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The Perfect Educational Fit

First graduate of NBF-SUM partnership finds the flexibility of cohort learning a big plus.

From the time Laura R. Tubman was 10 years old, she knew she would serve God in vocational ministry. She had gone through a difficult season in which her parents had divorced, leaving her hurt, angry, and frustrated. Though she had grown up in church in the small town of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, faith had never been personal to her. So she held onto her grief, feeling alone and adrift.

When a friend invited Tubman to go to an overnight children’s conference, she went simply to get away from her family situation. She didn’t expect to hear God speak to her for the first time.

“He told me that He loved me,” Tubman says. “And that He was calling me to a life of ministry.”

Though she didn’t know what that meant, she felt energized by the divine call. As soon as she returned from the conference, she immediately began to serve at City Church Assembly of God.

By the time she was 13, she worked as the summer intern for the church’s children’s ministry, helping the children’s pastor. She continued in that role until her senior year in high school.

In 2010, at the age of 19, Tubman married her high-school sweetheart, Joel, and they moved to Dayton, Ohio, where she took the elementary director position at Christian Life Center. While there, Tubman pursued a certificate degree from the University of Valley Forge in children’s ministry, which she received in 2012.

Then she determined to obtain ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God, which required more training.

“I did not feel confident when it came to biblical literacy,” Tubman admits. “I had the ministry experience, but I wanted to be more well studied. I wanted to know how to truly pastor people.”

But with the expense and her full-time ministry job, she put it off.

In 2014, she became children’s pastor at One Church, formerly New Life Church International, in Lima, Ohio.

“I immediately felt her passion and her commitment,” says One Church lead pastor Darnell Keith Williams Sr.

As she settled into her new role, Tubman once again turned her sights to pursuing further pastoral studies. But she and Joel hoped to start a family and she wanted to keep her position at the church, so attending a four-year traditional college didn’t seem feasible. She reached out to Williams for advice.

Williams, who also is vice president of the Assemblies of God National Black Fellowship (NBF), suggested she enroll in the School of Urban Missions Bible College & Seminary (SUM) , which had recently enacted a cooperative cohort partnership with NBF. That partnership placed SUM cohort campuses in various NBF-member churches — including One Church, a predominantly African-American congregation.

With SUM’s fully accredited online bachelor’s degree programs, Tubman not only could obtain a degree, she also could connect more personally with other students. And because she had participated in many NBF events and had engaged with other leaders within that group, Tubman knew it would be a seamless fit.

It never crossed her mind that she was a white person attending an NBF cohort program.

“Because these were the people I knew and was familiar with, and looking at our congregation and its needs, this was a no brainer for me,” she says. “But it also offered what I was looking for — a place to get a degree without having to give up my ministry work.”

That’s the beauty of the NBF and SUM partnership, Williams believes. Though an NBF initiative, the cohort doesn’t focus on ethnicity as much as equipping students who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to finish their education.

“It’s low cost and it’s all virtual, so it gave Laura an opportunity to participate, to learn, and to grow,” says Williams. “That kind of niche space SUM provides is perfect for students like Laura.”

In June 2020, Tubman, 29, became the first graduate of the partnership between NBF and SUM, with a bachelor of arts in biblical studies and pastoral ministry.

Tubman, now also a mom of two — 3-year-old Nathaniel and 1-year-old Declan — today serves as the Next Gen pastor at One Church, responsible for ministering to children from birth to age 18. She’s gained confidence from insights gained through her studies.

“I have more biblical literacy, I know better how to pastor people and walk through life with them,” she says.”

Ginger Kolbaba

Ginger Kolbaba ( www.gingerkolbaba.com) is a speaker and author who lives in the Chicago area. She is the author of Your Best Happily Ever After and co-author of Breakthrough: The Miraculous True Story of a Mother's Faith and Her Child's Resurrection.