Penny Chesnut has seen some unusual sights during her four decades serving in Baptist Collegiate Ministries at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.
She recalled the day she walked into the BCM building on the Tifton, Georgia campus and saw a young man bathing his chicken in the kitchen sink to get it ready for a class project. Then there was the time a student thought the BCM a good place to bleach a deer’s head, again for a class project.
Penny has stories aplenty to tell of the years she spent at the agricultural college. Most center around the lives of students who God has touched.
‘I love kids’
Penny has been at Abraham Baldwin since 1978, starting as a co-advisor before being hired by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board in 1988. When asked why she’s been doing this for so long, Penny gives a simple answer. “It’s because I love the kids,” she explains.
“Loving Jesus, loving students, it’s all the same thing for Penny,” said Emory Lussi, Abraham Baldwin alumnus and current BCM volunteer.
The secret to Penny’s philosophy for reaching out to and ministering to the students at Abraham Baldwin is just as simple. “People are people,” she said. “They need to feel important to someone and have people invest in their lives. That takes time.”
That core guiding principle has led to many changed lives. Penny recalls one young man who came to Abraham Baldwin and began attending every discipleship meeting. Despite his regular attendance, he did not have a godly attitude.
After one such meeting, Penny approached and asked him directly if he was saved.
“You have no fruit, and you don’t seem to like people,” she told him.
The young man became upset and left, but he later came back and acknowledged that Penny was right.
“I believe,” he said, “but I know I don’t act like it.”
From that point on, the young man began to act and live differently. He is now in seminary, one of seven Abraham Baldwin students formally training for a career in ministry.
For Penny, the cause of the change is obvious: “God got ahold of that boy’s life.”
Joshua Wilkinson, current BCM president at Abraham Baldwin, said that Penny’s love for students is felt by all.
“When I met Mrs. Penny four years ago, I never would have imagined how much of an impact the Lord would have her make on my life,” he said. “Countless Abraham Baldwin students and alumni have had their lives changed through her ministry and heart for the Lord.”
During her time serving, Penny has formed relationships with local churches to come alongside her in ministering to students.
“I have never seen someone love students the way Penny Chesnut does,” said Aaron Frasier, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in nearby Chula. “She has always been available to them. She opens her home up to them. She is always urging them to receive Christ, if they haven’t, imploring them to turn from sin, and exhorting them to share their faith with others. We can all learn much from Penny on how to invest in the next generation.”
‘Large shoes to fill’
Ree Reinhardt, the incoming Abraham Baldwin BCM campus minister who is taking Penny’s position in 2023, knows she has some large shoes to fill.
“When I look at Penny’s ministry through the BCM — starting in 1978 — I am astounded,” Reinhardt said. “It is amazing to witness what God accomplishes through her in BCM events, one-on-one conversations with students, and the discipling of the Abraham Baldwin BCM leadership team.
“None of that happened overnight but is the fruit of decades of Penny’s focused, fervent prayer and relationship building,” she noted. “We all love Penny, and we all love to watch Penny do what God called her to do — point others to Christ.”