When Dr. Charles Ramsey, BA ’97, MA ’00, joined the Baylor student body in 1993, he brought to campus a background that foreshadowed his current role as director of Baptist Student Ministry at Baylor.
The son of a fourth-generation Baptist minister and the grandson of a man named Rufus Burleson Ramsey in honor of the legendary Baylor president, Ramsey’s bloodlines and faith foundation were tailor-made for the University where spiritual formation is a way of life.
However, there was a detour on Ramsey’s road to ministry. The college years provide every student an opportunity to question beliefs and grapple with newfound freedoms. Those opportunities drew Ramsey away from the faith of his childhood.
“I had a faith of my own in high school,” he says. “But in my first two years at Baylor, I wasn’t involved in anything religious at all. To be fully candid, I became involved in relationships and activities that took me far away from the Church, and I would not have claimed to be a Christian at all.”
The Lord placed Ramsey on a path from campus to the other side of the globe where he could encounter a life-changing experience of discipleship.
Ramsey earned a National Security Education Program (NSEP) scholarship as a Baylor junior and then spent a year abroad in China. A doctor, whose English name translates fittingly as Peter, invited Ramsey along for fishing and conversation. As they fished, the doctor asked Ramsey personal and foundational questions.
“He asked me what I thought about God, what I believed about prayer, and whether I read the Bible,” Ramsey says. “Gradually, he walked me back to the faith. I came back from China as someone with new eyes who had re-discovered his faith. I needed discipleship when I returned. I needed someone to say, ‘Come with me.’”
He found that needed discipleship and community at Church Under The Bridge in Waco.
“The Lord really prepared my heart and pointed me to Church Under The Bridge,” Ramsey says. “Jimmy and Janet Dorrell were instrumental in creating a place to ask hard questions and to live out faith. That time was instrumental in me slowly discovering this call to vocational ministry.”
The Dorrells, Church Under The Bridge and Mission Waco continued to provide supporting roles for Ramsey’s path to missions. While working toward his master’s in history of religion, Ramsey served as the first facilities manager for Mission Waco’s Jubilee Center in the late 1990s. Mission Waco also introduced him to the needs and culture of South Asia.
Ramsey and his wife Brooke, BA ’98, who had spent time in India as a college student, answered a joint call that took them to the other side of the globe. Between 2000 and 2017, they lived, worked, served and raised a growing family in Pakistan and India.
Along the way, he earned a postgraduate certificate in poverty reduction from the University of London and a PhD in Islamic studies from the University of Birmingham in England. In 2012, Ramsey joined the faculty at Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan. His Forman students came from a number of religious backgrounds, yet they worked together to learn in an environment that cultivated academic rigor and important questions about faith.
“For most of the last 20 years, our family lived as a minority racially, linguistically and of faith as one of a few Christians in neighborhoods that were predominantly people of other cultures and faiths: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs,” he says. “That trained me to understand living in a world where being a minority is a reality for someone. It has given me a greater appreciation for our Baptist tradition. It shapes my thinking of how we articulate our vision and the experience people of other faiths or people with questions might have when they come into our worship services or activities.”
The Ramseys experienced feeling a steadily growing call to return to the United States as the next step of God’s plan for their lives. The couple felt the Lord specifically calling them to Baylor after they attended The Gathering in 2015, the first Palm Sunday service at McLane Stadium.
“We saw how the University has been growing,” Charles says. “We thought Baylor was a dynamic place to be involved and that there was incredible potential for impact here. We had a strong sense that we were supposed to be here, but we didn’t know how.”
We had a strong sense that we were supposed to be here, but we didn’t know how.”
By summer 2017, the Ramseys and their four children were on their way to Waco. The move was a leap of faith—there was no job waiting for either of them at Baylor. While they were uncertain as to what the future held, they were certain that this was where they were meant to be. The couple prayed for opportunity, moved to Waco and bought a house sight unseen. In a quintessentially Baylor and Waco twist, Ramsey’s home purchase and remodeling was featured in a 2018 episode of Baylor alumni Chip and Joanna Gaines’ HGTV show Fixer Upper.
Unbeknownst to Ramsey, he wasn’t alone in a return to Baylor. Something else was making a campus comeback.
