Polly Brinker is always thirsty. No matter how much she tries to quench her thirst, she simply can't get enough. That desire for more is always there.
Fortunately, Polly's thirst isn't physical. It's a thirst for learning. Specifically, she longs to discover more about what the Bible says. It's a thirst that led her on a somewhat unusual journey through New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. But it's a thirst that began taking shape in the tiny town of Crab Orchard in southeastern Illinois.
"I grew up on a beautiful farm in Crab Orchard with two older brothers," Polly recalled. "My mom was a school teacher, and my dad was a coal miner. We went to Center Baptist Church and were there every time the doors were open. I gave my heart and life to the Lord at the age of 12 and give Him thanks and praise for His salvation!"
After graduating from Crab Orchard School, Polly earned a bachelor's degree from nearby Southern Illinois University. After leaving SIU, she married her husband, Mark, who was serving in the Marines. But once his time in the military was done, the young couple made their way south to Louisiana, specifically to Thibodaux, about 60 miles west of New Orleans.
While Mark and Polly began raising their family, they also served actively at First Baptist Church in Thibodaux. In addition, they worked with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Nicholls State University. But in 2003, Polly began to feel God moving in her life.
She started feeling thirsty again.
"Mark and I were very involved with our church," she said. "But in the midst of church ministry, I just felt that God was calling me to go deeper with Him. The more I read and studied the Bible, the more I wanted to know God through His word! So, one night I prayed and committed my life to the ministry. I asked God to use me in any way He would choose to further His kingdom.
"I knew immediately after praying that I should go to seminary."
Polly began her New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary adventure aiming at a Women's Ministry Certificate. But it didn't take long for her to realize that God had other plans. Her children were older, and she and Mark had started their own landscaping business. She had flexibility, and she had Mark's complete support. She realized that God was putting all the pieces in place for her to further her education.
So, she started working on her master's degree in biblical studies. But instead of trying to make up for lost time or finish quickly, she played a longer game. While most of her classmates were taking full loads, Polly took one class a semester (including summers). It took 14 years, but she walked the stage and received her degree in May of 2017.
Polly admits her path was far from traditional, but it was exactly what she needed to get the most out of her NOBTS experience.
"It allowed me to keep balance in my life," Polly explained. "My family was taken care of, as well as ministry in the local church. When I think of the people who were in class with me who were full time, my hat is off to them. But I could afford to take it a step at a time. And every time I would go to campus, it was like a mini-retreat. I felt the presence of God."
These days, Polly is serving as Women's Ministry Coordinator at Kingsville Baptist Church in Ball, Louisiana, where she and Mark moved after his retirement. The women's ministry classes she took early on have helped her with that. But the Bible study skills she learned during her master's program have made all the difference in the world.
"I cannot thank the professors of NOBTS enough for teaching me how to 'rightly divide the word of truth,'" she said, quoting 2 Timothy 2:15. "Every single day, whether I am studying the Bible on my own or preparing a lesson that I will be teaching, I employ my knowledge and training from NOBTS. To be able to properly handle the word of God, to know how to outline a text, to do research, to know the difference between exegesis and eisegesis—all of this is invaluable beyond words. And it's all because of NOBTS."
Polly's passion for the seminary didn't stop once she earned her degree. Because of her thirst for learning, she admits that the idea of going back for her doctorate is a distinct possibility. But until that happens, she remains active in the school's Alumni Association and with the Women's Auxiliary. She also gives regularly through the Providence Fund because she wants as many students as possible to experience the same blessings of a seminary education as she did.
"I love NOBTS, and my life has truly been changed because of my experience there," Polly said. "What excites me as I think about the future of NOBTS and Leavell College is what it will mean to countless future students and ministers. Others will be able to learn the Bible deeply, be impacted by the wisdom and knowledge of the professors, feel the presence of God as they walk the sidewalks, and ultimately be used by Him to reach the world for Christ.
"I would tell any potential donor that if they want to store up their treasures in heaven that NOBTS would be a way to do that!"
Polly Brinker has come a long way since giving her life to Christ as a 12 year old in Crab Orchard. But from the moment she first set foot on the Seminary's campus, she knew she was home. She realized this was a place that could help satisfy her thirst for God and His Word.
And while she prays that thirst will never be fully quenched, she appreciates the tools and relationships she developed during her time at NOBTS.
"We must rightly divide the word in order to preach the gospel," said Polly. "It is of the utmost importance that we do not add to or take away from what God has spoken. I am thankful that the Seminary is committed to doing just that.
"And I believe that God has used New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to prepare me to better serve Him."