For Cary Smith, the road to college has been a bumpy and winding one. A transfer student in 2008, Smith’s journey to Corban has taken him on several twists and turns along the way—from Pasco, Wash., his hometown; to Dallas, Texas; to India for a two-week stay; and eventually to Salem, Ore.
Smith, sporting a casual Northwest look with the customary jeans, windbreaker and retro black frames, did not originally want to go to college. His parents strongly encouraged him to go, however, and with college tuition covered by a full-ride band scholarship that fell into his lap, Smith “felt like it was a wide open door.”
Fresh out of high school, Smith was interested in pursuing jazz performance. Thanks to a high school band director who “cared about students…[and] invested in [them],” Smith—named after the actor Cary Grant—got involved with band early on and started playing saxophone and clariphone.
For Smith, practice paid off. A band director from the local community college saw him perform at several festivals and offered him a deal he couldn’t resist—a full ride scholarship.
Soon, Smith grew “jaded by the musical career thing.” He realized he would have to practice four to six hours a day to make a career out of his music. At the same time he was experiencing doubts about his music, Smith developed the desire to “study the Word.”
Unbeknownst to him, his path to Bible school was already underway. A couple years earlier, Smith had picked up a flier advertising Ecola Bible School in Cannon Beach, Ore., while at Creation Fest—a concert-filled weekend attracting thousands of fans and dozens of big name Christian artists to the Gorge in Washington. At the time, Smith couldn’t bring himself to throw away the pamphlet.
As Smith learned about different Christian schools, Ecola Bible School – the name of the school on the flier – came back under his radar. Smith applied to the small, nondenominational Bible college and moved to Cannon Beach.
The focus of the school was “not so much as academic as personal growth” Smith explained – exactly what he was looking for. As the year progressed, he began to experience an overload of information.
“Most Christians throughout history don’t have the same access to teachings that Americans have now,” Smith said, contrasting the availability of information with the lack of accountability. Smith felt he needed to apply all that he was learning. Pressure generated by his own expectations, coupled with “stress of family stuff at home,” proved to be too much. Bad health in the form of depression forced Smith to leave Ecola early—just a few months shy of completion.
“I think it’s common for Christians to deal with hard things,” Smith said, “[but] you’re not supposed to stay there.”
Slowly, Smith recovered – it “took a while,” he said. By then, he was fed up with the idea of school and had found a job in the auto industry through his dad, an auto parts manager at General Motors.
“I didn’t want to go back to school,” and family pressure by both parents who had not graduated from college “made me really angry,” Smith said. “I was not wanting to feel the pressure of being someone I didn’t want to be.”
The interplay between Smith’s negative perspective and his parents’ expectations pushed him even farther away from considering finishing up his degree.
“I don’t want to be made to feel that my value is wrapped up in a degree,” he explained. “Why do I have to do this?” he challenged.
Smith’s attitude toward college took a sharp turn, however. Years later and after holding several “bottom level jobs,” “I see the wisdom of that [college],” Smith said. “My dad has a lot of worldly wisdom,” he added in about his dad’s college advice. Smith realized he was “reacting” to perceived expectations.
Once again, Smith’s desire to be involved in ministry took him in a new direction – down south to Dallas, Texas. In Dallas, Smith joined up with “Gospel for Asia,” a mission organization coordinating 16,000-17,000 missionaries in India. The organization’s staff acted as a support network for the national Indian and Nepalese missionaries. Smith’s responsibilities during his year-long internship included cleaning up facilities and using his former telemarketing experience to answer phones.
“It was a divine fit,” he said.
Smith’s time in Dallas involved a two week trip to India where he was exposed to the enormous need for evangelists.
“[It’s] just unbelievable the amount of people who need to be reached,” he said.
Alluding to the wealthy Western lifestyle of Americans, Smith said $5—a little more than the price of a latte—could pay for 1,000 gospel tracts that could potentially reach tens of thousands of Indian nationals.
With his vision of missions broadened, Smith returned to the United States desiring to attend a Christian college. He worked back in his hometown during the fall to save money and then transferred to Corban during the 2008 spring semester. His Bible credits from Ecola transferred in and Smith resumed his studies as a sophomore pastoral studies major.
“It felt like a good fit,” Smith said about choosing to attend Corban. “I wasn’t expecting such a good vibe” in Salem, he added.