When Steve and Trina Pennington first learned of their son Micah’s death, Trina whispered a prayer that his relatively short but vibrant life would be remembered.
Now, thanks to the efforts of North Central University, the newly renamed Assemblies of God World Missions Pennington scholarship will provide a Christian education for fellow missionary kids in Micah’s name.
Steve Pennington, 55, says Micah loved his African upbringing. As part of an AG world missionary family serving in Kenya and Ethiopia, Micah interacted with children and played saxophone with Steve in African churches.
“He learned a lot of social skills from his time in Africa,” Pennington says. “Africans are very relational, and they value people over tasks and time. Micah made sure people felt like they belonged.”
Pennington says Micah played multiple musical instruments, and he felt called to lead worship and youth ministry. In 2015, Micah began attending North Central University in Minneapolis, drawn to the campus in part by the number of Ethiopians and Somali residents downtown.
However, in October 2017, Micah received a medical diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. At first, Trina Pennington, 53, says the disease seemed regulated, but soon Micah lost over 60 pounds and couldn’t eat. Doctors then diagnosed Micah with Addison’s disease and hypothyroidism, a combination called Schmidt's syndrome.
“Micah’s adrenal gland shut off so he had to take insulin for his diabetes, steroids for his Addison’s, and thyroid medication as well,” Steve says. “He had to count his carbs and measure every meal.”
Steve says many students at North Central didn’t know of Micah’s illness. Even as doctors conceded he faced an uphill battle, the upbeat Micah volunteered as a youth worship leader at Real Life Church in Roseville, Minnesota, and envisioned one day going to Peru as a missionary.
In January 2020, after Steve and Trina headed from Lakeland, Florida, to Michigan to begin missionary iteration, they learned Micah had died. Trina says after the initial disbelief, her “heart shattered into a million pieces.”
“My knee-jerk with reaction was I wanted his life to count for something,” she says. “I wanted God to get glory, and to see more people come into the Kingdom because of it.”
North Central president Scott A. Hagan describes Micah’s death as one of the university’s darkest days in 2020.
“Micah was an effervescent young man loved by the whole campus,” says Hagan, 58. “We felt strongly that we wanted to rename the scholarship to missionary kids the AGWM Pennington scholarship.”
Hagan says the scholarship, initiated in 2018, provides free tuition at North Central to any student whose parents are serving as fully appointed AG world missionaries. The cost of room and board are not included in the scholarship.
“We did it as a way to take the burden of college off our missionary families, and it has exploded,” he says. “It was a bold step of faith, but the doors have opened for education for those missionary kids to come and graduate debt-free. We have a chance to really cement the legacy of the Pennington family into young hearts.”
In less than three years, the number of MKs on campus benefiting from the scholarship has risen from six to 40.
Trina Pennington says she did not expect the scholarship to be renamed for Micah, but she considers it an answer to her prayer for Micah’s legacy to inspire others. The Penningtons’ other two children graduated from AG universities. Josiah Pennington went to Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, and Priscilla Burr graduated from Southeastern in Lakeland, Florida, after earlier attending Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas.
“This scholarship is going to help other parents who are walking the same journey that we walked — the hardship of trying to pay for a private school, Christian community, and excellent education,” Trina says.