Behind the Scenes: Early Years of SES

SES Real Stories #17

Twenty years ago, John and Bobbie were settling into their beach home.

“That’s where we were going to live out the rest of our days, and we were never going to leave the beach,” Bobbie said.

Of course, if you’ve been around SES much the past two decades, you know Bobbie hasn’t been combing the shoreline as much as she thought she would.

And she wouldn’t change it for anything.

A Trip in the RV

In 2001, John heard that Dr. Norm Geisler was going to be speaking in Fayetteville, North Carolina. That was a few hours from the beach house, but on a whim, he and Bobbie decided to go hear him that night.

“Get the dog and we’ll just go,” Bobbie remembers him saying.

They planned to spend one night in their RV, then found out Dr. Geisler would be speaking the following night as well. One night turned into two—and then three as Dr. Geisler spoke at a Fayetteville church that Sunday morning.

Bobbie wore the same red blouse three days in a row.

‘When Are You Coming?’

John didn’t drink coffee and neither did Dr. Geisler, but they met at the church’s coffee station that Sunday.

“I don’t know where it came from, but out of my mouth I said, ‘Do you ever use volunteers?’” Bobbie asked Dr. Geisler that day.

She was a librarian. John was an engineer. Dr. Geisler said he could absolutely use volunteers, but Bobbie figured he was being polite.

That Monday morning, after driving back to their beach home, John and Bobbie got a call.

“When are you coming?” Dr. Geisler asked.

The couple committed to visit for a month at Christmas to help wherever needed at this school he’d co-founded called Southern Evangelical Seminary.

“That was 20 years ago, and I’m still here,” Bobbie said.

No Running Water

“Here” started out much smaller than it is today. When John and Bobbie first got the address to come to SES, they couldn’t find it.

“We’re riding up and down this road, looking for the seminary. We assumed there was a building,” she said. It turns out they were looking for a trailer “back in the trees” behind McKee Road Baptist Church.

At the time, students met at the church, and the trailer was used for administration. The trailer had no running water, and the first day there, Bobbie had to use the restroom. There wasn’t one of those, either.

She asked fellow staffer Christina Woodside, and Christina gave her a key to use the bathroom at McKee Road Baptist.

John would joke that he felt like a first-grader asking to use the bathroom.

Small But Mighty

In those early days of SES, a second trailer served as the library before the original building was finished in 2004.

With her background, Bobbie started helping Ron Jordahl, the librarian. Then Dr. Geisler asked her and John for help in development.

“We were totally out of our field,” Bobbie said. “But when God calls you to do something, He equips you.”

Bobbie said staff at that time worked out of an 8-by-10 room with two desks pressed side by side and a bookcase on one end.

“We were crammed in there. … Our knees were literally touching each other,” she said. They even shared pencils.

Professor Tom Howe allowed staff to use his computer during the day until he needed it at night. The team was small but mighty.

Once, John dropped a cable from one end of the trailer to another, pulling the cable through the mud and coming out “a muddy mess,” Bobbie said.

And he wasn’t the only one to pitch in on odd jobs.

Moving In

For years now, Bobbie has been behind the scenes at SES doing everything from starting a donor database to finding a workroom table at Havertys.

She remembers buying a simple computer program at Staples and using floppy disks to create the donor database in the early 2000s. The “L” on the computer keyboard didn’t work right.

By 2004, John and Bobbie sold the beach home and were living in the Charlotte area.

“John said he’d never live in the city. But you don’t tell God you’ll never do something,” Bobbie said.

That was the same year the original SES building was completed.

“It was like a palace,” Bobbie said. After all, it had running water.

600 Place Settings

Before COVID-19, Bobbie helped coordinate the National Conference on Christian Apologetics. Now she helps in alumni relations.

Some of her favorite memories, though, are everyday chores.

Years ago, she and Barbara Geisler bought 600 sets of dishes on sale to be used for special events at the seminary. She remembers stuffing those dishes in her station wagon and piling some on top of another staff member, Joan Solheim. It was summer and they rode down I-485 like that til they made it back to SES.

Bobbie and Barbara scraped the sale sticker off each dish “and then washed every single one” since there was no dishwasher.

Invaluable Asset

Bobbie might have thought she was in over her head on that first RV trip to the seminary in the woods, but her finesse for detail and organization has proven invaluable to SES.

Dr. Geisler had a lot of ideas, she said, and didn’t want to waste time, even on the small things.

“I would hear footsteps coming down the hall and Dr. Geisler going, ‘Bobbie? We need a better mailbox.’”

The people she works with have also become family—especially since her husband died of cancer in 2009.

“The seminary is a wonderful place to work,” she said, adding that SES kept her going after John’s passing. “They’ve given me more than I’ve ever given them.”

‘We’ve Come So Far’

As a Philadelphia girl who longed to spend her last years at the beach, Bobbie seems just as content at a Charlotte-based seminary.

“We’ve come so far in such a short time,” she said.

She thinks back to 2005 when her son took a class online.

“He was sent a floppy disk in the mail with a lecture on it,” she said. It was poor quality and there was no interaction with the professor.

“Now we’re Zooming and classes are digital. … From where we’ve come, it’s just incredible.”

And the work isn’t done. She intends to keep helping out “as long as God gives me the breath to keep going.”

You Can Give, Too

Whether it’s giving your time or supporting SES financially, you can have a lasting impact on the next generation — just like Bobbie. Will you consider expanding the reach of apologetics education?

Follow Why Do You Believe by E-mail

Subscribe to follow this blog and receive email notifications of new posts.