Baptist Student Ministry (BSM), previously known as Baptist Student Union, has a rich history of campus ministry, revival and spiritual formation with a foundation springing from Baylor students. The Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists notes that Baylor students began praying as early as 1905 that Texas Baptists would begin a collegiate program. Within 16 years, the growing program became a national one known as the Baptist Student Union with authorization by Southern Baptist Convention. It flourished across college campuses.
Baylor student members were at the forefront of the Youth Revival Movement in the 1940s and ’50s. Decades of subsequent Baylor students were shaped by the organization’s mission to equip students to follow Christ and transform the world. BSM served generations as a cornerstone of spiritual growth and Baptist identity at Baylor and elsewhere.
As the University grew over the years, so too did the opportunities for students to participate in other organizations and ministries that encouraged spiritual growth. By the 1990s, the expanded services offered through Baylor Spiritual Life increasingly overlapped with the resources offered by BSM.
“Campus ministry and BSM were synonymous for most of the second half of the last century,” Dr. Burt Burleson, BA ’80, chaplain and dean of spiritual life, says. “In the 1990s, a model emerged where BSM was a department under Spiritual Life. This model certainly had its benefits. In 2017, we decided to move back toward a more traditional approach to Baptist Student Ministry at Baylor. We envisioned a vibrant BSM to be a great extension of the ministry of the chaplain’s office.”
The updated approach calls for BSM to serve in its discipleship niche and to partner with and complement the work done by Spiritual Life.
“It was a recognition that Baylor was growing in many areas, but that we needed other areas to be strengthened—student-led, student-initiated discipleship opportunities that create a way to invite every Baylor student,” Ramsey says.
The re-booted BSM needed a new director to begin in fall 2017, which proved to be the answer to the couple’s prayers.
“Ramsey, who remembers his needs for discipleship and community as a college student, now builds relationships with students in his role as director.“
“Dr. Ramsey was led here as the Bible says, ‘For a time such as this,’” Burleson says. “He is a scholar-educator and has lived the great majority of his life overseas in a missional context with college students. The intersection of his journey with ours is timely given Baylor’s vision for global impact. We have referred to this recent change often as returning to an old BSM paradigm, but really that isn’t accurate. The Church and Baylor are stepping into something new, and BSM at Baylor can embody that.”
“College is such a crucial time that impacts who you are,” Ramsey says. “If a passion for the Lord is ignited, your life trajectory can be completely different. I shudder to think what my life would be apart from the Gospel and without someone who took the time to ask me important questions during my junior year and walk me back to the faith.”
Ramsey, who remembers his needs for discipleship and community as a college student, now builds relationships with students in his role as director. Informally, he strives to know where individual students are on their faith journey—much as the doctor in China got to know him. In more structured settings, he works with students to help them learn how they can disciple fellow students and to know they could make a difference in a fellow classmate’s life.
“I think when we involve the laity—when we involve everybody—that’s when the Christian message and the churches have been the strongest and have had the most impact,” Ramsey says. “We all have an important part to play. Let’s figure out how to do that together.”
Individual and group training in discipleship is a BSM distinctive.
On Thursday nights in the Bobo Spiritual Life Center, Ramsey and BSM students hold 10:2 groups, named for the charge in Luke 10:2:
“He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” (NIV)
Students are equipped to disciple fellow students, discuss important questions, and be encouraged as they serve others. Libby Feray, a junior University Scholar, says BSM has influenced her Christian walk by affording her the opportunity to grow in Christ alongside other students.
“BSM has helped me come into contact with others who are interested in more than showing up to church on Sundays,” Feray says. “We are interested in living this life of love into which we’ve been called through Christ. BSM is a place on campus where students can actively seek Christ together and experience discipleship.”
One year in, Ramsey has seen BSM student participation and interest grow. He is excited about the growing partnerships with Baylor Spiritual Life and seeing additional opportunities for ministry across campus. Ramsey is most excited about the long-term impact—a generation of students, ignited in their faith during these pivotal college years, seeing their lives and the lives of others changed.
“BSM is a connection point that exists for the Church,” Ramsey says. “As I talk to students and faculty, I hear over and over that people are drawn to Baylor because they sense that God is doing something unique here. It’s exciting to be here, partnering with a generation of leaders who are putting their faith into practice, growing as disciples and walking alongside others as they do the same.”