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COLLEGES: Okla. Baptist Univ. marks 100 years … & news from other schools

SHAWNEE, Okla. (BP)–God planted a vision in the hearts of Oklahoma Baptists for higher education that no tribulation could derail from its century-long history, Paul R. Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, said as Oklahoma Baptist University marked its 100th anniversary.

A Founders’ Day Centennial Chapel celebration, which drew a full audience to Raley Chapel on the Shawnee campus, was highlighted by the presentation of honorary doctor of humanities degrees to Bob R. Agee and John W. Parrish, two longtime OBU administrators, and the premiere of the OBU Centennial Anthem, “Grow in Grace.”

“Today we gather in this magnificent chapel,” Corts said of the landmark building constructed on Bison Hill under the supervision of the university’s longest-tenured president John Wesley Raley. “We’re reminded as we meet here in this wonderful place of God’s faithfulness to Oklahoma Baptist University and His showering of blessings upon it.”

Corts, who served as OBU’s executive vice president from 1978-83, said higher education institutions in the United States originally were founded by Christians determined to unify sound knowledge and learning with a faith-based quest for truth. Today, he said, most of higher education has lost its way, abandoning even the idea of answering students’ questions about the meaning of life or how one should live.

Yet, Corts noted, OBU has remained steadfast to the desire of its founders — such as W.P. Blake, the first chairman of OBU’s trustees, who offered this prayer in 1910 on the ground which would become the university’s campus: “Send down upon the school the rich gift of Thy Good Spirit, that truth may be sincerely sought, faithfully received, and obediently followed.”

“Founded on prayers of those on bended knees, chained to the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, fueled by an openness to know all of God’s truth, Oklahoma Baptists set a very high standard for their university to be an extraordinary place of learning that would honor and glorify the Lord God Almighty,” Corts said.

On Feb. 9, 1910, a certificate of incorporation was issued to The Baptist University of Oklahoma, marking OBU’s official beginning and on Feb. 22, 1911, a large crowd of supporters gathered on Bison Hill to dedicate the laying of the cornerstone of the first building on campus, Shawnee Hall.

The first session of classes began in the fall of 1911 with 150 students. Temporary facilities were used in downtown Shawnee. The student body included men and women who were in college and others in preparatory school. At the close of the 1911-12 school year, nine students received degrees. Soon after, the president, J.M. Carroll, tendered his resignation and recommended the board of trustees temporarily close the school until the buildings on campus could be occupied and debt reduced. The school reopened in 1915 and has operated continuously since.

OBU’s early heroes were “stewards of that sacred trust,” Corts said. “They prayed earnestly, sacrificed in ways we can barely imagine in the affluence of our times, and although lights dimmed on several occasions, with their scrappy determination and God’s favor, they simply would not allow the lights to go out.”

Corts noted that faculty, administration and students all have built on the foundation laid in Jesus Christ 100 years ago to make OBU one of the finest universities of its size and its type in North America.

He shared how God affected his own life during his five-year tenure at OBU. “We joined a litany of persons of faith who ministered here with a humble innocence of our relative youth, and poured our heart and soul into this place,” he said. “God used this place and the people of this place to impact this person, just as God has done with thousands and thousands of individuals, using Oklahoma Baptist University to transform, to shape, to mold our lives into the image and likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Corts, the fifth president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C., previously served as assistant attorney general for administration for the U.S. Justice Department and president of Palm Beach Atlantic University and Wingate University.

The Feb. 10 centennial program also featured special guests E. Eugene Hall, OBU’s 12th president; Mark Brister, OBU’s 14th president; and John Wesley Raley Jr., a 1954 OBU graduate and son of OBU’s eighth president.

Agee, who received one of the honorary doctor of humanities degrees awarded during the ceremony, served as OBU’s 13th president from 1982-98, the second-longest tenure among OBU’s chief executive officers. He led the university to records in student enrollment and achieved significant success in fundraising with three major capital campaigns, resulting in new construction, renovation of existing facilities and growth in endowment for scholarships and academic positions.

