Extra headerOctober 2020

Mother advocating for autism awareness, fair education

Marta Brain never set out to be the face of autism advocacy in the Houston, Texas, area and beyond. But when she went to bat for the needs of her own child and other special education students in her school district, that's exactly what happened.

Now, years later, Marta is comfortable with the role she feels God placed her in to support other Marta Brain with children in Ghana parents like her.

"It's a ministry I have found myself in but I am passionate about. I have a lot of social anxiety when talking to a crowd, but when it comes to this stuff, I don't have anxiety," explains Marta, a 2006 graduate of Wayland who lives in Seabrook, Texas. "I know what I'm talking about; I feel confident and I feel like I can make a difference, even if it's just for one person for that one night. Maybe it's sharing something we've tried in our home or just making them feel like they're not alone."

It all started a few years ago when Marta found herself pitted against the Clear Creek ISD over what she felt were lapses in service to special education students. Her son, Caleb, now nearly 11, had completed a few successful years with Early Childhood Intervention and qualified for the pre-K program in the district. Though the Brains had always planned for Marta to homeschool their children, Caleb's diagnosis at age 2 ½ of moderate to severe on the autism spectrum necessitated more specialized programming and therapies. All was well until kindergarten time, when Caleb was moved to another campus for a program specifically for autistic children.

"We were really on board and it sounded great. It was supposed to give them structure they need to learn, and still have the social interactions and inclusion time with his gen ed peers where appropriate. We had a great meeting with his teacher and were super excited," recalls Marta.

Growing concern

But a few weeks into the school year, she was becoming concerned. She had not seen the same teacher and was sending messages to the classroom with no response. Finally, she spoke to the principal, who informed them a permanent substitute was in the room now. The Brains began to see an increase in behaviors from their son and they knew he was not getting the gen ed inclusion promised in the annual meeting held with special education parents and the leadership team at their schools.

Marta Brain and familyCaleb was moved with the program to another campus for first grade and the Brains opted to give it another shot. Things were improving for a bit, but then his teacher left and the downhill slide began once more. It was time for action.

"I had posted on a few parent forums for those with kids on the spectrum and other special needs, and I wasn't the only one seeing a lot of these issues. I just felt like someone had to do something, so I went before the school board. I signed up, prepared my speech and presented it, and … I got this very blasé response and knew that wasn't going to work," Marta said.

Organizing parents

"So me and three other parents basically created a movement. We started doing research, getting numbers through public information requests to TEA and the district to find out what was going on and what was the difference between our district and others," she added. "We started organizing a protest and wanted to get some change. I was able to contact some media folks I knew and shared the story and got some coverage."

Things began to happen and other parents began to join the movement, sharing their own stories. Marta and the team sent out surveys, gathered more data and organized a presentation for the school board meeting, later holding a private meeting with three board members. It began to have an impact.

"We were able to get the district to get an outside consulting firm to do this huge investigation into practices within the district and to change the law firm they used for cases they were fighting in court that was very antagonistic and aggressive. The district also opened up a special education parent advisory council, so we were able to effect quite a bit of positive change," said Marta, who applied for and was chosen to serve a two-year term on the council.

Marta said she has seen the parent group lead to improvement in the way special education students are handled in the district, and that has been the biggest win. While the Brains opted Marta Brain quote on autism to move Caleb to a private school for autistic children at some point and are now into their second year of homeschooling him with better results, they still have a vested interest in seeing the district improve their services to these special students. Their daughter Rebecca, 8, is also autistic but more high-functioning, so she has been able to succeed in public schools and in a regular classroom, though she does receive some special services.

Expanded reach

That early movement has branched into many opportunities for Marta to speak to groups about autism and spread education with the hopes of bringing awareness and understanding to all ages. She regularly visits other classrooms across the district to read a children's book or speak about autism, hoping that this education will erase any fear children have about others who are different and may discourage bullying as well. She has also spoken to Boy Scout troops and to various adult organizations.

This advocacy opened the doors for Marta to travel with the Children's Oasis Foundation to Ghana, Africa, in June 2019, speaking to various groups about autis m awareness , acceptance and advocating for those children.

"There is a lot of stigma still over there about people having demons and the families being ostracized. We partnered with HopeWorks Ghana, and we helped start an Autism Center in one of their special schools with 12 students as the first group, showing teachers some strategies to work with them," she recalled of the visit, her first outside the U.S.

Marta also started a blog a few years back, hoping to just share ideas and support other parents who are in the same boat as she and husband Thomas were in the early years. She also serves on an advisory council for a magazine called Autism Moms are Beautiful and writes for the magazine as well. She is a consultant for Usborne Books and More and uses that to also minister to autism parents and show how books can be used to help her own children.

