministry, so she was hired. Ironically, she would not qualify for her job today. In her words, “That just goes to show you that anything that is offered to God, if it is His will, He can equip you to do what He wants you to do. It is not about what you can do; it is what God can do through you that will make the difference.”
It would be difficult for someone to work in the same place for nearly five full decades and not leave their mark. For June, there are a few things she contributed to the tapestry of the BSU ministry for which she is most proud. One of the things that stands out the most is Noonday. Noonday is a weekly meal and Bible study time that takes place at the BSU. It began at the request of students in 1970. By the mid-seventies, they had 450 paid people attending Noonday each week. Its popularity is actually what led to the expansion of the original BSU building a decade later. June helped cook the meal for the very first Noonday during the first fall semester that she was employed by the BSU. Forty-eight years later, it is still going strong.
For more than 30 years, June worked with the students in helping them plan the weekly worship times at the BSU, another contribution of which she is proud. During that time, the BSU had the opportunity to bring in some of the best preachers and youth ministers in the state of Mississippi and the Southern Baptist Convention. She will be forever grateful for being able to expose the students to people who were sound biblical teachers and people who really leveraged their lives to make a difference for God’s kingdom.
When asked to talk about some of the most memorable things she experienced during her tenure, June recalled a myriad of experiences; however, one stuck out the most. At some point during the early 1980s, June led a student mission team to Honduras. Though June could not confirm the validity of the statement, during that trip, the Southern Baptist missionary in Tegucigalpa informed her that the Mississippi State BSU team was the first student group to ever come to do evangelism in Honduras. The trip was a success, and they continued their work there for approximately eight more years. It was during one of those later trips that the Lord taught June and the others on the team about the power of prayer. When they arrived in Honduras, the country had been in a drought for about three months. In the '80s, when a drought occurred in Honduras. While ministering to students at a school on a mountain, forest fires were actively burning in the area. The Director of Religious Activities received a phone call from his wife alerting him to the fact that a forest fire was in their back yard and they were about to lose everything they had. He and June gathered up all of the MSU students, jumped in jeeps, and went to help try and put out the fire. They took sticks and started beating the fire from around the house. With the help of the fire truck that later arrived, they were able to get control of the fire and save the house. Once the fire was under control, June and the students gathered up to pray: “We circled up to pray and we asked God to send rain.” That night after supper she called her husband, Charlie, to tell him about the day. While she was on the phone, she said, “I heard rain.” Choking back tears, she repeated, “I heard rain.” It rained over 2 inches that night on the mountain, and all of the fires that were encircling the school were put out with the rain water. June was emphatic with her next proclamation: “There will never be a Mississippi State student that was on that trip that will not believe in the power of prayer. Because we saw, just like Elijah when he prayed that God would send the rain, God sent the rain. I won’t ever forget that as long as I live.”
Over the years, she has seen many things change in the ministry of the BSU. However, the one thing that has NOT changed is the fact that the most successful tactic in getting students involved in the ministry is personally inviting them to take part. She explains, “When you believe in a program or you believe in a ministry to the point that you are willing to invite someone to come with you and be a part of it, that is the greatest way to get people involved.”
I asked her to recount some of the greatest victories she has seen over the last five decades, and the following was her response: “Of course, the greatest victories are when you see a college student come to know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. But, another victory is when you see college students find their identity in Christ. When they realize that God has a purpose and meaning for their life, and they realize that He has something that He wants them to do. That is a huge victory to me. From the very get go up until now, one of the most common things that students struggle with is, ‘What is God’s will for my life?’ So many students do not have a positive concept of themselves. For them to realize that they are deeply loved by the Father; for them to realize that He created them; for them to realize that He made them special and gifted them the way they are gifted for a reason and a purpose. For a student to come to know and understand that and then to sense what it is that God wants them to do, whether that is to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a minister: that is one of the greatest things you can be a part of in collegiate ministry.”
Another victory for June is to know that she has kids all over the world. These former students are in churches and ministry positions all across America and around the globe serving the Lord. She followed that thought with, “Maybe…just maybe…I had a small part in their pilgrimage to find God and to find fulfillment in life by doing what God has called them to do.”
As evidenced by the 768 comments on her Facebook retirement post, I dare say that there are few people who have darkened the doors of the BSU over the last 50 years, who would affirm that June has, indeed, played a part in helping students find fulfillment in doing the Lord’s will.
Brandi Bean Johnson (overseas missionary) stated the following: “The things she taught THOUSANDS of students and me about serving in love, enduring in struggles, praying with passion and expectation of the Lord’s goodness, and how to be a disciple of Christ…well that is a LEGACY. I never aspired to be an actor or a musician or a famous athlete; I aspired to be a woman who loves the Lord and serves the way Mrs. June has all these years.”
Director of College and Ascent Ministries at Pinelake Church, Linda Halfacre Weir stated, "June has been an example to me of a woman in ministry just confidently doing what Jesus called her to do—neither apologizing for it nor having an axe to grind. As I started my first job in ministry, June gave me two pieces of advice. One, learn to cook. Two, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”
Five decades. That is a long time to do anything, especially in a field where burn out, bureaucracy, frustration, and changing times affect your daily routine and your big-picture outlook. June said that there were two things that kept her getting up and going to work every day. She knew it was God’s call on her life, and she just absolutely loves college students. She said, “I love sharing life with them. I love seeing them grow in their faith and seeing them develop into who God has made them to be. Because of that, it was easy to get up. It was just easy to get up.” She went on to say, “I love people. I love to serve people and I love to serve the Lord. He just hand-crafted it (BSU ministry) for me. I don’t know that initially I had what I needed to do the job; however, God takes the gifts that you have and He multiplies them.”
While June’s retirement might have brought an end to an era, she leaves a legacy behind that will not soon be forgotten. In the words of some of her former students, John and Patsy Wilson, her “legacy will always be in the fabric of the MSU BSU.”
So, what can we take away from the life and ministry of June Scoggins?
Never underestimate the power of your influence. Had it not been for a pastor and his wife, a BSU Director, and a laywoman who had a love for missions, June may not have realized her love for college students at such a young age, nor modeled what had been modeled for her for the next five decades, essentially, impacting thousands of lives for the kingdom. It was people in the Church, being the people God called them to be, who helped June become the person God desired her to be. God has placed you in this fellowship of believers, and He has uniquely gifted you to minister to people in ways that others may not be able to do. Be the church so that you might influence the next generations in the same way.
As you seek to serve the Lord in and through your life, as things get difficult and you are challenged to count the cost, I’ll leave you with June’s words: “If you have God’s approval for what you do, you do not need man’s approval. If you have been called by God to do what you do, whether that is as a BSU Director, or a lawyer, or a school teacher, you don’t have to have approval from anyone else.”