During Agee’s administration, OBU began achieving national recognition from U.S. News & World Report. Under his leadership, OBU initiated international programs in China, Russia and Brazil and expanded missions opportunities for students throughout the world. Agee and his wife Nelle, a retired OBU faculty member, live in Jackson, Tenn.

Parrish, OBU executive vice president emeritus, served as OBU’s interim president from November 2007 through October 2008. He came to OBU in 1964 as director of publications and publicity. He also served as an instructor in journalism and student publications adviser.

Through the years, Parrish served as public relations director, alumni director, assistant vice president for development, vice president for institutional advancement, senior vice president for business and external affairs and executive vice president and chief financial officer.

He has served as chair of OBU’s Centennial Committee since 2005 and is in his third tour of duty as the broadcast voice of the Bison basketball team. Parrish and his wife Mary Kay, professor emerita of music, live in Shawnee.

The Centennial Anthem, “Grow in Grace,” is based on a prayer offered by W.P. Blake, a founder of OBU. Music for the anthem was composed by OBU alumna Donna Butler Douglas, who graduated in 1982. Orchestration was provided by C.L. Bass, a 1957 OBU graduate who also served as an OBU faculty member for 12 years.

OBU offers 10 bachelor’s degrees with 83 fields of study. The Christian liberal arts university has an overall enrollment of 1,764, with students from 39 states and 14 countries. OBU has been rated as one of the top 10 comprehensive colleges in the West by U.S. News and World Report for 18 consecutive years and Oklahoma’s highest rated comprehensive college for 16 consecutive years.


Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, received Union University’s M.E. Dodd Denominational Service Award on the Union campus March 2.

Rankin, who will retire July 31 after 17 years at the IMB’s helm, was the featured speaker at the West Tennessee Pastors Conference, held in Union’s Carl Grant Events Center in Jackson.

The Dodd Award is named for the Union alumnus who served as president of the SBC and was the father of today’s Cooperative Program, the method by which Southern Baptists fund their mission efforts nationally and internationally.

The award is given annually to a leader within the SBC who displays excellence and leadership in Southern Baptist life, as well as friendship and commitment to Union University. Past recipients include Jimmy Draper (2004), Adrian Rogers (2005), Morris H. Chapman (2006), Frank Page (2007), Thom Rainer (2008) and R. Albert Mohler Jr. (2009). Union trustees select the award’s recipient each year.

In presenting the award to Rankin, Union President David S. Dockery thanked him for “17 years of outstanding leadership” at the mission board. “Union University has a special relationship with the International Mission Board,” Dockery said, citing the number of IMB missionaries who live at Union every year while on stateside assignment and the number of Union faculty and students who work with IMB personnel on international mission trips each year.

“And over the last 12 years, Union University has sent more graduates on to serve with the International Mission Board than any other Baptist college in the country,” Dockery said. “We have a great desire to continue the relationship with the IMB, but at this time of transition, we wanted to pause and say a special word of thanks to the one who has enhanced that relationship for us in recent years.”

Rankin said after accepting the award that if a university does not prepare its students to relate to the world internationally, its program is not relevant to the future.

“I don’t know anyone that is doing a better job and is more focused on our contemporary world and preparing students for the future — whatever their discipline and their vocational track — with a heart for missions and sharing the Gospel,” Rankin said of Union University. “We’re grateful for that partnership.”


The church that birthed W.A. Criswell’s vision of a school for ministers and lay leaders to study the Bible has relinquished control of the Dallas-based college. The long and complex process of legally separating Criswell College from First Baptist Church in Dallas was finalized Feb. 2 as the college’s trustees ratified legal documents endorsed by both entities.

Since its inception in 1970 as Criswell Bible Institute and its transition to Criswell College, the school has been under the control of First Baptist through the election of trustees by members of the Dallas church. The bylaws stipulated at least 12 of the 21-member trustee board were to be drawn from among FBC members.

