No excuses: Blind college student serves Christ

by Margaret Colson |

(Florida Baptist Convention/Mark Sandlin)

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (FLBaptist) -- Her smile emerges quickly and brightly, and she laughs right out loud.

Her lips recite Scripture with a natural ease and intimacy.

Her eyes mirror the brilliant blue of a Gulf Coast Florida sky.

Yet, behind the smile and laugh resides the darkest of experiences that could cast a spirit-breaking shadow on all of life.

Behind the natural recitation of Scripture lives a young Christian, far more mature in her faith than her four-years-young Christian commitment might suggest.

And, behind the sparkling blue eyes lies a physical blindness that catapulted her to a spiritual vision of how God could use her in unique ways.

For Melle Chambers, a 23-year-old college student at the Baptist College of Florida (BCF) in Graceville, there are no excuses for not serving God.

In spite of her dark life experiences, in spite of her youthful faith, even in spite of her physical blindness, Chambers says, "Everywhere you go is a missions opportunity."

In the summer of 2014 alone, she joined a group of her fellow BCF students on a mission trip to Cuba, a partnership missions experience sponsored by the Florida Baptist Convention. As she served, she said it was a "blessing to spiritually see lots of opportunities to share the gospel."

She volunteered as a counselor at a children's camp in West Virginia, another Florida Baptist partnership missions trip. There, she memorized the layout of the camp the day before the children arrived so that she wouldn't have to use a cane or "sighted guide" to walk the trails. When she joined in a "walk by faith, not sight" game with the children, many did not even know that she was blind and that walking by faith is no game for her. It's a way of life.

And, she served as a counselor for middle-school girls at a summer camp for her home church, First Baptist Church in Panama City. At the rural camp, she zip-lined across the camp's lake, while the astonished middle-schoolers cheered her on.

"I couldn't see a thing, but I could hear the wind swishing past my ears," she laughed breathlessly as her feet found themselves planted on solid ground after her flight across the lake.

Born into a dysfunctional family, the youngest of five children, Chambers was whisked away as an infant from her birth parents, going into a maddening and confusing cycle of foster care, while occasionally living with her grandparents and, at times, with her older sister.

As an angry young teen, Chambers struggled with depression, and she nose-dived into self-mutilation cutting herself. The pain somehow seemed an antidote to her deep emotional anguish.

"I was so helpless and broken," she said.

When her eyesight began failing at age 18 from the disease pseudotumor cerebi, Chambers found herself homeless and alone, her belongings sitting on the front porch of her sister's home.

That's when Florida Baptists stepped into Chambers' young, tormented life and began slowly, patiently building a relationship with her and introducing her to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Through a series of events that "God sovereignly used to draw me in and pursue me," Chambers said, Jenia Roberson, a member of First Baptist Church in Panama City, took the girl into her home. She helped her learn to cope with her sudden blindness. She introduced her to the youth minister at her church. She prayed.

"That's when I learned the distinct difference between 'knowing about Jesus' and actually 'knowing Jesus,'" said Chambers.

After Chambers made her profession of faith in August 2010, "God gave her a vision of purpose," said Shane Booker, Chamber's college pastor of First Baptist Panama City at the time.

God assured her, "You're so valuable to me, and you're valuable to My Kingdom and building My Kingdom," said Booker.

(Florida Baptist Convention/Mark Sandelin)

The young believer quickly decided that her blindness, what others may see as a disability, is actually a "capability in Christ."

"The Lord has given this blindness to me as a gift, and I want to do whatever He's calling me to do with it," she said.

She believes that her blindness opens opportunities for her to share the Gospel that she might not otherwise have, placing her in relationships that might otherwise not come her way.

"Melle is always looking for what she can do next for God," according to Pam Smitherman, ministry assistant for student ministry at First Baptist Panama City.

"She wants to be a servant, no matter where she is."

In addition to the mission trips that she eagerly takes, Chambers has taught middle school girls Sunday School classes, served at homeless shelters and shared Christ with others, even her estranged father.

"Melle perseveres in what God has called her to do. She is one who finds abundance in the midst of difficulties," explained Rich Elligson, BCF associate professor of missions. She is a "delight as a student," he said, even when he cautions her not to "run" to classes, with a white stick trailing behind her, just because she is a little late.

"I really love serving. I love missions. I want other to hear the Good News of what Christ has done," she explained.

"He's given me this life, and He's living it through me."

Margaret Colson writes for the Florida Baptist Convention. This article first appeared and is reprinted with permission from the Florida Baptist Convention website.