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Education

Former Atheist Earns a Master of Divinity

06.20.2019

“I never in a million years would have taken this path.”

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Jessica Robins walked up the aisle with all of the other Master of Divinity graduates from Moody's Michigan campus—but the crowd’s attention seemed to focus on her, probably because of her souped-up mortarboard hat, which now featured a glittery white background and gold chains around the edges. She inscribed Jeremiah 29:11 at the top, and then one more word in giant red letters: EX-ATHEIST.

“I’m a black female from Detroit. I wear an afro. I listen to Christian hip hop, and usually have my music playing real loud,” says Jessica, a saxophone-playing music teacher who is using her degree to enhance her songwriting career. “I mainly do Christian music and gospel,” she says, “and this education will help my lyrics be more biblically sound.”

Her degree has also given her a “strong desire to share the gospel with those outside of the church,” she says. “I’m convinced in the love and power of God to deliver and to save.”

Jessica Robins is not your typical MDiv graduate. Most of her classmates at Moody were married men heading for the pastorate.

Robins smiles. “I never in a million years would have taken this path, but I can say my steps are ordered by the Lord.”

As a very young child she remembers her grandma taking her to church, “but it was boring to me, so I didn’t want to go anymore and wasn’t pressed again,” she says.

In middle school, a friend needled her to get baptized and go to church, which got Jessica to think about what she really believed. “I recognized that I couldn’t prove if there was a God and I couldn’t prove if there was no God,” she says. Jessica began to identify as an agnostic, but by the time she graduated from high school, she decided there was no God. 

At Michigan State University she majored in music education, studying classical saxophone—and her friends in the dorm happened to be Christians who sang in the gospel choir. “They were always inviting me to Bible study or trying to tell me about the Bible or get me to sit down and read the Bible with them,” says Robins, who responded with arguments and debates. “It got pretty heated at times, but they kept persisting and loving me and praying for me.”

She looked for new friends but without success. Then, alone one night in her dorm room, she heard a distinct voice in her head: “Jessica, you’re not going to be successful in music unless you play for Me.”

Robins, the atheist, was incredulous. “I don’t even believe in You. Why are You talking to me? Be quiet,” she said. Instead she heard the same words a second time, and “I knew it was God talking to me.”

Then her grades began to slip. “I started failing all my classes,” says Robins, who was put on musical probation by MSU’s college of music.

To get her Christian friends to stop bothering her, she decided to do something to make them mad at her. “I decided I would worship Satan,” she says.

Satan didn’t have a chance, however, because the very same day, two friends came into her room and said, “Jessica, we really feel the Lord is tugging on you.” They shared the gospel with her, and something immediately softened in her heart. “I was 19, and that was the first time I really heard the gospel,” she says.

“I just felt God’s love for the first time,” she explains, “so right then and there I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” And soon after, she joined the gospel choir.

Her grades also improved, and after graduation she began teaching bands and choirs at a Detroit high school. She played her saxophone in church and went to Bible studies. Eventually she wanted to go deeper, so she googled seminaries and saw Moody Theological Seminary. Her pastor endorsed it, so she applied and got in. Her workplace allowed her to fit her teaching schedule around her seminary classes, and Moody scholarships also helped. She decided on the MDiv because she wanted to learn the biblical languages. “I didn’t think I was going to make it through Hebrew 4, but I got through it by God’s grace,” she says with a laugh.

“Although the professors were tough and would grade very strict at times, they were always compassionate and always open to help you when you needed it,” she adds. “If you needed to stay after class or shoot an email at nine p.m., they would be there to help you and root for you.”

She felt accepted by her peers and professors at Moody. When her friends ask if they would fit in at Moody, she says, “You’ll fit in. You belong there if the Lord tells you to go there.”

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