"I understand what it's like to feel isolated and defeated and tired and like you don't have any support. Because of that, I am able to articulate and empathize with parents and be a support even if it's just online," she said. "I have had lots of conversations, and a lot of times they just want to be heard and to feel like they have someone in their corner and are Marta speaking about autism understood."

Caleb is now homeschooled and has several behavioral therapists on his team to help guide his education and give him the skills he needs to learn and grow into a productive member of society. Marta says his education is logical and purposeful, focused on skills that will help him live independently one day and building on his academic strengths of math and science.

But she still makes time to advocate for special needs students and to share whenever she gets the chance.

"God just opened the door for a lot of it; I didn't seek a lot of it out. At some point, a teacher is going to have a kiddo with autism or a person will come across a kid or adult with autism. My philosophy is that people are afraid of what they don't understand, so let's help bring better understanding to it," she said.


Retired minister turns hobby into violin repair business

When Jerry Field retired from full-time work in vocational ministry, his opportunities to make a kingdom impact might have seemed to dry up. But in his current role as owner of Field Violins, based in Jefferson City, Mo., he says quite the opposite is true.

Jerry Field restores a violin"I've found that some of the greatest opportunities in ministry have come through my violin shop. People find out I'm a preacher and there have been so many doors open to do ministry," says Jerry. "They initiate spiritual discussions, and that gives me an opportunity to fulfill that calling that God placed on my heart. It's really a great ministry."

A 1969 graduate, Jerry studied elementary education at Wayland, called to ministry but feeling a sense that bi-vocational work might be in his future. He did church work as a student and then after graduation while teaching at Hillcrest Elementary in Plainview. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, he and wife Sherry moved to Missouri for a full-time church job.

The next years took the family to Wyoming, Fort Worth for seminary, San Angelo, Texas; Colorado, South Carolina and Oklahoma before Jerry joined the staff at the Missouri Baptist Convention in 1996. He retired officially in 2015 but continued to do interim church work for a few more years.

A challenging hobby

But those who have seen Jerry in action in his workshop in Missouri know for certain he is anything but retired. The hobby that started in 1973 by teaching himself the violin has now morphed into a full-time business that challenges him creatively and brings new ways to show the love of Christ.

Field Violins is primarily a repair and restoration business for instruments in the violin family, which includes the viola, cello and double-bass. But Jerry also loves to build violins by hand, starting with raw planks of wood and turning out beautiful instruments with his own personal touch.

It all started with a used violin Jerry picked up for $40 from a pawn shop in Sedalia, Mo., at age 27. The son of musical parents, he taught himself to play violin by ear and took some lessons on and off over the years. When he had to take his own violin in for some repairs, he recalls being amazed at the repair shop and the work being done. That planted a seed that was watered more in 1987 when his violin teacher offered him a unique challenge in a paper sack. Inside was a violin broken into 7-8 pieces and it was his if he could put it back together. Jerry took up the challenge and developed a passion for restoring instruments.

"Sherry says I went from being so involved in painting to being totally obsessed with violin repairs. After that point, any discretional time I had I wanted to focus on that," he said. "I began to visualize the idea that when I retired I would like to spend all my time doing this. I began to learn everything I could and ask questions of people who did that work."

A strong reputation

But Jerry did not wait until retirement. In fact, he added a professional workshop complete with retail space to the family's new home while building in 2001 and became a licensed business in 2004. Word soon spread about his skills in repair and the business began picking up. When the Fields downsized and moved in 2018, he moved his business to another one in town that Jerry creates a new violinspecializes in guitar repair and sales and has kept busy.

Jerry's shop handles the majority of repairs and upkeep on instruments that are part of the Jefferson City school district's orchestra program, which is unique in that it provide an instrument for any student who wishes to participate from fifth through 12 th grades.

Jerry's handmade creations take much more time than the repair projects on average, and he says each one involves an investment of about 200 hours of work. He tries to complete one violin each year, though that has fluctuated. His first was completed in 1998 and he is currently at work on number 15.

"I love the creative urge and the satisfaction of taking the raw materials and creating an instrument that you can put in the hands of a good player and make the most beautiful music," he says of his violin-building process.

Restorations can take many hours as well depending on the depth of the work needed. But all of that is enjoyable to Jerry.

"One of my strengths is called 'achiever," and I am challenged by trying to get something done. When I was in school, making good grades was the goal. It's about a sense of accomplishment, and I'm sure that's the underlying thing in my psyche. It's also a sense of creativity," he laughs.

