English Alumni

 

Joel Belz
Joel Belz ’62

 

Current occupation

Founder of World magazine and World News Group, including World magazine, God’s World for Kids, World radio, and World digital news.

 

Current residence

Asheville, NC

 

Family members

Wife, Carol, five daughters, four graduated from Covenant

 

Church

Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC

 

What were you involved in on-campus while at Covenant?

Student government, The Bagpipe, Tartan, literary society

 

What has your career path looked like since leaving Covenant?

Taught high school, served in public relations for Covenant, headmaster at Chattanooga Christian School.

 

What is your favorite part of your job? What gets you excited to go to work every day?

The opportunity to work out a biblical worldview in practical terms.

 

How did Covenant prepare you as a person and how did it prepare you for your career?

I majored in English. For those interested in publishing, I heartily recommend English rather than journalism. Literature offers a more inclusive perspective on life.

 

What church do you attend?

I have been an elder for about forty-five years. I have served as moderator of the PCA.

 

 


 

Heather Hess
Heather Hess ’09

 

Current occupation

PhD Candidate and Teaching Associate, Department of English, University of Tennessee (Knoxville)

 

Current residence

Chattanooga, TN

 

Family members

Husband, Dave Hess ’09

 

Church

North Shore Fellowship

 

What were you involved in on-campus while at Covenant?

My greatest involvement was probably in the music scene around campus. Preparing and performing music at events like Burning at the Stage, Café Literati, Bakertree, and Folk Festival was both challenging and tons of fun. Covenant provided an artistic community where I was nurtured, encouraged and stretched by my peers.

 

What has your career path looked like since leaving Covenant?

Covenant must have given me a deep passion for learning, because I have been in school ever since. After graduating with a BA in English in 2009, I began working on my MA in literary study at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. In 2011 I graduated with my master’s and began coursework for my PhD in 19th Century British Literature at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. While completing my PhD I am also teaching First Year Composition, Children’s Literature, and Poetry at the University of Tennessee. When I finish my degree (in 2016), I hope to continue teaching English at the college level.

 

What is your favorite part of your work?

As a graduate student and teacher, I enjoy a two-fold vocation. On the one hand, I have the incredible, indulgent opportunity of pursuing my own research interests, spending hours reading, writing, and thinking. I’m thankful every day for quiet, contemplative work, which I happen to love. On the other hand, I have the privilege of teaching undergraduate students. There is nothing so exciting as the chance to impart my love for language and narrative to undergraduate students. College is an exciting and formative time of life, when students are shaping their worldviews and discovering their individual passions and gifts; I feel humbled and slightly terrified, but mostly ecstatic to be a part of this process. I love watching students grasp new ideas, think critically, and enjoy learning.

 

How did Covenant prepare you as a person and how did it prepare you for your career?

Covenant taught me to be a thinking Christian. My education at Covenant was not only rich in factual knowledge (and I did learn A LOT of things), but it focused on independent analytical thinking and faith integration. I learned how to integrate the gospel into my daily life and vocation, how to glorify God by enjoying Him and His creative work. Covenant gave me a love and thirst for good things, a delight in God’s redeeming work in the world. Now, as a student and teacher, I am blessed with an educational background that more-than-sufficiently prepared me for the rigors of graduate academia and instilled in me a deep sense of calling.

I would not have continued my education in English if I had not attended Covenant. English departments across the country are in the midst of identity crisis, unsure of their social and cultural significance. At Covenant, however, there is a deep respect for literature and language. Professors demonstrate to students the deep, soulful significance of the literary act as an echo of God’s creative work. I learned that God’s creation of all things through the Word testifies to the transformative power of language, and to its special significance to God as cosmic storyteller. Studying English at Covenant instilled in me a gospel-centered love and reverence for the written word and an enduring delight in stories, which have supported me even in the midst of current disciplinary anxieties. The things I learned at Covenant inspire and enliven my research and teaching on a daily basis.

 

Tell us a little more about your church

North Shore has been our church family for nearly a decade (Dave attended as a student, and I began attending my senior year at Covenant). Dave and I are blessed to be a part of the worship ministry at North Shore, playing and singing on the worship team nearly every Sunday. Music, and worship specifically, has played a central role in my story, constantly reminding me of my weakness and of God’s enduring strength, goodness, and faithfulness. It’s a joy to share our gifts with God’s people through worship in song, and I am equally thankful for the Christ-centered vision of the Bible and the emphasis on God’s story that our pastors embrace. North Shore continues to be a community in which Dave and I feel appreciated, challenged, and encouraged as we seek to love and follow Jesus.

 

 


 

Randy Nabors
Allen Randy Nabors ’72

 

Current occupation

Pastor Emeritus of New City Fellowship, Senior Staff for Mission to North America, Coordinator of Urban & Mercy Ministries, Coordinator of the New City Network.

