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Provision Amid Pandemic

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In late February, life in San Antonio was the pre-coronavirus normal for Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) student Melissa A. Salinas when the local specialty shop where she worked full time suddenly closed its doors.

In her last semester of studies for her distance education master’s degree in Bible and theology, Salinas’ earnings kept her going. But the abrupt closure left her unable to plan financially for a season without income.

She immediately began looking for other work. Two weeks later, COVID-19 became a household word.

Every two days, Salinas called a temp agency: If you need me the same day, I’ll be there within the hour.

“I felt bad bugging the guy,” Salinas says.

But nothing happened.

She continued studying. Little changed for Salinas when in-person classes adjourned nationwide; she’d been online all along, never having visited the Waxahachie, Texas, campus. She had eagerly anticipated the upcoming opportunity to finally meet the professors she loved studying under face to face. She relished the thought of marching across the stage to receive her degree at SAGU’s May commencement.

But soon after the pandemic hit, SAGU, like universities everywhere, announced its spring graduation would be online.

Unemployment spiked as companies shuttered. The balance on Salinas’s SAGU tuition lingered at the top of her mounting bills.

She knew the Lord’s admonition in Matthew 6 not to worry as well as the Be anxious for nothing passage in Philippians 4. She pleaded with God as she struggled, even as she sensed the Holy Spirit’s admonition: Do not worry.

The first week of April she figured she could catch up financially if she could just find some work. But no company posted any job openings.

In late April, Salinas found work assembling circuit boards. Although grateful and relieved, by then her everyday living expenses had piled up, including another installment on her SAGU tuition.

Meanwhile SAGU President Kermit Bridges and Rick Bowles, the university’s vice president of advancement marketing, discussed students impacted by the pandemic. Bowles often receives emails regarding students’ financial needs.

Even though Salinas hadn’t emailed anybody, SAGU student billing director Candee Lutrick’s team identified students who had lost jobs and suffered setbacks due to COVID-19. Bowles got word out about general needs via the SAGU monthly Alumni Connection. “I sent this simple email out with a simple appeal to see if people wanted to help,” Bowles says.

Within a month, alumni and churches alike responded by sending checks, which SAGU staff divided among nine students — including Salinas.

In mid-May, she saw an email from SAGU with the subject line “Congrats donation.”

Salinas, however, couldn’t bear to open the email. She thought the school wanted her to contribute. When she summoned the courage to read the message, Salinas learned she had received a $660 advancement scholarship from SAGU.

Initially, she thought the university had given the money to the wrong student.

“I hadn’t applied for a scholarship,” Salinas says. “Who’s going to give a 48-year-old a scholarship?”

Lutrick’s office assured her there had been no mistake.

“I couldn’t believe it!” Salinas says. “I went straight to my knees. Jesus is so good! He preserves us!”

But she still owed $525.

Salinas shared her testimony of the miraculous provision as an encouragement for a business-owning Christian friend whose own shop had been shuttered two months during the pandemic. When Salinas got home, she discovered that her friend had sneaked $500 in cash into her purse with a note that said, “Stay in school.”

Salinas composed a thank-you email to Bowles.

“I got really emotional when I read her email,” Bowles says. With her permission, he shared it among SAGU faculty and staff.

“When some people who give actually hear of the impact it makes on others, it inspires them to be more of a giver, whether it’s $5 or $5,000,” he says. “That's part of the spiritual opportunity God provides us as Christians.”

For Salinas, the miraculous provision ramped up her faith and infused her with new strength in this challenging season. Even though she studies in SAGU’s distance education program, she saw that the school in no way considers her a second-class student, “even without ever touching my feet to the ground at the campus, not ever looking into the eyes of the professors, or seeing the students or library staff” who continually helped her by phone and the internet, she says.

Bowles says the fund to help SAGU students impacted by COVID-19 is about to enter a second round and will be an ongoing campaign until the pandemic crisis passes.

In the fall, Salinas will begin studies for her second SAGU master’s degree in theological studies. She wants to be a Bible teacher.

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