Nathan Gardner became a believer when he was merely 4 years old. Even at such a young age, he recognized his need for Christ. “I still remember that day so vividly. I asked my parents to pray with me and guide me through it. It was one of the happiest moments of my life,” he said.
As the years have passed, Gardner has learned to trust in God and His sovereignty. “Even though I know I’m saved, I’ve always struggled with trust. Sometimes God works through odd ways that we’ll never understand. I’m thankful that God has taken me where I am today, even if I wasn’t always thankful.”
Finding His Mission
As a boy, Gardner did not want anything to do with music. He dreamed of being a professional baseball player, so studying music was far from his plans.
Against his wishes, his mother insisted that Gardner should learn an instrument. “My mom is a musician so she would always tell me, ‘You just need to learn. I don’t care if you make it your life, but you need to learn it,’” Gardner said.
Gardner started taking music lessons but didn’t have a change of heart until years later. “At first, I was really stubborn. I thought I hated it, and it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I began to change my mind,” he said. “When I was in elementary school, I noticed that music wasn’t that bad. I joined band, and I fell in love with the trombone.”
As he grew, Gardner realized that he loved music enough to make it a profession, but he doubted whether that was the right decision. “I think the moment it all changed for me was during the eighth grade. I gave one of the best performances of my life, and that’s the moment where I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he said.
While Gardner’s aspiration was to become a professional trombone player, he knew that shouldn’t be his main focus. He decided to study music education because he wanted to dedicate his life to teaching music to those who need it most.
“Music is a great opportunity to reach and meet people while spreading the Gospel. I feel like everyone should have the chance to learn music because it has the power to change lives. Once I fell in love with it, it changed my life completely,” he said.
Gardner’s goal is to make an impact through his music and teaching. “I just want to be able to share music with people and be able to reach them through music. It’s really important to me for everyone to have the opportunity to learn music and to enjoy it in their life.”
Choosing the Right School
When it came time to decide where he was going to study music education, Gardner had many options. He had been accepted into all of his preferred schools but was undecided due to the financial aid offers.
“I kept getting acceptance letters from my dream schools, but the money wasn’t there. God kept pushing me to apply to Bob Jones as a backup so I did. Then Bob Jones came and offered me a full ride which was a huge blessing,” Gardner said. “I’m thankful every day that God worked it out for me to come here instead.”
As a freshman, Gardner became an early recipient of the Gingery-Mack Music Scholarships in 2017. The scholarship had been founded in 2014 by alumni donors to help gifted Christian musicians pay for their education.
“I’m very thankful. I got amazing opportunities through that scholarship. I was able to represent the scholarship in several events, and I mentored freshmen that were coming in with it. I even met one of my best friends through it,” he said.
Throughout his four years at BJU, Gardner has also been able to perform, teach and travel for the University. “I have been so amazed by how many opportunities have opened up for me as a part of the school, but also in the community,” he said. “A lot of people around here know Bob Jones and the type of education that is given here. Telling people I go to BJU has given me opportunities.”
Gardner knows that the experience he has been able to gain at BJU will open doors for him in the future. “Music is all about what you have done and the experience that you have. Bob Jones has allowed me to get that experience in for later on in my life,” he said.
As he is preparing to graduate, Gardner is currently auditioning for graduate schools where he will be studying trombone performance. “It’s going to be a little bit of a culture shock to attend another school. But BJU has prepared me to still be salt and light to people and share the love of Christ.”
Finishing in Faith
While Gardner has enjoyed all of his four years at BJU, he believes his junior and senior years were the most challenging and rewarding. As an education student, Gardner was required to participate in practicum during his junior year.
Practicum is required of all education students during their junior year. These hours spent once or twice a week in a local school help students gather teaching experience before they start student teaching during their senior year.
Gardner is currently student teaching band in Hillcrest Middle School. Practicum and student teaching have taken Gardner out of his comfort zone and given him real-life experience. “School has been so helpful. But with that being said, I feel like I’ve been able to learn more by being thrown into it and learning on the job,” he said.
Since the first week that Gardner started student teaching, his students noticed a difference. “My first week there, the kids were like, ‘There’s something different about you. Why are you different?’ And I was like, ‘I love you guys.’ And that’s what I’ve tried to do: love them like Christ loved us.”
During his junior year, Gardner faced another challenge. Several of his scholarships unexpectedly disappeared. “It was due to no fault of my own. They just said they couldn’t help me that year.”
For Gardner, it was a shock to have the responsibility of paying a large bill that he hadn’t had to think about before. “It was scary to see a big bill, but God was good. My family owns a woodworking business, and we actually got a huge order which helped pay my bill,” he said. “The only issue was that I didn’t have enough for my books.”
That is when he saw God miraculously provide. “One day there was a random letter in the mail. It was addressed to me, but it didn’t say who it was from. Inside the envelope there was $200, which is what I needed for my books,” Gardner said.
To this day, Gardner does not know where the money came from. He believes God provided for him and took care of him during his time of need. Gardner will be graduating in May 2021 debt-free.