Scott Smith absolutely loves going to work every day.
When he unlocks the door to the Baptist Collegiate Ministries center at Lander University and crosses the 30 steps to his office, he whispers a prayer: “Lord, help me make a difference for You on this campus.”
And then he goes to work, savoring every moment. For more than 32 years, Smith has poured himself into the lives of students at Lander University, located in Greenwood, as well as students from Piedmont Technical College, just a few miles across town. He also oversees the BCM program at nearby Erskine College, where the school’s librarian volunteers as BCM director.
Before helping launch the state convention’s BCM program at Lander in 1985, Smith was campus minister at Baptist College of Charleston (now Charleston Southern University). When you add it up, he has spent 37 of his 62 years as a collegiate minister.
And every August, without fail, he “falls in love” with the incoming freshman class and can’t imagine not sticking around for the next few years to see how they turn out.
“This sounds really sappy, but I love college students,” Smith said, “and I’m grateful that God and South Carolina Baptists have allowed me to continue to do this for so many years.” He recently embarked on a 16-day tour of Ireland and Scotland, “and I feel like I needed to go, but it’s almost like I feel guilty because I have so much fun [at work].”
“I really enjoy what I do,” he added. “I really do.”
A good day is when his office is “packed with students sitting around telling me about their lives, telling me how they’ve grown in Christ, how they’ve become deeper in their faith,” he said. “I love that.”
His favorite day of the year, however, is when he gets to inform students where they will be serving as summer missionaries. “That is like Christmas,” he said.
Over the course of more than three decades, Smith has seen a change in the seriousness of problems that college students are facing. “Most of the problems many years ago were about roommates or breakups,” he said. Today it’s “so much different,” with many students struggling with such issues as eating disorders, depression or thoughts of suicide.
Another change Smith has observed is that today’s students seem to have a harder time “connecting to anything.”
“I would say that the scariest word for a college student today is commitment,” he said. “To really get them to commit to a ministry is tough, but once they do their lives are changed.”
Smith thinks churches can help their college students navigate the challenging transition from high school to young adulthood by simply staying in touch with them. “Even though they’ve gone away, don’t forget them,” he said. “Send them a bulletin. Write to them. Pray for them. Some way, have some contact with them.”
“Students will sit on my couch all the time and say, ‘I got a letter, I got a telephone call, I got a text’ or something like that, and in their lives they’re amazed with that.”
Smith also wants churches to let him know when a student is headed his way so that he can begin efforts early on to establish a relationship.
For most of his ministry, Smith had an enthusiastic partner in his work — his wife, Judy, whom he met while in seminary. Three years ago, Judy died from complications related to injuries suffered in a “horrible” automobile accident in 1996. Overcoming brain trauma and other serious injuries, she continued to serve with her husband for 18 years after the accident.
“Her life was constant pain,” said Smith, “but she loved students, and she prayed for students like nobody’s business. She didn’t sleep much, so she prayed for them.”
“And the students used to love watching how Judy and I reacted to each other,” he said. “They loved Judy.”
“I lost my wife three years ago, and I loved this ministry even before, but this really keeps me alive,” he said. “I have something to look forward to every day.”
By its nature, Smith’s work involves lots of activities (including an opening-days student barbecue prepared by volunteers from Lakelands Baptist Association). But at its essence, his ministry centers on sharing the love of Christ with students and helping them on their journeys toward discovering God’s purpose for their lives.
“I tell every student who comes in here, ‘You know you’re loved, don’t you?’” he said. “Some of them will come back and say, ‘I appreciate you telling me that you love me.’ Or they’ll come back and say, ‘Hey, I appreciate you telling me that God loves me.’
“Well, that’s fine, either of those answers,” he said. “I love them, and God loves them.”