Who are the Waltons?

Ever since the chapel service when Rod Reed addressed the Yik-Yak discussions, I’ve been asking myself the question, “How well does our campus body — faculty, staff and students — understand the Walton program and our Walton scholars?” Since this column is meant primarily to give the Threefold Advocate readers a better understanding of this program — and, hopefully, a greater appreciation of our Walton scholars — I will begin with a little history lesson.

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, visited Panama in 1984 and was challenged by a Panamanian diplomat, Lewis Galindo, to initiate a scholarship program for Central American students. It was Sam Walton’s dream that, through the Walton International Scholarship, hundreds of young people would come to the U.S. to learn the values of free enterprise and democracy. They would then return home and make a profound difference for God and country by putting these values learned into practice.

In August 1985, the first 20 Walton scholars arrived at John Brown University and began their journeys to adapt to a new culture and language. Now, 30 years later, many hundreds of these students have experienced the blessing of the Walton scholarship, profoundly impacted our University and given back to their home countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama.

Over the past 19 years that I have worked with this program, I have been asked many times by our Walton scholars why they were chosen. I typically answer, “You fit the requirements: good grades, leadership potential, economic need, a strong desire to better your country and more.” In actuality, I truly believe the Lord has brought them to JBU for His divine purpose. In each Walton scholar I see a special quality that I call chispa, which is Spanish for “spark.” Over and over, as I have recruited them in their home countries, watched them develop at JBU and then worked with them as JBU alumni, I have marveled at their chispa.

It is truly amazing that more than 90 percent of these young people who come from difficult socio-economic backgrounds — often coming from inferior educational systems or having limited English opportunities — graduate and return home. Coming from eight different countries, with different customs, traditions and even differences in Spanish, makes them a truly diverse group.

At first, they don’t understand our jokes, are overwhelmed with the cultural differences and struggle with our much-more bland American food. Over time, the students find themselves adapting to the uniqueness of dorm life and doing their very best to fit in. It is my prayer and hope that, as you learn more about this incredible program, you too will make the effort to better understand and appreciate these marvelous young people.

Johnson is the Director of the Walton International Scholarship Program at JBU. He can be reached at rjohnson@jbu.edu.