“The Lord made this hill for a college.”
These are the words of Rev. W. T. Tardy describing his vision for the highest point in Harrison County. The founder of what was then the College of Marshall could likely see this place from First Baptist Church of Marshall where he served as pastor. According to his autobiography, he prayed about beginning this college for two years not speaking a word to his congregation. Texas Baptists, along with other Baptist conventions in the South, were reluctant to start new colleges because of the long-term costs associated with such endeavors. Tardy knew that he would face resistance, but he felt strongly that there was a need for a college in East Texas where a Christ-centered education could be life-changing for individuals and their families. Tardy saw the transformation potential of the Gospel and higher education.
In his writing, Tardy recognized that if this reality would come to pass that it must happen with the support of the people of Marshall. Tardy records, "From the start, the town adopted the school as its very own." It could be said that they not only adopted the college but they birthed it. Together P. G. Whaley and M. Turney gave the first $2,000 for this new Baptist school. From there, after some tough negotiating and risky financing, 100 acres including that very hilltop overlooking downtown Marshall was purchased from the Van Zandt family and, with the sacrificial gifts of all kinds of Christians across the city, $80,000 was raised for the construction of Marshall Hall which was completed in 1916.
Recently, ETBU celebrated the 100th anniversary of Marshall Hall. The cornerstone contained items that represented the community of Marshall and their investment in this endeavor. These physical symbols represented their commitment to a vision. In the 100 years since that cornerstone was laid, history is chronicled with stories of similar Christian institutions, which have strayed from their founding mission. These colleges and universities pursued knowledge but not wisdom in forsaking their focus on the Gospel and Christ-centered higher education. However, the College of Marshall, East Texas Baptist College, and East Texas Baptist University have remained faithful to the mission of W.T. Tardy to provide a distinctively Christ-centered higher education. As an example of this commitment, the Board of Trustees of ETBU has endorsed the following mission statement.
As a Christ-centered institution, East Texas Baptist University educates students by integrating biblical faith and learning to develop mind, body, and soul through community engagement to prepare graduates to be Christian servant leaders in their calling to God and humanity.
In considering this mission, it is important to see the ways in which this mission statement guides the University to accomplish its work. The bond that ties this institution to its Christ‑centered identity is the integration of biblical faith and learning throughout every aspect of its academic, spiritual, and athletic programs. Faculty and staff witness the message of Christ to students both on and off campus, in classrooms, residence halls, sports fields, and community projects.
East Texas Baptist University is best described as a community of Christians, similar to the way the early church of Acts where the first century followers of Christ experienced koinonia. Through this Christian bond, ETBU students build relationships in the context of community, but this engaged community is not limited to the facilities of the campus. Students, faculty, and staff seek to live out their relationship with Christ inside the University environment and engage the community of Marshall as well as the world. Through these activities, students are provided experience to develop holistically and to become graduates who have learned to love, follow, and obey God more deeply and, in the process, serve Him and humanity selflessly.
Just as Marshall Hall and the College of Marshall stood for an engaged community then, today ETBU sends nearly every student to serve in the community for 12 plus hours each semester. These students serve in every elementary school in Marshall Independent School District, churches, Mission Marshall and many other places in East Texas. Now, not only has Marshall adopted ETBU as its own, but ETBU has adopted Marshall as its own.
The Rev. W.T. Tardy had a vision that God intended a Christ-centered Baptist college on this very hill. One hundred years ago Marshall Hall was the beginning of that mission. Today, Dr. J. Blair Blackburn has a vision of a growing and thriving Christ-centered Baptist University on this hill that demonstrates excellence in every aspect of its being. The mission of ETBU calls us to the future, to the lives and communities that can be changed here and across the globe.
By Dr. Thomas Sanders
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
East Texas Baptist University