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After 30 years of student work, he could do it ‘until I’m 100’

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–Had it not been for a Baptist Student Union, Oklahoma’s longtime Baptist Student Union director’s life might have been much different.

Bob Lee, the ever-youthful Dick Clark of BSU leaders, is celebrating his 30th year as state BSU director this year. Lee came to lead the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s BSU department just three years after it became a separate department. Student work had previously been a part of the religious education department and, earlier, the church music department.

It is because of the work of a Baptist Student Union that Lee, a Louisiana native, is a Baptist today. After surrendering to the ministry in a Methodist church, Lee enrolled at Louisiana State University. He said he was disenfranchised with his denomination, and through the BSU at LSU he became a Baptist. From there he transferred to Louisiana College, a Baptist institution, where he met his future wife, Nancy, the first day on campus.

At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Lee was just to about to graduate when he received a call from Murray Fuquay, then pastor of First Baptist Church, Midwest City, Okla., offering him a job as associate pastor.

Lee said he had never been in Oklahoma and didn’t know where Midwest City was. But he took the job, was there two years and then was called as pastor of First Baptist Church, Perry, Okla.

While at Perry, the job of BSU director at Oklahoma State University opened. Lee was recommended for the position by the BSU’s president and secretary who were members of his church. He turned the job down twice.

Then T.B. Lackey, then BGCO executive-treasurer, met Lee at a meeting and told him, “We really need you at OSU. Have you prayed about it?”

Lee admitted he really hadn’t put much effort into that prayer, and Lackey said he would covenant with Lee to pray about it.

Shortly thereafter, Lee was BSU director at OSU.

Lee said he learned his job at OSU by visiting with other BSU directors. At the time, he said, directors were paid by local churches and associations, and many directors held other part-time jobs to support their families.

When Lee became state BSU director three years later, there were eight full-time directors, none of whom was paid by the state convention.

“One day I was riding to Falls Creek [assembly grounds] with Joe Ingram [who succeeded Lackey as BGCO executive director], and he told me he wanted to take a whole new direction with BSU work, make it available to more students,” Lee said, “and he asked me how to do that.”

Lee told Ingram the first step was to bring the directors on the state convention’s staff and pay them so they didn’t have to have jobs on the side.

Lee said one of his first tasks was to begin work with associations to bring directors on the BGCO staff, which took about two years to accomplish. The first director Lee hired was Charles Lillard at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, who is now director at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.

He also worked with the North American Mission Board to bring Langston University into the fold, and it became a model for BSU work among black colleges and universities.

Lee said when he started state convention work, there were eight full-time BSU directors in the state; today there are 45. In 1971, there were 20 BSU buildings, and some of them were converted houses. Today there are 31 buildings on campuses across the state, and some of them have doubled their capacity. There was work on 23 campuses; today BSU work exists on 40 campuses.

“All but colleges supported by other denominations have BSU work today,” Lee said.

Lee said there was some summer mission work going on in 1971 that included sending about 15 students to sites around the country.

“It was a bold adventure to send someone to Hawaii or Europe,” he said. Yet just 30 years later, some 170 students from Oklahoma colleges and universities are serving on six continents.

“We started talking with directors about what we wanted to do in the area of missions,” Lee recounted. “We wanted a broader vision which would touch the U.S. and do more across the oceans. We challenged ourselves to get off high center and set some goals.”

In the early days, there was a lot of competition among campuses to see who could raise the most money for summer missions, Lee said, noting that today each campus sets its own summer missions goal.

Oklahoma is also the only state that has a definitive program to help BSU work in new convention areas, Lee noted.

“We’ve been doing that for about 25 years,” he said. “We send about 40 percent of what the students raise for missions to BSU work in new convention areas.”

Lee added that over the years, he has seen a definitive move among students to share the gospel, and campuses have invested in training in personal evangelism.

Lee emphasized that BSU work in Oklahoma has been a team effort.

“If we’ve accomplished anything in BSU work in the state, it’s because churches and associations have been there to enable and empower us,” he said. “And we have committees which function and make decisions. The buck stops here, but I rely heavily on others in all areas.”

He noted that his mentors have been directors who were in place when he started in BSU work — Max Barnett at the University of Oklahoma; John Heath at Southeastern Oklahoma State, who retired June 1; Jim Morrison at Southwestern Oklahoma State; and John Burns at the University of Central Oklahoma.

“Those guys are still fresh and learning,” Lee said. “They have as much zeal and desire as the first day I met them.”

Lee said his plans are to retire at the end of the school year in 2004, and he would advise his successor to listen to what students and directors are saying: “You can stay in your office and think you’re doing something, but you are missing what’s going on out there,” he said. “That’s why I visit every campus at least once a year.”

Even in retirement, Lee said he will probably continue in BSU work. “I have already been asked to help with work in pioneer areas, and I might consider working short-term assignments in England or Canada.”

Lee said even after 30 years his work has never gotten old.

“Every year we have a new crop of students, new people to work with,” he noted. “There is a challenge every year. I love what I’m doing, and could do this until I’m 100.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: LONG TIME CO-WORKERS.

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  • Dana Williamson