Charlotte Strickland isn’t the typical graduating senior.
She’s 81. She’s legally blind. She didn’t take the prerequisite mission trip to Nicaragua.
Still, today, Strickland becomes the latest graduate of Charis Bible College in Charlotte.
Strickland graduates from a two-year Biblical studies program that had her traveling to Charlotte four days a week, while also caring for a grown son, Stevie, who has cerebral palsy. She can’t read letters and numbers well, but she listened her way through Old Testament studies and New Testament teaching.
“They have a three-year course if you want to be a pastor,” she said, “but I didn’t want to be a pastor. I don’t think the Lord wants me to be a pastor.”
Her freshman class had four students. This year brought eight. Strickland sees the school growing as “there’s a lot of love there.” Most students fit the more traditional college mold – young people looking ahead to missions or pastoral opportunities.
“They were young, most of them,” Strickland said. “Maybe some were 30.”
A Christian most of her life, Strickland grew serious in her faith about the time her classmates were born. She was “maybe not so active” until about 50. She and her late husband, Horace, moved 54 years ago into a fishing shack on Lake Wylie, turning it into a home and welcoming the final two of their six children.
When Horace died in 2011, Strickland looked into attending one of many Charis Bible College locations, perhaps abroad. Then she learned one sat close to home.
Friend and fellow missionary Sherry Boyce is one of several drivers who takes turns ferrying Strickland to class each week. Boyce says Strickland is a fascinating lady, who overcame so much to get to her graduation day.
“And then being legally blind hasn’t helped,” Boyce said. “And then having to be home because her son is in a wheelchair – it’s been an interesting two years.”
Boyce looks forward to graduation day, and not just for the miles she will save on her vehicle.
“I can’t wait until she graduates,” she said. “Nobody will be happier than I will.”
Strickland grew to love the earliest biblical texts along with the more familiar ones. She also learned how to share her experience with others.
“I guess it’s really learning about the Holy Spirit within us,” Strickland said. “There is a spiritual world besides this regular world.”
Strickland wants to start an in-home Bible study. She wants to draw people in, and her story may be the best way of going about it.
That story includes raising six children and watching an area flourish from a time when it didn’t have a grocery store. It includes being shot through the mouth in her backyard more than 30 years ago by kids playing nearby. Strickland still has the bullet in her head, which accounts for her loss of eyesight.
At 81, Strickland looks forward rather than behind her.
“I want to reach out to other people,” she said. “I want to start discipling.”
Or, as she sees it, what Jesus did. Strickland sees so much emphasis on churches getting people to make faith decisions – but not nearly enough on teaching and guiding them toward greater faith once they do.
“He didn’t say go out and convert people,” Strickland said. “He said go out and make disciples.”
John Marks • 803-831-8166