J.B. Simmons – Class of 1969
The Impact of Toccoa Falls on My Life
I was graduated from Toccoa Falls Academy 50 years ago. I have walked with the Lord throughout those years and He has taught me some important lessons; but first, the chronology of my life since Toccoa.
Prior to my powerful salvation experience which happened the Christmas of my junior year, I was an “almost” person. I destined myself to be that way largely because of my unfortunate home life. My life would have been short on time and quality had I not been saved from myself.
It was clear that I needed to leave town in order to make a clean break with my past and to pursue my new commitment to follow Christ. A lady in our church offered to pay half of all costs in order for me to attend TFA.
Prior to my salvation, I cheated my way through school. I had never read a book. I scored very low on the SRA Reading Laboratory evaluation administered during our first days on campus. Studying baffled me. I didn’t know how to think in an academic way. I was unable to receive my diploma on stage with our class of ’65 because I couldn’t pass the last English course. I cried many tears as I prayed for help to overcome being an almost person. That summer I completed the required English course by correspondence and my high school diploma was mailed to me.
I was graduated from Toccoa Falls Bible College four years later. Pam, college ’69, and I went to Raleigh, NC, for a one year internship program at the Wake Forest Road Alliance Church. We then spent two years at Columbia Graduate School (CBC) earning a Master of Arts in Biblical Education degree. We then pastored for less than two years. I spent the next six and a half years as a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, earning Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees. I also completed both basic and advanced clinical chaplaincy training with the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education. We then pastored again for less than two years.
We returned to my home town, Asheville, NC, in 1980. In a couple of years I was approached by investors and we bought the Asheville franchise of Snelling and Snelling Personnel. After being an owner/manager for five years, I accepted a job with the State of North Carolina as the Program Manager/Assistant Director of the State’s most western training school (juvenile prison/treatment center) for juvenile delinquents. I managed all clinical treatment programs and custody staff. I was named Acting Director several times. I also functioned, as needed, as the business manager and high school principal. During that time I became a Certified Public Manager with the recognized State and National certifying agencies. For several years I was an adjunct prof of N.T. and O.T. at Montreat College. At the end of a 20 year career with the State, I retired from the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Now for some of the lessons God has taught me along the way (and which I am still learning). The first is that God created us, and works with us the way we are, for a reason; He wants us on His team. Another way of saying it is that we are His unique key that fits some unique lock which opens the door to an environment of redemption for others and ourselves. It is great comfort to know that I have a place, a distinct and important place, on God’s team and that He wants me there. For one who experienced a great deal of betrayal and dishonesty early in life, this gift of faithful love has been a great comfort. He even calls me by name.
Another lesson about life has to do with discovering my place in each inevitable phase of my development. That has been a lengthy and often painful process. This process most often involves trials of fire, which have resulted in both failures and successes. I thought, as a missions major, I’d be a missionary. Providentially, that didn’t work out. I thought I’d be a pastor. On paper I was successful, but it just didn’t fit. I thought I’d be a military chaplain, having accumulated all the credentials. The closer I got to going there, it just didn’t feel right. However, God was accomplishing things through me throughout this process of searching, growing and understanding. It took years to get there, but I was finally ready to face the challenge of thriving in a highly political, high pressure, custody and treatment environment. The first understanding of who we are is most often not the same as who we will become because we are constantly changing and are increasingly capable of assuming other responsibilities.
I have learned since Toccoa to not give up on being part of God’s redemptive plan for this sinful world, even when they reject our good intent. As has been said, God can’t drive a parked car. We have experienced discouraging financial reversals. We have been slammed by serious illness in our family. Sometimes life is very hard, painful and unfair. Somehow, because of my Christ empowered strong will, and other times because God knew my intention to be faithful even though I was too weak, or angry, to ask for His help, we have been able to stay the course of faithfulness. God never gives up on being faithful to us. We must not give up on being faithful to Him, especially when we are beaten down.
What part has my Toccoa Falls family had in all of this? When I arrived on campus in 1964 I noticed the motto, which I took to be a promise, etched above the columns on Le Tourneau Hall: “Where Character is Developed with Intellect”. The most important value I received from Toccoa Falls was being trained by example in the ways of Christian character. People like Uncle Gus, Uncle Paul, Mr. & Mrs. Damron, Leigh Irish, Dr. & Mrs. Bandy, Ms. Landis, Dr. Earl Smith, Miss Sett, and many many others, both taught and showed us how to be a disciple of Christ.
In keeping with the Le Tourneau Hall promise, my Toccoa Falls family also had the grace to help me learn to use my intellect: to think in new, broader and different ways. The school didn’t pad my grades; they nurtured me along to do the best I could academically. I never cried on anyone’s shoulder, but they were there for me if I had needed them to cry with me.
Throughout my life, in the variety of environments and responsibilities in which I have functioned, I have always been proud of my Toccoa Falls family. They taught me Christian character (essential for a good work ethic) and brought my sleeping brain to life. They helped me leave behind being an “almost” person. Toccoa Falls is a highly valued cornerstone in the building of my life.
October 13, 2015