JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 12, 2002 – “If you want to find true joy, find something that you can live and die on, and pursue it with all your heart,” says Carla Sanderson, Union University Provost. “I can live and die over the work I do here. For four years the future of God’s kingdom building is here – I can’t think of too many things that I really think are more significant than educating Christian men and women to fulfill their purpose in the world.”
Being the provost of a university like Union, however, is not how Sanderson ever expected her life would turn out.
From an early age Sanderson felt a calling into nursing. Passionately pursuing her dream of working as a clinical specialist in a critical care unit, Sanderson was already an R.N. when she completed her bachelor’s of science degree in nursing at Union in 1981. After completing her degree and while working in a hospital, Hyran Barefoot, who was serving as Union’s vice president of academic affairs at the time, called her and asked her to consider a teaching position at Union.
At the hospital where she worked, Sanderson did not have a lot of opportunities to work in the Critical Care unit, but still felt that nursing was what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
She agreed to the teaching position on the strict condition that it was to be for one year and one year only.
Now 20 years later she is the provost of the school, where she serves in the same role as Barefoot did when he asked her to teach.
“I want to encourage people to make sure that what they do is God’s best for them, not just their best,” explains Sanderson. “If I had made my decision based only on what I wanted to do, I would not be where I am today, but the funny thing is that I love what I do and I am doing exactly what I want to do. God has a way of surprising us like that.” Sanderson recalls growing up on the river that she believes attributes to her love of water since she was young and her large collection of lighthouses.
“I love the way they can help guide a ship safely to its destination even in the roughest of storms,” explains Sanderson. She in fact considers herself to be a lighthouse and hopes that her life has been an example, and in some way she has helped those around her to reach their full potential.
“Carla is my mentor,” says Cindy Warr, a former nursing student of Sanderson’s. “Other than my dad she has been the most influential person on my career.”
Warr didn’t decide to go into the field of nursing until two years after coming to Union.
“During those two years I picked up some pretty bad habits, like skipping class. All that changed when I met Carla. I will never forget the first test that I skipped in her class. After class was over she walked all the way over to the dorm where I lived and came right up to my door to check on me and make sure that I was all right,” recalls Warr.
“I think she probably knew I was just goofing off. I was embarrassed, but it really meant a lot to me to know that she cared enough about me to go out of her way to check on me. That’s one of the things that I’ve always loved about Carla is the way she can be completely professional and do her job well, and at the same time be a truly great friend,” explains Warr.
Participating in a medical and dental mission trip with Sanderson to Honduras, Warr and the rest of the group had the opportunity while there to meet people’s physical needs as well as their spiritual ones.
“I remember one little boy in particular who had been brought in with a swollen belly,” recalls Warr. “He hadn’t eaten in a long time and was yellow and pale. They gave him medicine and Carla held the boy while other nurses fed him.” They then tried to find the boy’s mother in order to give them food and clothes, as well as to share their faith with them.
According to Sanderson, it was on one of these medical missionary trips with Warr that she first truly felt like a “Christian nurse.”
“I had been a Christian, and a nurse, but it was helping those people in Honduras with Cindy that I finally realized the full integration of my faith with my career,” says Sanderson.
Sanderson’s ministry has also touched the lives of many parents who have sent their children to Union. Linda Moore, who has two children attending Union, said that she was having a hard time leaving her first son at college until she listened to Sanderson speak.
“I remember when she talked to the parents I felt like I was leaving my child in good hands,” recalls Moore. “She seemed wise, kind and under God’s control. After hearing her prayer for my child and me, I felt better about leaving him at Union.”
Sanderson’s perspective as a Christian educator has become even more personal for her recently as her oldest son Clayton has decided to attend Union in the fall.
“I didn’t expect Clayton to go to Union,” admits Sanderson. “He’s practically been here since he was born and nine months before that, but this is where he feels God wants him.”
Sanderson says that as a mother she feels confident in sending him to Union.
“It’s not because I think Union is a good Christian school, or I think they have their heads screwed on straight – I know it!” exclaims Sanderson. “I know that the people here see this school not just as their job, but as their mission field. I couldn’t send my son to a place that I would feel more sure about.
“Our faculty and staff are serious about equipping our students to reach their full potential as Christian citizens.”
By Davie Moore,
Class of 2002
Sara B. Horn,