For Alan Willingham, a retired deputy sheriff from Michigan, the adventure is just beginning.
After leaving his profession nearly a decade ago, Alan attended his church’s Redeemer Ministry School. It was there that he received the call to be in ministry. But there was just one little thing–or lack thereof–getting between him and his M.Div: an undergraduate degree. So Alan worked through his bachelor’s degree at Spring Arbor College in Michigan, majoring in Christian Ministry Leadership. After accomplishing that goal, he began attending Ashland Theological Seminary as part of a cohort. He is now halfway through his M.Div program and has many stories of God working in his life.
“I’ve always been sensitive to the Holy Spirit,” Alan says, “but this program gives me the academic foundation to explain why I know what I know. I’ve also gotten different insights into how other churches do things, to see how other people do church.” The cohort has been a significant source of help and encouragement (if not a bit of commiserating) while learning the coursework.
At Ashland Seminary, the M.Div journey extends beyond the classroom in innumerable ways. Alan recounts a time when, at around 8 in the morning, he entered a campus building, put his books down, and heard the sound of a vacuum cleaner. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but for some reason, he was drawn to the sound. He saw a woman cleaning through the glass door of the classroom and knew immediately that the Lord wanted him to pray for her. “So I went off to pray on my own, but God stopped me. I knew I had to open the door and pray with her. She looked like a deer in headlights. Then she was crying as she shared that she was having trouble with her teenage daughter.”
The woman explained that she had spent her life going to her father with her problems. She would walk into the house, and he could read her like a book. When Alan lifted his finger and said, “you need prayer,” she said she sensed the voice and presence of her now-deceased father.
Alan is now discerning what is in store for him after graduation. But he does know that his unplanned opportunity to pray with that woman reflects his seminary experience in more ways than one. “I am literally on an Abraham walk. God told me to go, and I went. God opens the door and shows me great things. I know some doors are opening, but I don’t know where I’m going yet. I’m waiting patiently for the right timing, the Isaac that brings blessings.”
Ashland Theological Seminary integrates theological education with Christ-centered transformation as it equips men and women for ministry in the church and the world. Ashland Theological Seminary offers certificate, master’s and doctoral level programs in Ashland, Cleveland, Columbus, and Detroit. Learn more at seminary.ashland.edu.