By Austin Parker
Shadoria Anderson sits in the open lounge area in Bryant Hall, which has become one of her primary spots to work when she is at Ole Miss. She sits next to graduate student Stephanie Poiroux, who is a student leader in Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship. After talking through their weeks, Anderson begins asking deeper questions about Poiroux’s relationship with God. While many people’s workspace might be a desk in an office, her workspace is the college campus.
Anderson, a staff member of Chi Alpha, a campus ministry part of the Assemblies of God denomination, has a hand in many different parts of the ministry, but her biggest passion is mentoring students. After she became a student leader in Chi Alpha herself her senior year at Ole Miss, she realized the value of investing in other people.
“It just shaped my view of what it means to have real relationships and what it means to push people, seeing them not just for what they show you but for who you know they can be,” said Anderson.
Working for Chi Alpha, Anderson is a US missionary, of which she is the first African American missionary in the Assemblies of God from Mississippi. She believes that God has called her to invest in the lives of college students.
“She just has a heart for students,” said Lauren Upchurch, another staff member of Chi Alpha and one of Anderson’s friends. “Any time that we as an organization get caught up in the details and in different things we have to do, she always reminds us why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
After growing up in Shaw, a small town in the Mississippi Delta, Anderson came to Ole Miss as a freshman in 2013. During her senior year of high school, her aunt, who was an important person in her life, died. Even though Anderson grew up going to church, she decided she was going to come to college and spend most of her free time getting drunk.
“I thought that my life was supposed to be good because I was a Christian, and when it wasn’t, I thought, ‘This is not what I’m supposed to do then.’ My thought process was that God had hurt me, so I’m going to hurt him,” said Anderson.
During her junior year of college, she began attending a small group in her dorm led by a student leader from Chi Alpha. Her senior year, even after becoming a student leader herself, she planned to go to law school, but after taking several law classes, she realized that she really wanted to work mentoring students and helping run a ministry. She then decided to become a Campus Missionary in Training (CMIT), a year-long internship with Chi Alpha that equips people to work full-time as part of a campus ministry.
“That was kind of me answering my call, stepping out on faith and doing the internship, which is something that is uncommon and unheard of in the black community,” said Anderson.
For Anderson, becoming a missionary has been filled with obstacles. The biggest obstacle for her was trying to help her mother get on board. According to Anderson, her mother first saw the process of raising financial support as begging, but after seeing Anderson work throughout the summer before her internship to raise her support, she saw the amount of work and commitment the job took.
“Raising your own support is unheard of in the black church community. Missionaries are not a thing. Even though I was raised Missionary Baptist, we weren’t missionaries. It was just a denomination,” said Anderson. “Getting support out of the black community was an obstacle because they don’t understand.”
As being one of two African American missionaries in the Assemblies of God in Mississippi, Anderson has been at the forefront of creating diversity not only in Chi Alpha but across the denomination as a whole. She sees her work now as paving the way for people of color to feel able to step up and do ministry work within the Assemblies of God.
“You’re breaking down walls that are hundreds of years of construction. Walking into an all-white space as a black woman is a little daunting, but I know it has to be done,” said Anderson.
According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report looking at diversity in different religious groups in the US, 3% of those in the Assemblies of God are African American. The study also ranked the Assemblies of God as 6.2 on the diversity index, with the highest group being the Seventh-day Adventist with a rating of 9.1.
During the past three years of working in ministry, things have not been easy for Anderson. After losing her aunt in high school and her grandmother during college, her mother died in 2018. According to Anderson, these three family members raised her and were an integral part of her life. However, after the loss of her mother, Anderson remained committed to her relationship with God and the work she believed she was called to do.
“She’s been through a lot of hard, difficult things. It’s been challenging for her, but it’s been kind of cool to see her walk through really difficult things because she never wavered in her faith,” said Upchurch.
Mack Clements, director of Chi Alpha at Ole Miss, has a relationship with Anderson that is more than just a boss and employee. Rather, he views her as one of his own children.
“Ever since we’ve gotten to know each other well, she’s always viewed me as a father figure since she grew up without a dad,” said Clements, “but I think that increased even more whenever her mother passed away.”
For many students of color, Anderson said that their main fear is wondering if they will be able to survive and raise enough money. Anderson hopes to show minority students that becoming a missionary is possible.
“If students of color see me living my life and doing what I’m called to do, they can see they have a model to know what it looks like,” said Anderson.
Keeri Jones, a senior psychology major, plans to become a CMIT next year as well. As an African American woman, she has looked to Anderson for help when understanding what it looks like to be a woman of color in ministry.
“She inspires me and helps me to know that I will be okay with going into my calling,” said Jones.
Since becoming involved in Chi Alpha, Anderson said that she has grown both personally and spiritually. She believes that the campus ministry has been able to teach her life lessons that she would not have learned otherwise, and she hopes to be able to teach what she’s learned to new students.
“Being in Chi Alpha taught me a lot of things about myself, about the Lord, about discipleship and about mentorship that the world doesn’t really teach you,” said Anderson.