 

Family members

Wife, Joan ’71; sons: Michael, Garrett, Gyven, and Keren, with five grandchildren at this writing.

 

Church

New City Fellowship

 

What were you involved in while at Covenant?

Several things: I was mostly involved with ministry in a work called "The Third Street Sunday School," which eventually became New City Fellowship. Faculty, staff, and students went down each week to start this work and by my junior year I was sharing the preaching with the then dean of the college, Dr. William S. Barker. I was in the Chorale, I acted in several plays, I was in a music group started by James Ward called "The Black and Blues Band." I played soccer in my senior year.

 

What has your career path looked like since leaving Covenant?

I believed that God had called me to the ministry so I was preparing for that. I stayed in Chattanooga for a year after my graduation to preach in the mission work downtown. I also helped to organize a non-profit ministry known as Inner City Missions, Inc. in my senior year. Today this has merged with Hope For the Inner City. I went to Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis to earn an MDiv. While there I joined the Army Reserves to become an Army Chaplain, attending the chaplain basic officer course after my second and final year.

Joan and I returned to Chattanooga in 1976 where I was ordained into the RPCES, and I helped to particularize the new church, now known as New City Fellowship and was the director of Inner City Missions. I was an Army Reserve Chaplain, and worked for Chuck Colson to do in-prison seminars for Prison Fellowship.

In 1982, the congregation gave me a leave of absence for two years and I pastored the Community Presbyterian Church of Nairobi, Kenya. While there I became the interim Prison Fellowship, International Director for Africa.

We returned home in 1984, where I continued to pastor New City until May of 2012 and retired as a Colonel from the Army in 2007, after three mobilizations in 1990, 2001, and 2003. The ministry of New City was not so typical of PCA churches as it was focused on racial reconciliation, and mercy ministry. This led to my being asked to help the denomination by leading Urban & Mercy Ministries for Mission to North America. After stepping down from New City I took this as a full time job, and developed a new network of churches similar to New City in different cities around the world, called The New City Network.

 

What is your favorite part of your job? What gets you excited to go to work every day?

Though I miss being a full time pastor, I still get to preach quite a bit, and I confess that I love to preach. I love being with the men and women who are planting churches in the cities and among the poor, I love mentoring them and answering their questions. I was an English major and now I am getting to write a lot more: poetry, a blog, and a few books are in the works. This part of my life is different and I am still learning to adjust, but there is just so much to do and so much left undone.

 

 


 

Jose Ocando
Jose Ocando ’07

 

Current occupation

I now work at the Lea Team, a local real estate company under the Keller Williams Realty umbrella. My title is Director of Marketing, and my job is to market the homes we sell, the communities we represent, and our team as a whole. The marketing work I do involves photography, videography, graphic design, social media and other online strategies.

 

Current residence

Chattanooga, TN

 

Family members

Married to Sarah Hall Ocando

 

Church

New City East Lake

 

What were you involved in on-campus while at Covenant?

I did 20 weekly hours of work-study all my years at Covenant except one. I worked in the cafeteria, in the career center with Jerry King, and in facilities management with James Goldsmith. My junior year I got to serve as an RA of Rivendell (R.I.P.) and formed some of the strongest bonds of friendship I have to date. I have fond memories of intramural soccer on a team I formed called “Los Mas o Menos” (the more or lesses) for those of us with coordination issues and of helping to edit Thorn, the literary magazine.

 

What has your career path looked like since leaving Covenant?

It took a few years for me to find a “path.” After graduating, I worked as a painter (of houses), as a barista, as a freelance journalist, and as a part-time administrator for my church. But the real breakthrough came when I started work at a local non-profit called CNE (I was matched with the job through our local office team chapter) four years after graduating. My main role involved counseling homeowners at risk of losing their home to foreclosure—all in the midst of the housing crisis. Stressful as it was, I loved the work. CNE invested in me a great deal in terms of training and I’ve since discovered what an enormous blessing it is to work for an employer who is willing to develop your skills and encourage your growth.

One and a half years into my job at CNE, I decided to start praying about my career. I didn’t necessarily want to look for a new job. In fact, I was beginning training to become the manager of my department. But I did want to hear from God about whether I should commit to my current path at CNE or begin looking elsewhere. I decided to pray for six months and (at the two-year mark) see how the Lord would respond. A couple of weeks later, I got a call from a friend telling me that his boss would be calling me later that day to ask me to interview for an open position. I decided to accept the invitation to interview, thinking that at least it would be an opportunity for me to grow in my “interviewing skills”. But, through the process of interviewing, I decided to leave CNE and start a new career.

 

What is your favorite part of your job? What gets you excited to go to work every day?

