Distance Learning helps LifeWay staffer get second degree three decades after completing first

Communications Staff — December 12, 2006

Rhonda Delph is a living illustration that long-distance relationships sometimes work out well.

Delph, who serves as an editor with LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Friday after completing her master of arts in Christian Education through the school’s distance learning program.

Delph walked the stage at Alumni Chapel Friday during Southern’s fall commencement to receive a second degree 30 years after she completed her first. In 1976 the Music City native graduated from Tennessee Tech with a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism.

“After so many years out of college, I was glad to see that my brain still worked,” Delph said. “With fulltime work, a family and church activities, I took baby steps with classes, just taking one class per semester for a while. After a couple of years, I decided to pick up the pace.”

Delph accomplished the degree, which she began in 2002, through many dangers, toils and snares.

There were numerous glitches that are part and parcel of Internet-based learning and in April of this year, just as she was getting a clear view of the finish line, a tornado blew through Nashville and threatened to disrupt her studies. The storm killed four people within eyeshot of the Delph home, and where houses once stood on both sides of Delph’s home, only foundations remained.

“We were very blessed,” she said. “Our house was just shaken, twisted, and the end of it was ripped off. We spent 10 days or so packing, storing some belongings, and moving to temporary housing. Then in September we sold the repaired house and in November moved to a new location.”

On the evening the storm hit, Delph was supposed to take an online exam for a class taught by Theology School Dean Russell D. Moore.

“The tornado did put a slight snag in my schedule,” Delph said. “The deadline (to take the exam) was midnight, and of course, I was not only distracted, but we had no power in our neighborhood, much less at our house, nor Internet at the hotel in which we stayed. Besides that, we were sort of in shock!”

In light of the tornado, Delph said she received bountiful grace from her Southern professors regarding exams and other work. The day after the storm, Delph said Dean of Students Daniel Hatfield called to check on her family.

“I so appreciated his call,” she said. “Knowing SBTS folks cared and were praying really felt good. Both my professors were great and gave me some emergency time before requiring me to catch back up with my studies.”

Delph and her husband David have been married for 26 years. They have two grown children, Zach, 24, and Natalie, 21. In addition to Internet studies, Delph also drove to Louisville for on-campus Monday courses and also took classes at Southern’s Nashville extension center.

Completing a master’s degree, Delph says, will help her to better serve on the job at LifeWay and in the local church. The Delphs are members of First Baptist Church of Hendersonville, Tenn. She works in the college department as an assistant and plays clarinet in the church orchestra.

“During my high school years, I felt the call to some sort of ministry,” she said. “when I began work at LifeWay, I knew I was fulfilling that call in my contribution to the work of spreading the Gospel. Being back years later allows me to continue that aspect of my calling.

“Obtaining my degree from Southern is a bonus. I never dreamed I‘d receive it and I love the school. I should have been there 30 years ago, but know that I am probably a better student now than I might have been then. I know I am better prepared to serve at LifeWay and I am better equipped to serve in church ministry. I am so thankful for Southern’s distance learning for helping me increase my preparation for His work.”

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