It wasn’t the experience of falling 75 feet while rock climbing that changed recent graduate Jessica Cyphers’ life her freshman year at Southern.
She doesn’t remember the rope slipping or her friend being forced to leave her alone at the base of the mountain while he searched for help. The five hours between her fall and her arrival at Erlanger Medical Center mean little to her now. What she does remember is the scene she woke up to 2½ weeks later. That, she says, is what changed her life.
“Dozens of students I’d never even met joined my family and friends in the waiting room at the hospital to pray and wait for updates,” she says. “When I was finally well enough to know what was going on, I remember feeling amazed that all of these people would take time away from their busy schedules and drive all the way to Erlanger just to be there with my parents and pray.”
What touched her the most, however, was the visit she missed. After returning from a short-but-slow walk, Jessica found a note from Southern’s president, Gordon Bietz. “Came by to see you and saw you weren’t here,” the note read, “Glad you’re doing better.”
“I remember being amazed,” Jessica says. “The president of Southern came to see me? I felt honored and humbled. How was I important enough for the president to come see me?”
As time went on, however, she realized this unbiased act was part of the university’s culture.
“That’s just the Southern way,” she says. “There is no person, major, or class-standing too big or too small to escape notice. Everyone is important and valued. I have never had a professor who I felt didn’t care about me, and Gordon Bietz showed me that status and titles mean very little in the grand scheme of things. It didn’t matter that I was just one freshman out of the masses or that he was the president of the university. God loved me, and so did he.”
Now, as Jessica interns at a custom publishing company in Chattanooga, she keeps her eyes open for ways she can show that same love to those around her.
“There is no person too small and no title too big for me not to show the love of Christ to everyone around me,” she says, “That is what I learned from Southern.”