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A Shameful Secret That I’m Going to Reveal Right Now

March 19, 2014

Since it’s the middle of the Spring Break week and I have no classes to report, I’m going to step aside from the classroom stories, take a deep breath, and tell you something a bit different.

imageIn this story, I wasn’t the teacher. I was the student at a Christian university.

I’m going to tell you a secret from my past.

It’s not an easy story for me to tell, because of the memories it conjures up, but I want to share it with you. It was when I was in college, and I’ll bet that none of my classmates or roommates were aware of it.

Let me set the background:

Prior to heading to college, I was part of a family who at times was desperately poor. I can recall the times when we sat down to a meal of plain waffles because waffle mix was the only thing in the house. No syrup, no butter.

In Junior High we lived in a shack – there were twelve of us – and the heating was non-existent. During one memorable winter season we slept in our beds fully clothed with jackets, ski caps and boots on, tucked in sleeping bags because there was no heat.

I took an afternoon job not only to start saving for college but also to buy clothes. My whole life had been hand-me-downs, and this was the only way I was able to get new clothes for school.

As bad as life was at times, I always had hope. Somehow, some way, I believed things would get better. I lost patience at times, though, and many was the time I shoplifted in order to get things to eat. I ran afoul of the law more than once, and in one occasion was almost shot by a nervous policeman. This and other factors led me to take stock of my life, and at the age of seventeen in my attic bedroom I gave it all to Jesus Christ. Everything. I became a Christian and had a new sense of hope. Like Simeon’s prayer in the second chapter of Luke, I knew, I knew that Jesus would make a way for things to be better.

I wanted to go to a Christian university and I did, saving enough for the entrance fees and textbooks I needed to get started. My brother Brent secured me a night time cleaning job on campus and I was able to become an actual class-attending student.

My brother transferred out of college my sophomore year and I was on my own. I owed bills at school, sure, but who doesn’t? I paid what I could and continued classes, but I was getting nervous about the continual notes from the financial office. No money was coming from home, obviously. This was a private Christian institution, so I could get no federal funding, nor could I get help from the university – the school had no scholarships. I worked at a furious pace, but I was falling behind. The financial office soon contacted me about my growing school bill, so I took a second job on the weekends doing landscaping on an elderly couple’s estate. I was contacted once again by the financial office and was told my bill was so large that I couldn’t take exams. I grabbed more jobs: raking leaves, cleaning attics, being a barber and cutting hair, even designing and selling t-shirts right out of my dorm room. I was working so much that my grades suffered. I was falling asleep in class.

Still, the bills kept piling up. I was praying and working. Brother, was I ever praying. And working. Even after a soccer injury which left me with a severe ACL tear in my knee, I couldn’t stop working. I slapped on a brace and slogged my way through night cleanup. I had hope. I kept praying for help from God.

And then the day came, and this was the dirty secret I kept for many a year.

The Finance Office called me in and sat me down. There would be no exams unless I got some money to pay at least a portion of my bills. Then I got the dirty secret:

“There are seven thousand students on campus, ” I was told. “You are the poorest student at the university.”

It was a devastating moment. I’d like to be known for something outstanding in my life. This was not it. I was mortified.

“You’ll have to go home,” he said. “Why not just go home and try to make some money and come back in a year?”

That was when my hope in Christ’s help became the strongest since I stepped through the doors of the University.

“No, sir,” I said. “I’ve seen too many students go home in order to raise money and never come back. I can’t go back anyway – there are no jobs worth anything.”

I concluded by telling you exactly what I told the officer: “Sir, if you want me to leave, you’ll have to physically take me off campus.”

“What are you going to do?” he asked.

I gulped. “I’m going to trust Jesus to show me how to get my degree.”

I hid the dirty secret from everyone. How would you like the campus to know that you’re the poorest kid walking the university halls? I felt ashamed and humiliated.

The next week was the deadline. I had to pay off at least a third of my school bill in order to take exams and go into my senior year. I prayed. How I prayed.

That Saturday I received a note in the post office mailbox.

“A Virginia farmer by the name of J.E. Goode wanted us to pass this information on to you:
Years ago, when he and his wife married, they made a vow together that their first child would attend Christian college. From the first week of their marriage they started a savings account to prepare for their child’s college education. Tragically, though, Mr. Goode’s wife passed away before they had any children.

“Mr. Goode never remarried, but he decided to take that fund and send financial help to the neediest students on the university campus. You, Brad Zockoll, are one of those students.”

His generous gift paid enough of my school bill that I could take exams and complete my senior year. I was stunned. I cried. Right there, in the post office, I cried.

In fact, I’m crying while I write this.

I thanked the benefactor Mr. Goode. I still do.

I thanked the Lord my Hope. I still do.

And I still see Him, the Savior and King, as my Hope.

I was poverty-stricken, ashamed, humiliated and without any resource to lift myself out of my financial burden. And The Lord took over.