There are a lot of different things that I love about my work, but I should definitely mention two:

  • It was really interesting to transition from a secular not-for-profit to a Christian for-profit. In my work counseling homeowners at risk of foreclosure, I felt very restricted in only being able to approach people from the perspective of their finances or the mortgage industry. But, the work felt very missional, diaconal even. My zeal for work flows from its mission. So, I was nervous about entering the for-profit world, particularly one so driven by sales. But, I have been immensely blessed to see how Jim Lea in particular, but also everyone on my team, lives out their faith through each ordinary, mundane day. For Jim, being a Christian businessman doesn’t mean merely praying before staff meetings (though we do that!). It means that everything that we do, from deciding what kind of message we want our marketing to send to how we project our goals for the following year, are all subject to the lordship of Christ. After graduating from Covenant, I quickly discovered how difficult is to make God’s presence a real thing through my workday. There have been so many days where I forget that God exists when I leave for work and I don’t remember to think about Him until I pray over my dinner that evening. Being part of an atmosphere in which we constantly strive to remember God is real, present, and Lord is a rare and a precious thing.

  • There’s an incredible freedom in being part of a small business. In my role as a foreclosure counselor at CNE, my job description was specific and limited. As I mentioned before, I was invested in and I certainly grew. But, my scope was very small. At the Lea Team, it’s been so energizing to allow creativity to drive my job description. For example, through learning more about the real estate industry, I became convinced that the next powerful medium for selling homes would be home video tours that tell a story. When I first started at the Lea Team in 2013, I had never used a camera in my life (maybe just the disposable kind?). But, after watching a multitude of YouTube videos on how to use a DSLR, I started filming homes and, in 2014, I shot a total of 94 films! I replicated that process with graphic design and I now use Adobe Illustrator to design all of our marketing. My next project is learning the coding language for iPhone apps (called “Swift”) to design a home search app for our company. To put it simply, it’s just been fun.

 

How did Covenant prepare you as a person and how did it prepare you for your career?

From the very beginning of my freshman year, the thing that I feared and dreaded was the SIP. I think the anxiety came from imagining four years of education culminating in a single paper. But, when senior year came around, I came across an idea that really intrigued me. As a quick side note, when I think of my SIP, my thoughts always turn with gratitude and fondness to one of my professors, Nick Barker, who passed away shortly after I graduated. After reading a Tanka in his creative writing – poetry class, I decided to write a book of poetry based on the medieval Japanese form called the hyakushu, which is a collection of 100 Tanka (5-line poems) that, as a whole, communicate a central emotion. I learned a lot about the hyakushu and how it was traditionally written. But, the content of my poems was very personal and, very often, referenced God or were in fact prayers to Him. It was an amazing thing to draw on my education at Covenant, my personal life, and my spiritual walk to create both a work of art and my senior project. I’ve only been a graduate of Covenant for eight years, but I have discovered how truly difficult it is for our broken selves to submit to Christ. Like the rich young ruler, we often believe that we are living our lives according to His will. But, then there are those piercing moments when God speaks to you, and you realize how separate you have made your life from Him. Making Christ preeminent in one’s life is both an honorable and an utterly difficult cause. Small things, like integrating my life, my faith, and my education in a SIP, are like small stepping-stones to learning how to give Him all the power, strength, authority, glory, and praise.

 

Tell us a little more about your church

Being part of a small church plant has been both exciting and exhausting. I remember the day that East Lake held its first worship service. The leadership had forgotten to organize ushers to take up the offering, so I and another young man volunteered. Later that week, I received an email titled “To the Church Treasurer.” What?! I always laugh when I think of that story. But, I truly have been deeply honored to serve our church. I teach a class in our ESL ministry, I was a deacon for three years, and I now serve as a ruling elder. Driving home from my first session meeting, I remember being overcome by the emotion of feeling privileged to serve Jesus and His church. There are few joys sweeter than when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords calls upon you to serve in His kingdom.

 

 


 

Meet More English Alumni:

 

Dr. Stephens discusses the importance of language in Scripture and describes the excitement of studying linguistics as a believer.

Lydia Holt

"I really love the faculty in the English department. All the professors are wise and caring, and they do an excellent job of connecting the study of the English language to faith and calling. In addition, as an English major, there are so many opportunities for work and service that will open up for me because of the well-rounded and rigorous training I’m receiving in the various branches of English."
 - Lydia Holt '19

"If I had to pick one, I would say Dr. Barham. He is one of the kindest people I have ever met, and is also one of the smartest. While Dr. Barham is brilliant, he teaches in a way that makes you feel smart, like you are one of his peers. If you have not taken a class from him, I would highly recommend it."
 - English major Louis Metcalfe '18

Evan Lecksell

"I’m really interested in my Introduction to Literary Studies course. It is the first class I’ve had that actually got me excited about poetry, and if you have to have class at 8 a.m., Dr. Barham is the best professor to transition you from being asleep 5 minutes ago to being energized and excited about what you study. Dr. Barham’s love for literature is contagious, and you find yourself happily engaged in types of literature you never thought you would care about."
 - Evan Lecksell '19
Cobi looks back on his time as an English major at Covenant.