I grew up in Puerto Rico, and ever since I can remember, my family always encouraged me to get an education. They constantly told me: “Get an education. That is something no one can take away from you. It will give you a future, and you will be able to help others.”
My parents only had a high school education; so, they encouraged me to get an education because of how difficult it was not to have a career.
Everyone in Puerto Rico values education highly; so, everywhere I went, I was encouraged to get an education. When I graduated from high school, I went to the University of Puerto Rico to study psychology.
The loss of a dream is never lost for God
Everything was going well until my father was diagnosed with cancer. I had to drop out of school to work to sustain my family so my mother could care for my father during his treatment.
Caring for my family was worth it. Even so, I thought my dream of studying psychology had ended. I learned, though, that God’s purpose is not limited by the challenges we face. If it is his will to give you an education, he will bypass any limitations.
A couple of years after my father passed away, I attempted to return to school to finish my education. Unfortunately, the school was giving priority to students just graduating high school. Once again, I thought it was over.
God’s calling and encouragement to pursue education
While I worked in church and ministry, I began to see the need for academic preparation. I witnessed families facing different challenges requiring counseling intervention. I felt compelled by God to help those families, but I had no formal education.
I sensed God calling me to go to seminary to get a degree in counseling and Christian education to meet those needs. That meant leaving my country, family, comfort, language, church and support system, none of which I wanted to leave.
My church encouraged me because they saw it as God’s ministry. I came to Texas to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to pursue two Master of Arts degrees, one in marriage and family counseling and the second in Christian education.
God provided a church in Fort Worth that was my lifeline in that transition. I found a Spanish-speaking church family, a new home, ministry and a support system. During my first year in Texas, my church in Puerto Rico supported my education by providing an offering to help me during that transition.
Seeing a greater need
After graduation, God allowed me to establish a private practice serving our Latino community. Very soon, I learned the needs of our Hispanic population were greater than the service I could provide with my Master’s-level training.
I saw families struggling with issues beyond my training. I saw teenagers with great potential dropping out of school because they had to work to help their families. Once again, I sensed God’s leading to go back to school and get a higher degree to increase the quality of service I was providing to our community.
Encouragement to reach a higher level
I always was drawn to the possibility of a Ph.D., but I didn’t think I could do it. I thought I already was too old for that, and I didn’t think I could afford it. Nonetheless, when God has a plan for you, he will continue to press it on you until he accomplishes his purpose in your life.
While I was teaching at the Christian Latina Leadership Institute, one of my colleagues saw me and encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D. I admit I was a little afraid for a moment, but other colleagues encouraged me with the same words.
Pursuing a higher degree is a challenge filled with uncertainty, changes, discipline, sacrifice, expenses and isolation. In spite of all that, my friend Dr. Nora Lozano had a long conversation with me.
She presented all the realities that come with pursuing a higher degree. At the end of the conversation, she said, “Nonetheless, I have no doubt that you can do it, and I am here to walk that journey with you.” She did exactly that. Every week for four years she told me: “I’m proud of you. You can do it. I’m praying for you.”
How the church and others encouraged me
My ministry partners, church family, community of faith, mentors and, of course, my family and friends encouraged me every step of the way toward a doctoral degree. As the journey advanced in intensity, their encouragement increased. They prayed for me, encouraged me, took me to the airport when I needed to go for my intensive courses, changed meeting dates for me to be able to attend, and so many other actions of love so I would gain strength and graduate.
My church has been one of my greatest support systems. My Sunday school ladies prayed, hugged me and provided a shoulder to cry on when I was fatigued. I am a Sunday school teacher and one of the leaders in the women’s department. When I had big assignments, someone substituted for me during one class.
The dissertation phase is the most intense and stressful process of a Ph.D. program. My church gave me a summer sabbatical so I could focus on my dissertation. During preparation for the dissertation defense, my spiritual parents Alicia and Ruben Zorzoli brought me food so I could focus on writing. I could not have accomplished it all if I did not have the support of my faith community.
How you can encourage young people to get an education
In an era when the dropout rates are increasing every year, I believe churches need to encourage teenagers and young adults to pursue an education.
Point out the qualities they have instead of all the reasons why not to get an education. The church needs to stop looking at all the possible limitations and focus on what God can do.
Yes, there are financial needs, challenges, difficulties and other potential limitations, but with God’s help, they can be overcome. I faced many challenges and learned getting an education is not a luxury but is a gift from God to train us in specialized areas for serving others.
Counsel for pursuing your education
There are a few things you need to know before you pursue an education. Getting an education is a lot of sacrifice, but seeing what God can do through you is more rewarding than staying in a comfort zone.
Be persistent. There will be moments when it will be so overwhelming you may want to quit. Do not give up. The sacrifice is temporary. You can do it.
Ignore the naysayers. I have heard people say getting an education is a waste of time and money. Don’t listen to those voices. Listen to God’s voice through Scripture. Surround yourself with people who support you.
God is faithful to provide for what he calls you to do. Yes, it can be expensive, but God can provide. Save money now, so you can avoid student loans. There are resources—like scholarships—to help students study without going into debt.
The gift to us is for others
I am 51 years old now, and I just graduated in May 2019 with a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision after not being in school for 17 years. I have seen God’s faithfulness in this long journey.
For me, getting an education is a gift from God to equip me to do his work. This month, I have been given the opportunity to give that gift of education to others as a faculty member teaching counseling at Dallas Baptist University.
I never thought I could reach this level of education, but God gives more abundantly than we can ask, think or imagine according to the power that works within us (Ephesians 3:20). His gift of education comes with a purpose—to serve him.
As the church of Christ, we have the responsibility to encourage someone today to pursue education as God’s gift to work more effectively in his kingdom. “And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3b).
Dr. Zoricelis Dávila is a licensed professional counselor supervisor with a private practice in Fort Worth serving the Latino community. She is also an international speaker, author and assistant professor of counseling at Dallas Baptist University.