In a segregated United States, drinking fountains, churches, bus seats and businesses were daily reminders that many people believed the color of someone's skin was more important than the content of a person's character.
Despite the oppressions they endured, Freddie Mae Bason and Verlene Farmer-Goatley felt called to serve those in need, regardless of their race, creed or color.
They met while attending the Oklahoma School of Religion. It was there that Freddie Mae and Verlene were approached with an invitation that would change the course of their lives and leave a mark on the history of Baptist higher education: the opportunity to attend the Carver School of Missions and Social Work in Louisville, Kentucky.
While they were aware that integrating the Carver School in Jim Crow-era Kentucky would be charged with incidences of racism, the opportunity to be professionally trained and equipped for their life's work was something they were not willing to let pass. So, in the fall of 1955, Freddie Mae and Verlene became the first African-American women to enroll in the Carver School.
"I was quite apprehensive because this was a new venture, and history at that point had not been very kind, and I just really didn't know what to expect," Freddie Mae remembered. "But we were willing to take the venture because we knew we would be making a definite contribution, and it would be an opportunity to go into some work that we knew we could not get into otherwise-full-time Christian service."
What resulted from their resolve and willingness to face the unknown cannot be easily measured. Their actions brought African-American and white Baptist women-groups that had been engaged in interracial cooperative efforts to support missions for decades-together in social work education.
Upon graduating from Carver in 1957, Bason moved to Atlanta, and, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and the turbulence of demonstrations from both non-violent and militant groups, began a 42-year mission to work with inner-city families.
Verlene served as a missionary and teacher in Liberia for seven years. Upon returning to Oklahoma, she continued her work in Christian service at Langston University, where she taught religious education classes and directed the Baptist Student Union for the next 25 years.
Like Freddie Mae and Verlene, Biak (Nu) Sung knows what it means to trade the comfort of the familiar for the opportunity to effect change in her world. Her family is of the Chin people, an ethnic minority group settled in the northwestern mountains of Myanmar, also known as Burma.
At the age of 11, Nu Sung and her family left behind the Chin Hills and their community of Christian neighbors to minister to the Burmese street children and their families in the slums skirting Yangon, a large city in the south. There, under the leadership of her father, a retired teacher, they began to develop a school for the many children who labor in the streets because their families cannot afford the cost of basic education.
Though they offered excellent care to the impoverished children-from training in healthy hygiene habits to a full load of government-required courses-Nu Sung and her family's initial efforts were not accepted due to faith and cultural differences. Eventually, however, the family's persistence, kindness and the quality of the education they offered won the friendship and trust of their new neighbors.
As the their work grew, so did Nu Sung's heart for children and families in poverty. She left home to earn a degree in theology at Singapore Bible College, but still felt that something was missing.
"I knew there was something practical that could be done," Nu Sung recalled. "But at the time, I didn't know what social work was."
That was about to change. Nu Sung learned about the Baylor School of Social Work's Global Mission Leadership Initiative. She applied and was accepted in the program.
"I wanted to learn how to enhance the quality of the school for the children and get the parents involved in giving their children a hope and a future. At Baylor SSW, I've learned how to find and connect resources so that can happen," Nu Sung said shortly before completing her MSW degree in May 2012.
Today Nu Sung has returned home to Myanmar as a professionally trained social worker (she knows only one other in the country), dedicated to making a brighter future for those in her beloved community.