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FAMILY Influences

posted Nov 14, 2010, 10:31 PM by   [ updated Nov 2, 2011, 5:19 AM by Sites Admin ]

~ Interview by Duncan Wilson ('90)

Catching up with the Whites - One of the highlights of this past year was attending the class of 1990’s Twentieth Reunion. While at the reunion, I caught up with an old friend, Heath White ('90). At one point in our conversation, he mentioned that his younger brother, Matt was in a band.  For the moment, I didn’t give it much thought and our conversation moved on, yet several weeks later my wife, Andrea and I were headed out the door to see a live recording concert when she said to me “You know we’re seeing Heath’s brother tonight..." 

"What?!" It was a classic TCK* small world encounter and when I introduced myself to Matt after the show.  Heath later described Matt having to switch five gears in his mind at the randomness of finding a Faith alum in the crowd!

Matt White (center) with Fight the Big Bull

I would hazard a guess that in the next few years there will be an increasing number of Faith alumni found in audiences of Matt’s band, Fight the Big Bull. Follow here to read more about the show we attended that night.

It was one of those moments when you walk away privileged to see someone doing what they were created to do and finding enjoyment in what they do. It also got me thinking about the White siblings – Heath, Ashleigh and Matt, all so different in their career pursuits, yet each of them clearly doing what they love and doing it par excellence.  My curiosity about their upbringing, along with their family's four years of service at Faith Academy caused me to write this short biography on their family, thanks to the graciousness of each family member in giving of their time for an interview.


After graduating from Faith Academy in 1990, Heath attended Gordon College, a Christian Liberal Arts school graduating in 1994 with a double major in Computer Science and Philosophy. “I fell into philosophy. I loved it and thought it was fantastic. My other major was computer science, but philosophy was a passion – but it was also a risk.”  

It probably does not surprise his high school friends that Heath became a Philosophy professor yet he states that prior to college, he didn’t know what Philosophy was, saying, “I had probably been philosophical all my life, but I didn’t know there was a discipline until I took that first course.” It is a discipline that has captivated Heath. When asked what he does for a living he replies, “I do philosophy. I teach philosophy classes to undergraduates, publish philosophy and I think about it all the time.”

After completing his undergraduate degree, Heath worked as a software engineer for a few years before marrying his wife Bronwyn in 1996. From 1997-2002 Heath completed his PhD in Philosophy at Georgetown University and subsequently began teaching at Valparaiso University before moving to the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, NC in 2005 where he resides with Bronwyn and children Baxter and Abigail.

(Heath and Bronwyn White, Baxter and Abigail)

“I have one serious talent in the world…thinking. Everything else is mediocre.  Thinking is Gods’ purpose for me and to try and teach it to others.” Heath says that the best thing about teaching philosophy is when he sees students blossom, it starts to click for them and they grow up in your class, and start working through their fears. Heath believes this is his way of building the kingdom.

Heath has also published two books, Inferentialism and Practical Reason:  Towards a New Theory of Practical Reasoning, Intention, Desire, and Evaluative Belief (his dissertation), but the book he would probably have you read is Postmodernism 101A First Course for the Curious Christian.  He also contributes to PEA Soup, a blog dedicated to Philosophy, Ethics and Academia.


When I asked Ashleigh what she was up to she replied, “I manage chaos.” Then she elaborated, “I stay at home with 4 kids (Josiah, AnnaClaire, Micah, Lydia) and another one (SarahJoy) we are hoping to get in January. I manage the household.”

(Eric and Ashleigh Sanzone, Micah, AnnaClaire, Josiah and Lydia)

In contrast to no one being surprised at Heath’s vocation, Ashleigh says, “I never in a million years thought we would have five children. Anyone who knew me in high school or college would be surprised.  My mom was the classic stay-at-home mom and I swore I would never do that.  I thought, 'What an incredibly boring job!' I don’t know when I morphed into doing exactly the same thing. I enjoyed the work world before having kids. It’s an amazing journey that God has had us on. It feels very normal.”

