BIRMINGHAM Ala. (BP) - When Jennifer Davis Rash was getting ready to graduate from the University of Alabama (UA) in 1993 Jim Oakley had a plan for her life.
"She was an ideal student for me to recommend because I knew she would do well and make me and our program both look good" said Oakley then a career counselor and internship placement director for the College of Communication and Information Sciences at UA.
He had several publications ready to offer her jobs including one prominent paper who wanted to hire her "very badly" Oakley said.
But Rash felt God had something different in mind -- something totally off Oakley's map. Rash said she felt like God was calling her to do media work through missions and ministry.
"The new direction surprised me as much as everyone else" she said. "But I absolutely knew it was from God.
"I had never considered serving on the missions field prior to my senior year in college but a few months before graduation I encountered a Southern Baptist missionary home from the field and my focus completely changed" Rash said. "It was as if she had been appointed to recruit me."
While the paperwork and process for applying to serve with the International Mission Board (IMB) was daunting -- especially on top of a rigid class work and extracurricular activity schedule -- Rash said she felt drawn to the opportunity.
So after graduating with a bachelor's degree in journalism she packed up her car and headed to join the IMB's partner ministry Caribbean Christian Publications based in Hollywood Fla.
During that two years God solidified in her heart the call to leverage her career for the cause of Christ.
She also experienced a rich growth in her relationship with the Lord made lifelong friends -- one of whom would later become her husband Jason -- and discovered she had so much more to learn.
Oakley said he really couldn't understand her decision at first but came to grasp it during her time on the mission field.
They stayed in touch during those two years and by the time her term of service was up he understood. Oakley also knew exactly where she should land next.
It was late 1995 and Bob Terry the new editor of The Alabama Baptist (TAB) was looking for strong new hires Oakley said.
'Sense of peace'
Rash trusted Oakley's guidance interviewed with Terry within a few days of returning from the mission field in December of that year and was shocked to discover how the Baptist state newspaper immediately felt like home.
"I went into the interview thinking the position would be sort of a layover opportunity until I finished seminary" Rash said. "But that same sense of belonging and peace surfaced again one similar to what I experienced with the missions call."
Terry agreed. "The unusual part of the interview process was how Jennifer and I seemed to click as we talked about the role of Christian communications and the role of media in the church.
"Her talent was attested to by the awards listed on her biographical sketch" he said. "Her work with Caribbean Baptists demonstrated her willingness to work on a variety of different projects at the same time."
The two negotiated and Terry offered her the job. Her start date was Jan. 1 1996.
"It was one of the best decisions I ever made because Jennifer has been a wonderful colleague and friend all of our time together" Terry said.
Now more than 23 years from that interview Rash has stepped into the role of TAB's president and editor-in-chief on the heels of Terry's retirement Dec. 31 2018. Rash began her new role Jan. 1. See related Baptist Press stories here and here.
In those years in between she's served in roles from an entry-level news writer to the paper's executive editor earned a master of theological studies from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham and served her church and community in a variety of ways.
"I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Terry for taking a chance on an eager young journalist with so much to learn and investing in my growth and development" Rash said.
Arthur Williams chairman of TAB's board of directors said he's excited about TAB's future.
"She is very talented hardworking high energy experienced and brings a wealth of knowledge to the paper" he said. "I believe the future is bright for The Alabama Baptist under her direction and leadership."
Amelia Pearson board chairman at the time Rash was tapped as editor-elect said she believes "Jennifer's appointment is a good example of preparation intersecting with opportunity."
"We are blessed that she has the experience in the business and that that experience has been with TAB" Pearson noted. "I know she has the support of Dr. Terry and the staff which made her a very logical choice for the board of directors. Her dedication and vision should take the newspaper far."
Rick Lance executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions said he's known Rash for more than 20 years and long felt she would be used by the Lord in a significant way.
"Approximately a decade ago I became convinced that Jennifer would serve well as an editor of a state paper. I was hopeful that her place of service would be The Alabama Baptist" he said.
"That time has come and Jennifer is well prepared to assume the role of leadership at The Alabama Baptist. She epitomizes Christian professionalism in her attitude and in her work. I am proud to have Jennifer in this most important role in Alabama Baptist life. She will represent us very well."
Rash brings "a unique combination of gifts" to the role Terry said.
"She is winsome and outgoing an inspiring leader and an award-winning journalist" he noted. "Her years of service at TAB demonstrate her tireless energy and give her thorough grounding in the workings of this ministry of Alabama Baptists and Southern Baptists.
"In addition to all of that she is creative and will lead the way to continue the heritage of leadership and service The Alabama Baptist has provided for the past 175 years. I wish her nothing but the best in the days ahead."