A historic church document penned by English and Scottish Reformers in the 17th century has made it possible for a contemporary American college student to study in Africa, surely a mark of a prophetic church with an unwavering commitment to education.

By successfully memorizing and reciting the Westminster Shorter Catechism contained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Confessions, Laura Garrett, a senior at Centre College, was named last year as one of the top two winners of the Samuel Robinson Award. Garrett used the award’s monetary prize to travel to Ghana with several classmates from Centre—a Presbyterian-related college in Danville, Kentucky—earlier this month.

In addition to memorizing and reciting the catechism, Garrett was also required to write a 2,000-word original essay on an assigned topic as a condition for the award.

“I am thankful to have received the Samuel Robinson Award because I put a lot of hard work into writing the essay and memorizing the catechism,” says Garrett. “Knowing favorite Bible verses—and now the Westminster Shorter Catechism—by heart is a comfort and a foundation for studying aspects of my faith at a more critical level. I would encourage other students at Presbyterian schools to apply for the award.”

The Samuel Robinson Award, which is open to PC(USA) students completing their junior or senior year of college at a Presbyterian-related college or university, was created from a gift made in 1956 naming the General Assembly, Princeton Theological Seminary, McCormick Theological Seminary, and San Francisco Theological Seminary to promote the memorization of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The General Assembly’s portion of the fund is overseen by the office of Financial Aid for Service of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Selection for the award, which ranges from $2,500–$5,000, is competitive. Students have used Samuel Robinson Award proceeds for mission trips, transition to seminary or other graduate programs, and to reduce educational debt. The program will support up to 12 students per year.

Receiving the award allowed Garrett—a history major whose main academic interest is in African and African American studies—to take advantage of an anthropology class sponsored by Centre and based in the southern Ghanaian town of Bakpa-Avedo.

Garrett says that while engaged in the project of interviewing the town’s residents about their lives, she learned of the ways in which “Christians and practitioners of indigenous religion respect and welcome each other as friends.” During her nearly month-long trip, Garrett and her classmates also did research on gender roles, the history of the town, the local economy, and folklore. Their findings will be compiled into a book that will eventually be placed in the town’s new library, which is now under construction.

“Being in Ghana was a very powerful and moving experience,” says Garrett. “During the whole trip, I kept thinking of Micah 6:8: ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good: And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’ I think that the work that my classmates and I did were ways of ‘loving mercy,’ but I can't say that we ‘did justice’ on our trip. In Bakpa-Avedo, I saw people living in the most extreme conditions of poverty. While our group from Centre alleviated some of the symptoms for a short while, ultimately—until justice is enacted—these symptoms will keep persisting. I left Ghana with a deeper sense of commitment to ‘doing justice.’ That was my most important learning from the trip.”

While a student at Centre, Garrett has been active since April 2012 at Luther Luckett Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Kentucky's only prison congregation. The church is housed at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, where an outside congregation from Kentucky leads a worship service every Friday evening which is regularly attended by some 60 men. Garrett and three other women have been offering life-skills courses before worship. She also served as the lead teacher for the program’s most recent five-week course on diversity.

Following her graduation in May 2013, Garrett will continue to put her faith into action as a community organizer with DART (Direct Action and Research Training), in a location yet to be determined. For at least the next three years, she will be working with congregations to address critical issues and seek justice in the community where she is placed.

A member of the Harvey Browne Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, Garrett says that while she may think about attending seminary in the future, she is excited about “doing justice” in her position as a community organizer with DART.

“I believe that the church needs be active in loving mercy, doing justice, and walking humbly with God,” she says. “With God’s help, that’s what I strive to do.”

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The Samuel Robinson Award is now open for applications for the 2012–13 academic year. Visit the website for further information or to apply by the April 1, 2013, deadline.