Posts Tagged ‘Christian Colleges’

I just spent a couple of days on the campus of Ohio Valley University, a small liberal arts university established by Churches of Christ over fifty years ago in Parkersburg, West Virginia.  In spite of its longevity, many members of Churches of Christ have probably never heard of this college because it is far removed from the mother lode of churches in the Bible belt states and because OVU does not really compete for students with the bigger universities like ACU, Harding, Lipscomb, Pepperdine, Oklahoma Christian, and Lubbock Christian.

It’s been a bad season for our smaller colleges/universities. Western Christian in Regina, Canada, just closed permanently. Not long ago Columbia Christian/Cascade College in Portland, Oregon, took down its flag.  York College (York, Nebraska) went to the brink, but seemingly has turned the corner and is resurging—for which we should all be very thankful!  These smaller institutions serve the fellowship of churches in a very important way:

  • They often serve students in areas where churches of Christ are not numerous. Educating their students in this areas reduces the number who migrate to the Bible belt—which just makes those smaller churches even smaller.
  • They serve students who want or need a more intimate environment for higher learning than they would get even at our larger institutions. At OVU, I spoke to two  first-year classes with six students in each one and one upper level course with about 15. (Of course, smaller classes are both a blessing and a curse for these schools who depend heavily on student tuition for survival.)
  • At smaller schools, a student can be on the soccer team, sing in the choir, be in a social club, be in student government, and be a part of a LST mission team that makes plans to go to China!
  • At smaller schools, students receive more personal mentoring from their professors and from the school staff. At OVU, the Executive VP leaves his door open for students to pop in when he is there. There is no secretary between him and the students. I could not get a seat in Harry Ogletree’s office, the dean of Spiritual Formation, because there were so many students hanging out in there. The professors attended a student-organized variety show and ate among students in the cafeteria on Octoberfest night while I was there!
  • I met with the Academic dean Jim Bullock and the director of International Studies Steven Hardy and no matter which student’s name that I mentioned, they not only recognized the name, but they knew the personal story of that student. I was very impressed.

Sure, there are academic programs, social activities, and other experiences that a small school like Ohio Valley University cannot offer, but for many students, not only Christian students, but also others who want a strong, faith-based education, a school like Ohio Valley University provides a uniquely appropriate environment for growing in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and their community.

One more observation:  Dr. Harold Shank, a great preacher and scholar, is the new president of Ohio Valley University. He left a faculty position at Oklahoma Christian because he is from the Northeast and feels a special calling to minister to and support the churches in that region. He and Sally bring an unsurpassed passion to a very difficult task, but great people have never shirked great challenges.

Dr. Shank has begun bringing other good people to Ohio Valley, people who have the same missional heart for the task.  Jeff Dimick left southern California and his job in rocket engineering just five years short of qualifying for his pension to become the Executive Vice-President for Dr. Shank.  Jeremy Jacoby joined the team as VP for marketing and recruiting.  In conversations with these men, both talked mostly about how important it was for the school to continue as a beacon of light.

Then there are also those professors and staff members who have served this school for many years, through the few fat and the many lean years—I met several, but if I start to list them I’ll probably leave the most important ones out.

As with churches, so with Christian schools and colleges, there should be no competition among light houses!  Thank God for all who minister at these schools.  We should do more to support them!

God bless Ohio Valley University!

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The Original Entrance to Harding University

A trip to Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, is always a bit nostalgic. For four years, this was my home, my community, and my church!  My parents dropped me off at Armstrong Hall in 1965, a couple of days before most freshmen would arrive, so there I was by myself except for the football players who had to report early.

My first class in college was Old Testament Survey under Neil Pryor. He was young, personable, funny, and never forgot your name! He later became the academic dean of the university and a classroom legend.  Dr. Pryor died this week, another saint on the other side.

My freshmen year was also Cliff Ganus’s first year as president of Harding. He inherited the presidency from George S. Benson, another legendary figure in churches of Christ. Dr. Benson had been one of our early missionaries to China, later came to Harding and took it to true collegiate status—then did the same for Oklahoma Christian University.  Dr. Benson stayed heavily involved in African missions, virtually until the day he died.  Cliff Ganus had large shoes to fill, but, in his quietly profound way, he became the heart and soul of Harding.

I saw Dr. Ganus last night at the Harding Lectureship. He and his wife Louise both will turn 90 years-old in the next few months, both still sharp and active. Dr. Ganus reminded me that he first came to Harding as a freshmen in 1939, so he has been a part of the Harding community for 71 years!!!

David Burks followed Dr. Ganus as president of Harding in 1987. His fingerprints are especially obvious on the campus, which has totally been transformed during his presidency. In 1969, the small campus was centered around the Lily Pond and in the years of Dr. Burk’s presidency, the old buildings have been reconstituted, and dozens of beautiful buildings have been built. The small college of my day has become a sprawling university on a beautiful campus.  And Dr. Burk’s is equally as loved by the students as his predecessors!

There are almost 7000 students attending Harding University this year! Sherrylee and I just laughed last night as we were walking out of the Benson Auditorium following the lectureship and award ceremony for Max and Opal Johnson, which I mentioned in the last posting.

In a small, dimly lit alcove near the auditorium, there were a couple of students, dressed in shorts and T-shirts, sitting legs crossed, facing each other.  It wasn’t until I noticed that he had a pen and had started to write on her leg that the couple even caught my attention.

My first thought was, oh boy, Dr. Benson would roll over in his grave if he saw this out in front of his auditorium! Things were very different then. No shorts, no PDA (public display of affection), and light bulbs in every dark corner of the campus!

But what made us laugh came next. Just as we got just even with this couple, we heard the girl say, “No, no, hesed  (which she said with an exaggerated guttural, clearing-her-throat sound) means “unconditional love.”

I don’t know what the context of this conversation was, but where on earth except at a Christian college like Harding would you hear a couple sitting in the dark late at night, discussing the meaning of a biblical Hebrew word?

No doubt, the role of Christian colleges in our fellowship is changing, but I’m very thankful for schools like Harding, where completely committed Christians still spend their entire lives filling up our children and grandchildren with the information about God’s world and faith in the Creator!


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