Retiring writing instructor reflects on God’s sovereignty

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Retiring writing instructor reflects on God’s sovereignty

Spence references a textbook during a class. Spence currently teaches Fundamentals of Technical Writing, Business Writing and Expository Writing. Photo: Madeline Peters

Dr. Blake Spence, a faculty member in the department of journalism and mass communication, owes his career path to an explosion God used to change his life in ways he never anticipated.

Spence, who graduated from BJU in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in English, was severely injured in January of 1979 in an explosion at the Philadelphia manufacturing plant where he was working to earn money to finance graduate school. He and his injured coworkers were rushed to a specialized burn center where he was hospitalized for three weeks with second-degree burns over 40% of his body.

When he returned to work after a couple months of recuperation, he was moved from his previous position in distribution to the accounting department. Although working with numbers was an adjustment from his English undergraduate degree from BJU, Spence would finish his work so quickly that the accounting department started looking for more to assign to him. After several of efficient work he was offered additional professional education, but he had already decided to change his plans and return to Bob Jones University as a faculty member.

The business environment at the plant, as unplanned of an experience as it was, had given him skills he would later need as a faculty member at BJU. “At that point, I could then see at least some of God’s direction for having me go through that experience,” Spence said. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be in the accounting department.”

God continued to direct his career path. When he had been an undergraduate at BJU, Spence said he hadn’t wanted to teach – now, he was returning to BJU as a faculty member in the English department, teaching freshman English tutorials and sophomore literature classes.

“One of the things that God will do is overlook our foolishness and direct us in the way that he wants us to go,” Spence said.

Originally, Spence hadn’t considered teaching as a career because he thought it was primarily oral lecture-based, which he didn’t consider himself skilled in. But about eight years into his teaching career, Spence was asked to teach writing.

The opportunity to teach a writing class was exciting for him because instead of just giving lectures on material, he could capitalize on his strengths as a professor by working alongside students to instruct them through their assignments. “I can use those interests and skills in teaching writing courses because making comments and suggestions on student writing is primarily what that is about,” Spence said.

After years of unplanned career shifts, Spence said he sees how the Lord led him in using his gifts in ways he did not think would be connected to his English degree.

But Spence’s education didn’t end at that bachelor’s degree from BJU: he finished his master’s degree in reading and language education from the University of Delaware and then earned a master’s degree in professional communication from Clemson University and a doctorate in education from BJU.

Spence references a textbook during a class. Spence currently teaches Fundamentals of Technical Writing, Business Writing and Expository Writing. Photo: Madeline Peters

In 2000, Spence was appointed department head for the professional writing and publication department, and in 2010 he led a team to merge his department with the radio and television department to form the journalism and mass communication department. Spence served as the department head of the new JMC department for the next 10 years before passing it to his colleague Kathryn Gamet in the spring of 2020.

Josiah Fagan, a sophomore IT major who took Spence’s Technical Writing class, said a significant portion of his networking class grade is based on lab reports he writes using the professional writing skills Spence taught him.

“The fact that I was able to actually put into practice what he was teaching was what really helps me, and the concepts really stuck with me,” Fagan said.

Outside BJU, Spence uses his communication skills as a South Carolina-licensed adoption inspector. Spence conducts pre-adoption interviews with potential adoptive parents, as well as follow-up interviews with recent adoptive parents to certify that the adopted child is placed in a safe home. He and his wife, Marion, whom he married just seven months after the plant explosion, are also involved in Sunday School leadership at their local church, Hampton Park Baptist. They have four children and 16 grandchildren. Spence has also coached youth soccer and enjoys supporting his favorite baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles.

Spence will retire this year after a 40-year career at BJU that he credits to the sovereign leading of the Lord. Spence said that although he wouldn’t want to relive it, in retrospect the explosion was not a bad thing because the Lord used it to redirect his life.

Spence said Nahum 1:7 has been his life verse ever since a friend sent it to him after the explosion that changed his life. “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.”

“That verse was very meaningful to me at the time and continues to be meaningful,” he said.