And I was poverty-stricken, ashamed, humiliated and without any resource to lift myself out of my sin. And The Lord took over. I get Heaven!

He’s my Hope, man. He’s my Hope.
The story is told that the well-known atheist Jean-Paul Sartre stated just before his death that he has such monstrous feelings of despair that he would tried to convince himself by saying…

“I know I shall die in hope.”

Then in profound sadness, he would add…

“But hope needs a foundation.”

Here is my hope: Jesus. I know my Redeemer lives and I am going to Heaven when I die. This life is not the end of it all.

In the book of Jeremiah, Jehovah states: “I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity – to give you a future and a hope.”

So it’s really not such a dirty secret anymore, is it?

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27 Comments
  1. Burke Crohn permalink

    Amen my friend. What a story and blessing.

  2. Wow! What a beautiful testimony!! Thank you for sharing it!!

  3. Sylvia Strickland permalink

    Brad, I just might have something in my eyes………..such a touching post. Remembering all the good times at Faith Christian with you leading the society meetings on Friday afternoon. You were always so creative and the kids loved you. Thanks for sharing…………

  4. Hayes Conner permalink

    Thanks for this, Brad. I never knew much about your early life when we knew each other, years ago, and I’m deeply touched by your story. God has a way, over and over again in life after life, to meet us where we are when circumstances point to little in which to hope. What a comfort that that which is unseen is that in which we can place our greatest confidence…
    Take care, sir….

  5. Brad Lenderman permalink

    Thank you Dr. Zockol, my family and I needed this today. So a big Thank You from Honduras!

  6. The notes I received in my post office box from the administration were always of a different nature…😳

    What a great illustration of the mercy of God!

  7. Neil, I am familiar with those notes as well, but we’ll forget about those, shall we? Water over the bridge, or something like that…

  8. Monica Catherine permalink

    Great story. So sorry the administration felt compelled to inform you of your financial standing in the student body. :*(

    • It was a shock, Monica, but it also made me aware of the depth of God’s care, and I mean that sincerely. I was truly at the bottom and God lifted me.

  9. WilliamEasterday permalink

    Wow, I would never have guessed it. You were always an encouragement to me. I knew you best from Student Body chapels. I got many a note like that…”you owe too much…” And then go to my P.O. And find somebody more than once putting money on my account…Praise God you never gave up. God used you in my life, Brad.

    • Thank you, Bill. What an encouragement you are! I still remember when we were in the hospital together… Soccer injuries, I believe…

  10. David Binner permalink

    Hi, Dr. Zockoll, I too did know you at college and also worked several jobs on campus to stay there as I knew that was God’s will. My folks could only help a little so schooling was my responsibility as well. My recollection of you was not as as the poorest student but as a good friend and had good points of fellowship. I too received similar letters from business office and prayed a lot and God also sent a couple benefactors my way to help me get across the finish line. I live in the Ankeny Iowa area and do try to pay it forward to the University however it seems to be heading toward Art Gallery and I need to get those funds redirected but I also am trying to be a blessing to a couple of students at FBBC as God had directed others to be a blessing in my life so many years ago. Now my kids are grown, I still want to be blessing to them and others as I see your being a blessing to students you encounter. Keep up your good ministry.

    • David, you are a blessing, man. God bless you for your kindness to other students. Please keep in touch and let me know how you are doing.

  11. Marilyn Shipe permalink

    Very well written and thought provoking. I feel compelled, though, tho “stick up” for that Christian university though in one aspect. It sounds cruel for them to tell students who owe so much money for their education to sit out a year and earn money, but they HAVE to do that once in a while. If they allowed every student who owed them money to keep accruing debt, the school would have to close down as tuition income is a huge part of their existence. When I was a student at this particular school, I couldn’t meet the month’s obligation due to a comment the school president made in chapel. A comment my unsaved father, who was paying my tuition, did not like. When this president heard of this situation, he generously wrote me a check for that month’s payment. I never forgot that act of grace. It gave me the ability to stay current with my debt to them so I wouldn’t fall behind in my payments.

    • Marilyn, I totally agree. My intent was not to cast aspersions on the university. They were more than fair to let me stay on. My intent was to show God’s care and provision in a time when I had absolutely no other resources available. I respect and admire the school to this day.

  12. Dick Mercado permalink

    This was a blessing to read. I think there were a lot of these real life secrets going on around campus that built our faith and brought glory to our a God. Thanks for sharing yours!

  13. Becky Petersen permalink

    I remember the business office telling me my sister and I would have enough for about 1 year and then we needed to consider loans. We both resisted as we didn’t want to go into that kind of debt.

    The Lord provided and we didn’t have either debt or have to stay out–I was very grateful!

    Thanks for your story, Brad! I had no idea things were that tight for you on campus. I thought you were always a BMOC (Big Man on Campus) with the normal accompanying clout/financial backing from a big named home/church :).

    • No, indeed, Becky, I came from a country church of about seventy. I did enjoy every day on campus, though, no matter what the financial stress.

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