From Union University
JACKSON, Tenn. — A concert by Christian recording artist MercyMe was the highlight of the 21st annual Union University Scholarship Banquet on Oct. 18, with more than 1,600 people in attendance at the Carl Perkins Civic Center.
Bart Millard, the group’s lead singer, shared stories behind some of the group’s songs and what he has learned about the Lord after 24 years as a singer and songwriter with one of Christian music’s most popular bands.
Millard said legalism has always been a temptation, and he tried desperately to be good enough to make God notice and love him.
“I got really good at being religious,” Millard said. “Well, thank God for grace. Religion tells you to get it right, and grace says ‘I’ll be there when you cannot.’”
Since their debut in 2001, MercyMe has sold more than nine million units and been nominated for multiple Grammy, American Music and Dove awards. The band’s most popular song, “I Can Only Imagine,” made history in 2014 as it surpassed 2 million digital downloads, making it the first Christian song to go platinum and double-platinum in the digital domain.
A major motion picture, also entitled “I Can Only Imagine,” was released to theaters earlier this year and tells the story of the popular song. Other noteworthy singles from MercyMe include such songs as “Here With Me,” “Homesick,” “So Long Self,” “Flawless” and “Greater.”
Prior to the concert, Union University President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver interviewed three Union students about their experience at the university. Student panelists were Anna Strand, a nursing major from Northfield, Minnesota; David Kagaruki, a Christian studies major from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Binh Morris, a business major from Cleveland, Tennessee.
Strand thanked donors for their contributions to Union, which helped provide a scholarship for her to attend.
“I have the privilege of studying my dream profession at my dream school,” she said. “The Lord has used Union in my life to change me, to shape me, to sanctify me and to prepare me to go out into the world as an ambassador of Christ. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Morris told about a conversation he had with LeAnne Wilhite, associate dean for the School of Nursing’s undergraduate program, after he had changed his major from nursing to business. He was nervous that she wouldn’t remember him or be interested in talking to him since he had changed his major, but they had a good conversation about his life and where the Lord was leading him.
“I left really encouraged,” Morris said. “I left empowered. I left knowing that the faculty had given me the confidence to go and do what the Lord was calling me to do, and that was what they cared about.”
Kagaruki spoke about his involvement in Union’s residence life program and his role as a resident adviser. He was heavily influenced during his freshman year by a resident adviser who took time to answer questions and have deep conversations with him about life and faith, and he wanted to do the same for others.
“I’ve seen how the Lord has worked in and through me to spread the love of Jesus Christ to other people on campus,” he said.
The annual Scholarship Banquet has become one of the premier events in West Tennessee each year with leading businesses and individuals as sponsors. BancorpSouth was again the lead sponsor for this year’s banquet.