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Baptist presence made official at Church of God university

CLEVELAND, Tenn. (BP)–Persistence finally paid off for Steve Roper, a collegiate ministries specialist with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
For about a decade, Roper, campus minister at Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College, saw the need for an official Baptist work on the campus of Lee University, the only institution of higher education owned by the Church of God denomination based in Cleveland, Tenn.
“I was convinced there was a need to develop a community to Baptist students there,” Roper said, noting over the years several students approached him about beginning an official Baptist ministry on the Pentecostal denomination’s campus.
“What I have seen is a steady increase of Baptist students there. It’s a good school with a good Christian environment,” Roper observed. He estimated there are now about 400 Baptist preference students at Lee, comprising as much as 15 percent of the university’s student population.
During the last four years there has been a nominal Baptist presence on campus, Roper said, through efforts led by First Baptist Church, Cleveland.
Roper said students in his ministry at Cleveland State would transfer to Lee, but come back to Cleveland State collegiate ministry activities. “We felt we needed to create an emotional place for those students at the school they attended,” he said.
Meanwhile, Roper was patient and tried to take advantage of any opportunity to discuss a ministry at the school with Lee University officials. “We don’t go where we are not invited. We try to build a relationship [with school officials] where they are glad to have a partnership.”
About a year and a half ago, Roper said, two Lee students, led by Emmanuel Cosian, came to him and said they wanted an official presence on campus. “We made a covenant together. I told them I would do what I could to help,” Roper said.
He encouraged them to do what they needed to convince school officials to let them begin a Baptist ministry on campus.
“Emmanuel was persistent and was given a hearing with school administrators. He tried to help them understand who we are and assured them we would not proselytize,” Roper said.
Roper, who became involved, noted “we tried to help them understand who we are as Baptists. What we found was we didn’t understand them and they didn’t understand us.
“But we both wanted what was best for the students. They wanted their Baptist students to be encouraged in their faith without compromising who they are as an institution,” Roper said.
As a result of those meetings, Lee University gave approval for the organization last fall. Several of the faculty who are Baptists are serving as sponsors, including Carlanna Gill of First Baptist Church, Cleveland, said Roper, who is now officially recognized by the university as a student adviser.
Roper credited Lee officials with “showing trust where none has been earned yet.”
Slowly, the student ministry at Lee has begun to grow from the handfull of students who first met in the fall.
At a December meeting at Gill’s house, Roper and other students met to see where the ministry needed to go and what needed to be done. “We needed students to provide leadership and share responsibilities so we could do more,” he said.
Students have responded well, Roper said, noting one meeting in January drew more than 20 students. They recently elected officers and were able to fill six positions needed.
“We have gone from two students who did everything to 10 or 11 who are now sharing leadership.”
The future of the Baptist ministry on the Lee campus, which also is supported by Bradley County Baptist Association, is bright, Roper said. “The potential is there because of the Baptist population on campus.”
Roper does not take credit for the ministry other than being persistent. “If you believe something is right, God, in his own timing, will bring it to pass.”
The collegiate ministry leader is grateful to Lee University officials. “I appreciate the trust they have shown. Our job now is to show that trust was justified.
“We must show the best of who we, as Baptists, are,” he said.

    About the Author

  • Lonnie Wilkey

    Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

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