New students looking on the Internet for directions to the Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute will find detailed instructions to the campus, beginning with an exit off Interstate 26 and a map of the local area.
But at least one student at the school probably needed more than just a quick look on the school’s website to find her way to class.
That’s because 22-year-old Laura Cotton drove the entire 4,500 miles from her home in Alaska to the Bible college in Henderson County this past summer. Cotton said she made the trip from Alaska because she felt drawn to the area and the biblical education offered at Fruitland.
“I feel God wanted me to come here,” Cotton said. “I feel like He called me here to attend Fruitland.”
Cotton began classes in July after making the road trip in her old Subaru with her mother. The two made the trip in about five days. Cotton said they had a wonderful time on the road, despite her occasional moments of doubt.
“I remember driving through Canada feeling scared. I was like, ‘What am I doing?’”
Cotton’s fears soon subsided, and the two reached the school in one piece.
Her mother flew back to Alaska, while Cotton began classes and settled into her new home away from home.
Cotton is working toward an associate degree in religion/church ministries. She has not decided what she wants to do after she graduates, but she said she thinks getting her degree will prepare her for whatever comes her way.
“I believe as a Christian I have a mission field wherever I am. I want to be more equipped and ready for it,” she said.
Cotton decided to attend Fruitland after her father, who is a Baptist minister, suggested the school. He attended the institute from 1991 to 1993 when Cotton was a young child.
“He loved Fruitland so much. When I said I wanted to go to Bible college, he recommended it,” she said.
It’s not unusual for the children of former students to come to Fruitland, said Bobby Garrett, the school’s director of facilities.
Garrett said more women are also deciding to attend the school to earn degrees they use in various faith-based careers, including counseling and children’s ministry.
The school’s outreach to evangelism conferences around the country and its reputation as a first-class Bible college has also drawn students from many states and some foreign countries.
“The foundation of this school has never changed,” Garrett said. “It’s a Bible college. When you teach the truth, you never go wrong.”
Cotton was 1 year old when her father began his education at Fruitland. She said she doesn’t remember much about the time her family spent in the area except for a trip to Sliding Rock and a visit with a relative in Murphy.
This time, Cotton said she will have many more memories to take with her when she leaves to begin her career.
“I’d never seen fireflies before. I’d never seen an apple tree before. I picked an apple off a tree for the first time,” she said.
Cotton also saw snakes for the first time when she visited Chimney Rock State Park last summer.
“I saw four in one day,” she said.
The mild winter in Western North Carolina has also been a welcome change from the 60-below temperatures usually found in her hometown of Delta Junction.
The small town in Alaska is in one of the colder parts of the state and is about six hours from Anchorage. It is also home to Clearwater Baptist Church, where her father is pastor.
While Cotton said she has enjoyed the warmer winter and new experiences, her move to the area has not been without its challenges.
The summer’s heat, humidity and influx of insects were “a little extreme,” she said.
The size of the community also took a little getting used to.
“It’s crowded,” Cotton said. “I’m used to being able to just drive and get away. In Alaska, that’s easy to do. There are thousands of miles of emptiness. Here, you don’t get that far from a town.”
But Cotton said the few drawbacks she has experienced are nothing when compared to the new friends, new experiences and the education she has received at Fruitland.
“It’s been really amazing,” she said. “It’s been neat meeting people. The people are really, really nice.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Amy B. McCraw writes for the Times-News in Hendersonville, where this story was originally published.)