Charles Dickens once wrote of a season that he described as the best of times and the worst of times. That is apropos to our situation last year as 2020 was the worst year ever for many people and organizations, but in many ways, it was the best year ever for Carolina University. It didn’t start that way. Last January, finances were extremely tight, and the outlook for the future was worse than gloomy. Administrators decided to take decisive steps to improve the financial picture and focus our annual Forty Days and Forty Nights of Prayer around a theme of Moving from Scarcity to Abundance. That prayer initiative was scheduled to begin on March 18, but we decided on the theme and wrote about the details months in advance of that date. I wrote about how God had used Egyptians and the pagan Persian government to fund major divine initiatives such as building the temple and the walls of Jerusalem. The CU family agreed to ask God to do it again in our day.
But then things started getting crazy. We began hearing about something called a novel coronavirus and an illness called COVID-19. Panic began to set in across the nation as the dire news spread of the serious potential of coming food and ventilator shortages, hospitals being overwhelmed, staggering numbers of deaths, transportation issues, etc. The closer we got to March 18, the worse the financial news became. The stock market took huge hits as the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 6,400 points, an equivalent of roughly 26%, in just four trading days. That happened in the week leading up to our ‘Abundance’ prayer initiative.
Then, only five days out, President Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency. Four days out, Governor Cooper closed NC public schools, and colleges all across the state began to scramble to send students home and quickly move to virtual delivery options. Three days out, all of our main campus students were informed that they would have to vacate the campus by March 17. The Forty Days of Prayer for abundance scheduled months earlier started the very next day. At the very moment that we were beginning our planned prayer initiative asking God to move our school from scarcity to abundance, the whole world had just moved from abundance to scarcity. CU was no exception.
Our campus had become a ghost town overnight. Donors had experienced devastating losses. Students were facing new economic challenges. The economy was dangling by a thread. All higher ed predictions were dire. And we were already hundreds of thousands of dollars short of being able to make it through the summer. I told my wife that morning that I had never personally experienced a greater opportunity for God to show Himself strong. And has He ever! Those Persian and Egyptian types in Washington, DC, decided to send out billions in relief money, and CU CFO Dr. Chris Ronk was all over that and was likely the first in line. Hundreds of thousands flowed our way that would carry us through the summer. While we were nervously waiting on those funds to arrive, George Rawlings gave us $150K that beautifully met the temporary needs. We were also able to distribute funds to needy students.
Meanwhile, we began to realize abundance in other areas. Dr. Sandeep Gopalan had been searching for highly qualified faculty for some fifteen new degree areas at once. As we began to pray, it was as if the dam had burst. In just a matter of days, he was able to hire numerous outstanding faculty for a variety of key content areas. Go to our directory, click on any of the schools in the left-hand column, and click on names to read about their top credentials and extensive experience.
All of that led to abundance on many different fronts at once. Please read our end-of-year newsletter and celebrate these incredible blessings with us. And here we are a year later with strong spring enrollment, unprecedented retention, and new financial blessings as we recently learned of significant amounts of newly designated COVID-related stimulus money coming to CU and the forgiveness of earlier PPP loans. All of that combined with lean, agile management put Dr. Ronk into a position to write something in his recent report to the trustees that most could not have previously imagined. “With these adjustments, we can operate the remainder of this fiscal year without any further dependence on giving for operations. As we discussed in September, a zero-dependence on giving was a strategic goal for the next fiscal year, but we wanted to escalate this move even sooner as we prepare for regional accreditation. We still intend to raise money, but such gifts can now be reserved for strategic purposes, cash flow reserves, etc.”
Thanks again to all who prayed for forty days with us and trusted God to move us from scarcity to abundance. He has and is answering those prayers. Praise the Lord!