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Philander Smith University Student Keshira Watson Fulfills Lifelong Ministry Aspiration

January 3, 2024

No one ever had to guess what Keshira Watson wanted to do for a living. From the time she was in 2nd grade, she just knew.

“I’ve always known that I was called to ministry,” said Keshira, 22, a student at Philander Smith University in Little Rock, Ark., a historically black United Methodist school founded in 1877. “I’ve known since I was 7 years old. It was just a gut feeling. 

“I used to watch my youth pastor and all of the ministers, and I was just in love with what they did, and I always wanted to be just like them.”

That modus operandi of following her gut convictions followed Watson into high school. Invited by a friend, she first visited Philander Smith University for a Youth Theological Institute the summer before her senior year. As soon as she heard about the college at the institute, she decided there was no other school for her—even though she’d never even seen the campus. 

“From that moment, I knew that I had to go to Philander,” she said. “I didn’t apply to any other colleges. Before I joined the [youth theological] program, I didn’t even really want to go to college. But I was determined to go to Philander Smith University after that program.”

Watson went on to serve as chaplain of Philander Smith’s Student Association for two years, a role where she learned to listen to God and simply put herself in a position to be used by God, when and if her fellow students needed her.

“I prayed at all the meetings,” Watson said. “Other than praying at events and at meetings, there wasn’t a certain requirement I had.

“So, I realized from talking to students that a lot of them just needed prayer. They were trying to find their way to God, but it’s not always as easy as it seems. So, I took it upon myself my last year as chaplain to host weekly prayer meetings. At first, a lot of people weren’t coming. It for sure was discouraging sometimes. But God said, ‘I need you to stay in place. And whenever anybody needs you, if it’s one person, I need you to be in this place.’ [It was] so they could have access to me and, really, to God.”

Today, Watson is serving as a minister in training at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Little Rock, where Rev. Ronnie Miller-Yow has given her a variety of assignments so that she can discover where she might best fit in and want to serve long-term.

“On Wednesdays, I do a few different things,” Watson noted. “I go to noon adult Bible study but during night Bible study, I work with the youth. I work in the youth department so I can confirm if I feel like working with the youth is where I belong [or] do I want to be with the adults?”

“On Sundays, I go to all three services,” she added. “So I just do whatever I’m on the program for that day. Sometimes I’ll do the welcome, I’ll do joys and concerns, I’ll pray, or I’ll do the offering. Every week, he just gives me a different task so I can know the ropes of everything. And then I work with him during the week—I also work in his office so I see the day-to-day of a pastor.”

Having served in on-campus and now an off-campus role, Watson sees that her job is to, if nothing else, simply smile, take time to talk to people, and show them the love of Christ. For that, she doesn’t need to be pastor or be ordained, she said—she just needs to be available. In the process, she’s learning new things all the time from the people she encounters.

“That’s what really excites me—just people taking the time to tell me stories or teach me the smallest things,” Watson said. 

Not that Watson doesn’t have firm goals for her life. She does.

“What I plan to do one day is open up a community center that focuses on youth with disabilities—learning disabilities, physical disabilities—and students that some would call, ‘troubled kids,’” Watson said. “I don’t believe in the idea of a ‘bad child.’ I think that my gift is to simply be an open arm, to be an advocate for people that can’t necessarily be an advocate for themselves. 

“[I want] to encourage people that, ‘Where you’re at doesn’t have to be your end. What people say you are doesn’t have to be your story.”

Watson said that she would encourage people who are trying to determine God’s call on their lives to take it one day at a time and do what God puts in front of them right now

“A scripture that sticks with me says that you have to carry your cross one day at a time [Luke 9:23],” Watson said. “To men, that means that I don’t have to plan out my whole life. I don’t have to worry about what yesterday was, but today, I have to carry my cross and I have to do what God tells me to do today. I think that people, when they think about doing His will, it’s like, ‘Well, I have to worry about tomorrow.’ But it’s like, no—today. 

“I think that we try to go too fast, and God just wants us to slow down. It’s like God [says], ‘You’re on a journey. I just need you to follow me today step by step. You don’t have to know the big plan.”

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