By Tim Ellsworth
Union University news office
That binder contains prayer requests that he has collected from his students. Every morning when he arrives at the office, Halla sits at his desk and opens the binder. Whichever student is on top becomes Halla’s prayer focus for the day.
“One of the great joys and blessings of teaching at a Christian university is that the students and faculty have a shared faith in common,” says Halla, associate professor of art.
“While there is that student/teacher relationship, there’s also the reality that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. So, one of the greatest things I could ever do for a brother or sister in Christ is to lift them up in prayer before the Lord.”
Halla, a member of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, received the Carla D. Sanderson Faculty of the Year Award from Union this year.
Every semester, on the second day of class, Halla gives his students a sheet of paper with “prayer requests” listed at the top. He asks them to write down one, two or three things that he can pray about for them over the course of the semester.
Some of the requests are for wise time management. Some may be for sick family members or friends. Some may be for future plans, like internships or jobs. Halla collects the sheets, puts them in the binder, then systematically prays for a student and his or her requests each day.
By the end of the semester, Halla will have prayed for every one of his students by name.
But his ministry to his students doesn’t stop at the prayer itself. Every day he also e-mails the student he is praying for that day to provide encouragement. He often gets responses from his students asking how they can pray for Halla.
“When that happens, it’s like you kind of go full circle,” Halla says.
“It goes from being simply a classroom full of students to a community,” the professor added. I think there’s a deeper level of trust that begins to develop. “There’s a deeper level of respect between people that develops.”
Halla began the practice of praying for each student specifically about six or seven years ago. He began e-mailing each student a couple of years ago. He says the practice has transformed the dynamic of his classrooms.
“It’s much more open,” he says. “It’s much more loving. It’s people realizing that we genuinely care for one another in the class. We genuinely want the best for everyone in the classroom.
“It’s an amazing thing to watch as the semester rolls on.”
By the end of the semester, Halla says he often doesn’t want the classes to end because of the strong, small communities they have become.
The prayer commitment is one aspect of each course that transcends the course, because many times students will e-mail him a semester or a year later to update him on the requests that he prayed for.
“Prayer has always been one of the greatest things that we can do together as a community,” Halla said.
“You’re really engaging life together, hopefully in ways that will be with the students long after the class and the semester are over,” he said. B&R