Posts Tagged ‘Oxford’

Yesterday, Sherrylee and I were in Oxford, Mississippi. You may not know that Oxford was our first home as a married couple. Before we went to Germany, I spent two years in Oxford, working for the church as a campus minister while completing my Masters degree in English.  The first year I was there and before Sherrylee and I were even in love, I lived with Doug and Cora Beal Shields, one of the elders of the church in Oxford.

Doug was a professor of physics at the University of Mississippi, but his real work in life was the campus ministry, which he had begun, supported, and led because of his passion for the mission of God among the young people who came through Ole Miss.

At that time, campus ministry was mostly  offering fellowship for Christians and in-depth Bible courses. Not only did the Student Center offer regular devotionals, but an evening meal and a place to just hang out—I’m not sure that’s what we called it then, but that’s what we did.

Doug had bigger and better dreams though.  First, he raised the funds and built a dormitory for Christian students.  Ole Miss is a top-tier party school, so his experience was that students who came and stayed in the university dorms usually ended up in the parties instead of the devotionals.  Even he moved away from the idea of sheltering Christian students years later, but at the time, this was a very ambitious dream for a small campus ministry.

But his second dream was much bigger—almost shocking.  He asked the church to hire a campus evangelist—someone whose sole task was to go on campus, find students who wanted to find faith, and then study the Bible with them.  This person would also minister to the Christian students on campus and try to involve them in the local campus ministry and/or local church activities.

What was shocking for 1968 is that the first campus evangelist the church hired was a young woman!  Sandra Purkey took the first position—which had to be called women’s counselor to avoid having female ministers.  In 1969, I was hired then to be a campus minister for the male students.

Sherrylee and I married in April 1971 and moved into a small, back porch apartment in Oxford. She took her courses and I finished my thesis, then we left for Germany in September.  The Oxford Church of Christ supported us for all of our eight years in Germany.  That was forty years ago!

Now Doug and Cora Beal are in their mid-eighties, a little slower, a few health concerns, but the primary topic of conversation when you visit them is the same: the kingdom of God!  They want to talk about the new approach to campus ministry; they talk about trying to heal the wounds of a church rift several years ago.  They want to tell us about their FriendSpeak program, reaching out to international students at Ole Miss.

The word that kept coming to mind as I thought about them was perseverance, the willingness to continue to work and dream in spite of difficulty, in spite of setbacks—to do whatever it takes to bring glory to God in the place where you are.

But more than just persistence, I admire their willingness to do it for their entire lives! Doug had a full academic career, even serving as an assistant dean for several years at Ole Miss. He is a recognized scholar, but his life was only about God!  He retired from teaching and research, but he has never taken one step backwards from his passion for the mission of God. And Cora Beal is even more vocal, just as passionate, and right there leading the way in her own right.

Someone said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”  That is Dr. and Mrs. Shields of Oxford, Mississippi.

I would like to live my whole life working as hard and focused in the mission of God as Doug and Cora Beal Shields.

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