 After completing high school in the United States, Ashleigh attended Wheaton College where she met her future husband, Eric. They got married a week after graduation. Eric became a pastor and Ashleigh worked until they began having kids. After having three children together, God laid adoption on their hearts.  For a while, adopting was something they often talked about but because of foreseen barriers they didn't proceed beyond discussing it. Then in the summer of 2008 they were able to adopt their fourth child. Ashleigh admits that they didn’t adopt with the intention of adopting again. “But once, while we were in China, we saw all the orphans and were part of the miracle of being handed a child.  We both silently just knew, but we didn’t dare utter the words to each other. After a year we thought, 'We have a place in our family for one more' and so we are hoping to pick her up in January!  We think we’re done…”

Ashleigh is a wonderful and honest blogger.  She shares her thoughts about the world and family on her blog.


Matt returned with his family to the U.S. after completing first grade at Faith.  After four years of public school he returned to Asia with his parents while his father, Ed took the Principal position at Christian Academy Japan for a year. Then it was back to the U.S. for high school.  Things got interesting after high school as Matt says,“over and over again I made decisions that felt very natural and normal to me but everyone else thought they were crazy decisions.”  Matt decided that he was going to be a music major in college so he attended Virginia Commonwealth University. He quickly formed the Patchwork Collective, to "create a community of musicians and artists who devote themselves to creativity and innovation.

Upon establishing contacts with New York musicians, White formed what would become Fight the Big Bull. His band has continued to receive positive feedback and opportunities keep growing with each new release or collaborative project. Much has been written about White's correspondence (e-mail) to legendary jazz musician, Steven Bernstein.  Bernstein was a profound influence in mentoring White.  "A one- hour lesson would later become an entire day and was the 'genesis' of all I do today [as a jazz musician]."

Professionally, Matt teaches private music lessons (guitar and piano) three days a week. The rest of his time is devoted to his music career as a musician, composer, arranger and band leader. Matt and his band Fight the Big Bull have been featured on NPR’s Fresh Air as well as The New York Times and The Jazz Times.

Ed and Susan

Ed and Susan served for four years at Faith Academy from 1986 through 1990.  They also served a short stint at Christian Academy Japan in the 90s.  Deanna (Jenkins) Nichols ('89) recalls, "As a high-school student, I remember how in his role as principal, Mr. White was known for pushing the learning bar higher as he challenged us to excel."

Ed is currently a fundraiser for indigenous Christian missions while Susan holds down the fort as ‘Grammy'.  The following excerpt, written by Ed was taken from Great Commission Resources International “In the summer of 2002, as a lay worker for a local teen youth group, I accompanied a group of students to the Amazon area of Brazil. Our ministry included showing the Jesus film in many places, one being on a small riverbank in a jungle area. Hundreds of people came from up and down the river to see the film. The pastor of the small church was a local fisherman, eking out a living as best he could. He exclaimed, 'People on this river will travel to see any film, let's show them the Jesus film!' He added the sentence that was the beginning of GCRI, 'If I only had a generator I would take the Jesus film up and down this river to show in many villages.'"  God planted in Ed's mind the desire to begin a mission dedicated to providing resources to indigenous Christian works in these poor and remote places. 

(Ed and Susan White)

~ Ed's and Susan's influence on their kids over the years have included a passion for Christ, for people, for mission.  I asked them to share their thoughts on parenting:

Family Influences:

Each of the White children agree on the influence their parents played in their lives. Heath says, “They always encouraged us to do what we really wanted to do. I teach a lot of kids who may want to major in philosophy but their parents won’t let them. That never would have occurred to my parents. They wanted me to pursue what I loved. They were always encouraging and trusted us with the big decisions.”

Ashley added, "They provided a very safe, secure, strong foundation as a family and the self-confidence to pursue what you wanted to do no matter what. If this is what God wants you to do then do it 100 percent. Home was secure enough where we could go against the American norm. They modeled this in going to the mission field, not the most normal thing, saying these are our gifts and talents."  Ashleigh went on to say that at those times her parents have raised curiosity about their adult kids' career choices, she's simply exclaimed, “You always talk about following God’s call. You’re the ones who did this! - We’re doing exactly what you did!”

Matt agreed with both his older siblings. “We have a very unique nature to our family. We are all in different fields and it takes someone knowing all three of us to recognize why we have ended up where we are. It really comes down to mom's and dad’s attitude of love and security in our house.  They never pushed us to do anything except to have a good work ethic.  They loved us no matter what we did. They said, 'Do what you want.' Because we had security it was okay to make music or to drop computer engineering to get a PhD in Philosophy or to adopt kids from China.”

