When Grayson Bartlett was a junior at Spain Park High School in Hoover, Alabama, she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life.
She also wasn’t sure what she was getting into when she signed up for an elective class on biblical worldviews that met off campus.
“I signed up for it because my friend told me to,” Bartlett said. “She and I were both Christians, and she said, ‘Grayson, they have this class,’ and I thought, ‘Well, I’m a Christian, might as well sign up.’”
But as haphazard as everything seemed at the time, she said it was clear God had a plan. From the first day, the class was life changing. She met her teacher, and it began a new chapter of her faith journey.
That teacher was Yannick Christos-Wahab, M.Div. ’18, who at the time was a student at Beeson Divinity School. He grew up in a Nigerian home in a pocket of London where many other Nigerians also lived.
“I was surprised—I’d never had a Black male teacher before,” Bartlett said.
He brought a different perspective to the table than any she had heard up until that point.
As he gave her and the other students tools to read the Bible and understand it for themselves, Bartlett learned that she automatically viewed the Bible through her own cultural lens without realizing it. For example, as someone who grew up in the United States, she likely viewed freedom differently than someone who grew up in another setting.
“He helped me to get out of my own cultural experience, to step out of it, and helped me practice seeing liberty and freedom from a different point of view,” Bartlett said. “It was a privilege to learn from him and to hear his perspective.”
She grew deeper in her faith that year, and it challenged her to keep going. She took the class again her senior year with a new teacher, Ryan Linkous, M.Div. ’17, who now serves as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Williams in Jacksonville, Alabama.
“We had the time to slow down in those classes, and they [Christos-Wahab and Linkous] were able to show me how beautiful the Bible is, how it’s a literary masterpiece,” Bartlett said.
Because of her newfound passion for theology and biblical teaching, as well as the kind of life she saw the two men living, she chose to follow in their footsteps. She went to Linkous’s alma mater, Union University, then to Beeson.
“That class was the number one reason I chose to study the Bible at Union, and it’s the number one reason I’m at Beeson,” Bartlett said.
She said Christos-Wahab and Linkous “happened to be extremely intelligent, extremely godly and kind to other people. They’re able to talk to anybody personably, and they loved God and loved God’s Word. I wanted to be formed into that kind of person.”
And because of the perspective she gained from Christos-Wahab, she’s taking a course this spring from Robert Smith Jr., the Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity and professor of Christian preaching, called, The African American Church.
“I’ve enjoyed watching his godliness, and I’d like to imitate his godliness in my life,” Bartlett said.
She added that watching the way he teaches the tough parts of history with “such grace” has impacted her own faith.
“I learned that classes at Beeson are not only a time of learning, but also a time of discipleship. The teachers are discipling you, whether you realize it or not,” Bartlett said.
She said that kind of discipleship has changed her life, and what she’s learned both through her classes in high school and at Beeson is that she always wants to be learning from people who are of a different ethnicity than her. Her current church is La Conexión, a church plant in Hoover that focuses on the Spanish-speaking population.
Bartlett said she wants to be equipped to handle topics of diversity well too.
“Because I will most likely be working in this area or around the South, African American history will be important to my ministry,” Bartlett said. “It’s going to be essential for me to be a faithful minister, so I want to be shaped into a minister who interacts with African American saints well and who promotes peace between people.”
She said she’s grateful for the passion for solid biblical teaching that started with her class in high school and for the role model she has in Christos-Wahab, who now serves as pastor of Stockwell Baptist Church in England.
“That passion definitely came from that class,” Bartlett said. “I’d like to teach the Bible in a school setting, but I’m going to keep my hands open. I’m so grateful that they showed me how beautiful the Bible is and how important it is to understand it and how it changes your life when you do understand it.”
Christos-Wahab said watching Bartlett grow in her faith has been “the greatest blessing.”
“I am ever thinking about the teachers that were influential for me in growing in my desire to study the Bible, and so it is very humbling to play a similar role in Grayson’s life,” he said. “Ultimately, it is all God's work, but it is a great joy to play a part.”
He said from the beginning she was a keen student who was curious about the Bible, and that passion has only grown.
“Grayson reminds me of what can happen when the Bible is taught,” Christos-Wahab said.
Linkous, who is close friends with Christos-Wahab, said Bartlett was a “dream student.”
“She was (and is) passionate about the Lord and allowed that to fuel her studies about God's Word,” he said. “I encouraged her to apply to Beeson, assuring her she would love it and find it a place where she would be affirmed as a woman, pursuing God's call upon her life. Since she started at Beeson, every report I get from her (and others) is that she is loving her studies and excelling.”