"You really have to be a little OCD since there is a lot of repetition and fine detail work. That probably helps me too."

A sensed calling

Jerry says he hopes to continue the violin business until age 85, a mark that up until recently was set at 80. But as long as his hands will hold up to the rigorous demands of his work, he plans to stay at it.

"I started 35 years ago learning how to do this, and I have spent some time every day of every week since studying this craft. I have a library, and I am on one major forum every day. One part of it is about the luthier trade and how you identify old instruments and appraise them," he explained. "I'm a lifelong student and have gained some expertise over the years."

But still, the ministry aspect is a vital part of what keeps Jerry going strong.

"As a pastor, my time was consumed with my congregation. At the convention, my time was Jerry and Sherry Field and grandchildrehconsumed with that work," he says. "But through this, suddenly there are these people from all walks of life I might never have known or built a relationship with. They might ask me to pray for them or ask for advice for a situation. It's been some of the most fulfilling ministry I've ever had."

Jerry works his business around time with his wife Sherry, who attended Wayland with him for three years and has owned her own accounting business for several years. The couple also has two grown children and several grandchildren that live nearby. To see more of Jerry's work, visit his Facebook page.


Devotional: Encountering Jesus changes us

Do you ever hear the question, "Where were you when the jet planes crashed into the Twin Towers?" I am sure we will hear questions similar to this in the months and years to come about the Coronavirus pandemic. Most of us can remember where we were and what we were doing on 9/11/01. We will probably remember much of what is going on concerning this Coronavirus pandemic in years to come. But the question is, how has it changed us? What difference has this pivotal moment in history made in my/our life? How do I view my country, my family, and more Monarch butterfly on wood especially, my understanding of my relationship with God in Jesus Christ? Have I changed? Am I different? How? And, does it matter?

As I think about these questions, I am reminded that there have been opportunities to be different with every moment of crisis or victory in life. As I go through my day, as I pray, as I read and study God's word, as I worship the God of the universe it is an opportunity to come away a different person. I can become someone who hears more clearly the voice of God as he speaks to me through scripture; in the hearing of God's word read, preached or taught; in kneeling in prayer for forgiveness and the needs of friends, family, and the world around me; in reaching out to others with the gospel of Christ.

Have I changed? Has God matured me in my faith? Am I more gracious? Am I more faithful? Has my mind been transformed? If I look at my life critically, I would say, "not much." All these things depend on surrender, giving my will over to the will of God.

Do I want that kind of change? The simple answer is, "yes!" The harder part is what will it take to change. If the events of 9/11/01 or the Covid 19 pandemic don't bring permanent change personally or as a people, then what will to take to bring about this change? What will it take to bring understanding and maturity in knowing and doing God's will, and hearing His voice? Perhaps it is in remembering what Paul taught us in Romans 8. As the followers of "The Way" many encountered great persecution and hardship:

18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because [ g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, [ h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

The promise of being conformed to the image of His Son is the good God has promised us (v.28), the glory that is revealed to us! (v.18)

Judy Williams is a 1980 graduate and former registrar at Wayland. She is a partner with JM Estate Liquidators and is active at First Baptist Church in Plainview. She and husband Ken have been married 31 years and have three grown children: Jared; Sarah, BA'15; and Katie.

From the History Files

This month's history excerpt is taken from the WBU History Book produced during the centennial celebration, rolling back the calendar 100 years to what life was like in the other '20s.

The early 1920s were an interesting time of growth for Plainview and the High Plains of West Texas. The farming industry was booming and farmers began preparing the land for irrigation. With the increase in economy came an increase in population. The growth, however, meant more business and industry as well. And with it came additional students for Wayland Baptist College. Enrollment for the 1919-1920 school year was reported at 150 students, with the largest number of students in the school's history, 18, graduating in May of 1920.

The school was also under new leadership in the summer of 1919. Dr. Elmer Bugg Atwood took Elmer Atwood, president over as president of Wayland on May 9. He inherited a school on the heels of World War I. The training regiments which had inhabited the campus for a short period of time were gone at this point and things were back to business as usual.

Like his predecessors, Atwood had a pedigree born of Baptist preachers. The son of Thomas L. and Hattie F. Bugg Atwood of Spring Hill, Ky., Atwood received his formal education at Georgetown College in Kentucky. He went on to earn a master's degree (1904) and doctorate of theology (1911) at Southern Seminary.