All three siblings have admitted to going against the flow a little. Heath states that by going into philosophy, “I knew I was going against the grain, but I didn’t care much and still don’t care. I’m comfortable with myself…I know whom I have believed.”   The White's have done pretty well on the journeys they have set out on.  None have been lucrative money-making paths.  Ed and Susan “gave them freedom to follow their dreams and not the dollar – to do what they’re passionate about and enjoy. It’s a terrible thing to work and not enjoy what you do. That’s not to say I’ve not tried to persuade them at times (to do something else). Matt has made it not because of me, but in spite of me.  He didn’t buy that he should do music as a hobby.”

Conversation (My Interview with the White Family) ~ Duncan Wilson

Q:  What are the gifts you see each other offering in ministry and to the world?

Thoughts on Heath:

Matt: Heath is able to communicate things that are complicated like religion, politics and philosophy. Heath is able to take the complications with energy and understanding and communicate those complexities to a lot of people. I can’t roll with all that philosophy stuff but from the spiritual side, he can see wide swaths of history and theology and how complex they are and help educate people. It becomes a history lesson, not an argument.  His book is a great example of that as it deals with issues the church has with culture. He is a great facilitator and non-confrontational when dealing with divisive material. I get in arguments with my parents about certain issues. Heath doesn’t. Then I wonder, 'Hey, why are you mad at me?  He thinks the same thing I do?!'”

Ashleigh: Heath has the ability to see and think about the world from a Christian context, weaving his faith into what he does.

Ed: Heath is a brilliant apologist and communicator for our Lord.  He greatly loves his family.

Thoughts on Ashleigh:

Heath: Ash has bent her energies into being a mother…she and her husband have chosen to have their kids and adopt from another country and take on that responsibility and show what the international kingdom of God can look like in their own household. That’s their ministry even though they have taken some heat for it. In a world where families are being devalued she and Eric hold up a really high standard.

Matt: Ash has a unique honesty about her on her blog and on facebook. Her brutal honesty has molded her feistiness into an honesty about life that she is willing to share with the world. She’s a parent. She raises a family – that’s her craft and she’s able to teach about that through her honesty and writing. She’s an excellent parent and is able to share her process in a way that invites people. People really respond to the openness and transparency that she allows.

Ed: Ashleigh’s gift is passionate motherhood.

Thoughts on Matt:

Heath: Matt has lots of musical talent, he has an amazing knowledge of gospel music in this country. He said to me once, “When you have a really great performance you just lift people up and touch them.” That’s his vision, a little foretaste of the kingdom.

Ashleigh: Matt is extremely passionate about what he does. He gives the world a chance to see what it looks like to do what you love really well, with passion and pursue it, even though you’re not making money. He pursues with great passion, energy and joy what he loves and has never been swayed from that.

Ed: Matt is a complex figure… he has a passion for the downtrodden – you don’t see it in his music but if you talk to him about social issues, he has a passion and is an advocate for the downtrodden. He has a heart for people in poverty. In terms of music, he marched to the beat of a different drummer. He is a jazz arranger – but it’s an edgy dissonant jazz. He loves his music and wants to be an inventor – he wants to take jazz to another place. He’s got a God-given talent for jazz music.

Q.  What are your memories from their time spent at Faith Academy?

Heath:  Everyone I know hated high school. I’ve never had that feeling.  It was wonderful. Faith Academy had an environment of real love. Despite some flaws and hardships there was a lot of love.

Ashleigh:  (Ashleigh admits she went to Faith kicking-and-screaming as a sixth grader) and I kicked and screamed the whole time I was there. But now I’m so thankful. I loved it.  I didn’t admit to anyone I liked it though!  (Ashleigh adds that her most vivid memory is living right next to a squatter village.)  Looking out my bedroom window every day into the village made a huge impact.  She also adds that memories from Outdoor Ed stand out…cutting the chicken’s head off...

Matt: (though admittedly quite young while in the Philippines)  I remember playing so much. I played in the creek in the squatter village and with the Filipino kids. I learned to ride a bike on the elementary playground. I learned piano there. I remember going to Dorm Church at school and standing in the back and directing the congregation as they sang. I remember a lot of Basketball and Volleyball games. Mr. Hardeman even made me my own little Faith Academy uniform.

 Ed:  (without pausing)  ~ Best years of my life! It was my first experience on the mission field and I felt like I was working directly in God’s service among the heroes of the faith. It was a neat thing to be walking among (spiritual) giants.


*  TCK:  "third-culture kid"