Atwood met Mabel Bagby while at Georgetown College and in 1903 the couple married. They had two children, John Leland who was born in 1904 in Walton, Kentucky, and Elmer Bagby who was born in 1906 in Yoakum, Texas. Both children attended Wayland for their formal education, then moved on to have successful careers. Leland was an aircraft engineer and then served as chairman of North American Aviation which later became Rockwell International - better known for their work on space shuttles and fighter jets. Leland was recognized as a "chief engineer's engineer." He designed the P51 Mustang fighter that was credited with playing a major role in the defeat of the Germans in WWII. The younger Atwood boy was a Fulbright Scholar and an English professor and linguistics scholar at the University of Texas.

From 1897-1912, Atwood pastored churches in Kentucky, Yoakum, Alpine and El Paso, Texas. Atwood followed Baptist big-whig George Washington Baines as pastor of the church in Alpine. It was here that he also learned to speak Spanish fluently. In 1912, Atwood became the executive secretary of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico and also edited the Baptist New Mexican news journal. While working with the convention from 1912-1919, Atwood played a key role in establishing First Baptist Church Santa Fe, a church that would later be pastored by future Wayland president Dr. A. Hope Owen.

While life wasn't easy at the school, things were moving in a positive direction. The Baptist Standard reported that $100,000 of the Southern Baptist Convention's ongoing $75 million fundraising campaign would be used to purchase "equipment" for Wayland. The 1920s, however, weren't overly prosperous years, especially for the agriculturally based South. The SBC fell far short of its goal and Wayland, as a result, was given a proportionally smaller amount than expected.

The school still moved forward with campus improvements, however. In November of 1919, Wayland planned to install a heating plant that would heat both the administration building and Matador Hall through a tunnel dug between the buildings, and the school was also making plans to build a new dormitory. Along with new housing accommodations for students, Wayland needed other basic necessities. Atwood reported that the most pressing need was for furniture and utensils for the kitchen and dining room. In its current state, the dining room could accommodate about 75 people, but school officials were expecting to double that number.

In September of 1920, First Baptist Church in Plainview once again answered the call for aid. The women of the church donated silverware and the Girls' Auxiliary at the church also raised money for the project. Along with the help from the Plainview church, FBC Hereford's Ladies Aid Society furnished a women's restroom and parlor in the administration building.


Meet Your Alumni Board: Jeffrey Vera

When Jeffrey Vera arrived on the Plainview campus to complete his undergraduate degree, he was carrying on a legacy as the son of another graduate. Now, as he joins the Alumni Executive Board for a four-year term, he's making that a double as he follows his mother, Yolanda, in service to the same entity.

Jeffrey is a 2017 BCM graduate who came back as a nontraditional student but enjoyed many of Jeffrey Vera, alumni board member the traditional benefits while working an overnight job at the local hospital. He got involved in student groups and was a President's Ambassador as well.

"With me being the 'old guy' on campus, I had a tendency to keep to myself and limit my interaction with everyone," he recalls. "As the semesters progressed, I made the decision to join more study groups and attend as many on-campus functions as possible. I am so glad I did because, it brought out a side of me that I never knew I had."

One of Jeffrey's favorite memories is a mission trip to Kenya, Africa, his first trip outside the country and one that "exposed me to what is in the world and the blessings that GOd has provided for other brothers and sisters on the other side of the world." He also made several more trips internationally for mission work.

Jeffrey, who is a coordinator in the admissions office at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, was interested in the Alumni Board role as a way to contribute to Wayland's future and to encourage others.

"I hope to be a representation for all non-traditional students contemplating the decision to go back or to make that first attempt into college life. I also like the opportunity to be that relatable figure and create the presence for upcoming young Hispanic men and women and show that if you apply yourself, ANYTHING is possible," he said.

While he had a hard time narrowing his favorite professor to just one, Jeffrey lauded the influence of two former instructors, Dr. Clinton Lowin - noted for allowed students to really develop that personal relationship with Christ - and Dr. Richard Shaw, whom he said had the "sense of expanding your mind to the world and mission work." He also mentioned current assistant professor of exercise and sport science Dr. Paul Fikes, who challenged him to change majors to ministry and set him on a path that was exactly what God had in mind.

"God has a plan for each of us. If it was not for Wayland Baptist University, my life might have panned out differently. No matter your background. No matter your ethnicity/race. No matter your age. The faculty/staff are here for you and will do anything to make your experience here at Wayland a memorable one," he says. "I can definitely say that if you are searching for a well-rounded and spiritual college experience, than Wayland Baptist University is the college for you. I am proud to be a product of Wayland. Pioneer for Life."


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