At various times the priorities of the church and the school led to differences, prompting changes in key leadership positions at the college. Criswell served as chancellor well beyond his tenure as pastor, remaining in the position until his death in 2002 at the age of 92. Subsequently, that title was bestowed on the pastor of the church.

An interim president, Lamar E. Cooper Sr., has guided the college for the past 17 months, navigating the deliberations of the board and church leadership toward an amicable separation.

Terms of separation were approved by members of the church and the school’s trustees last summer, paving the way for a transition team to draft a Separation and Contribution Agreement. Church representatives signed final documents Jan. 30 before the Feb. 2 trustee meeting.

The joint action calls for the college to become an independent institution with a self-perpetuating board of trustees. Following the separation, the college will continue to be affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the W.A. Criswell Foundation, with these entities each nominating eight of the college’s 21 trustees and five at-large members being named by the college. The trustees then will be responsible for ratifying new members.

One of the key components of the separation arrangement is a change in the status of radio stations currently owned and operated by the college, including KCBI-FM in Dallas, KCRN-AM and KCRN-FM in San Angelo and KSYE-FM in Frederick, Okla. When the separation is completed, the ownership and operation of the radio stations will be transferred from the college to First Media, Inc., a newly formed corporation with Criswell College and First Baptist Church as its sole members. FBC will exercise control over First Media, Inc. through the election of its trustees.

The separation will become official following expected FCC approval of the transfer of the ownership of the radio stations to First Media, Inc. and IRS approval of tax-exempt status for First Media within an anticipated 90-120 day time frame.

Under the new plan, the church will continue operating the radio ministry, utilizing income generated from program support and donors. Cooper, in a letter to alumni, wrote that he anticipates continued promotion of the school through the “Criswell Live” broadcast hosted by humanities professor Barry Creamer. The college also will receive guaranteed annual income from station revenue.

FBC Dallas will no longer elect trustees, according to the agreement, and the role of chancellor, previously occupied by the church’s pastor, is eliminated. Furthermore, the agreement includes a provision specifying that any liquidated assets will be distributed to the W.A. Criswell Foundation to hold in a separate endowment fund reserved solely “for the funding of biblically-based college education with comparable commitments to conservative evangelistic Christianity and biblical inerrancy as presently held and subscribed to by the College.”

Once ownership of the radio stations is transferred to First Media, the college will retain all other assets, continuing operation at its Gaston Avenue location in Dallas to which it moved from downtown in 1991.

Criswell College trustees adopted a resolution recognizing First Baptist Church in the birth and growth of the school, expressing gratitude to the church for its generous support over the past 40 years. The board also commended Cooper for his “steady leadership” during the transition.

According to Cooper, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) granted approval at its December meeting for the college to proceed with the separation. Criswell College is fully accredited by SACS, providing associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, with an estimated 1,800 alumni worldwide.


When a weekend mission trip to New Orleans opened the eyes of a group of University of Mobile students to a world of overwhelming spiritual and physical needs, they couldn’t leave the hurting behind. They organized The New Orleans Project, a student-led ministry to bring hope and the light of Christ to the inner city.

Three years later, the needs are still there. So are UM students.

“People go to New Orleans to run away from their problems, to cover their problems, and they end up desperate, often living on the street for various reasons,” said TNOP co-founder Sarah Kebrdle, a junior majoring in theology from Grove City, Ohio. “The people of New Orleans are hungry for the Gospel, ready for hope, and waiting for someone to bring it to them. Jesus Christ is that hope, and we are going to bring it to them.”

Once a month, a group of UM students makes the three-hour drive from the campus near Mobile, Ala., to downtown New Orleans to spend the weekend in such ministries as aiding the homeless, children’s outreach, evangelism, painting, construction and prayerwalking. The trip is announced through posters and word of mouth weeks in advance and is open to any student. Every person who attends pays $20 to cover the cost of the trip.

“When you go to New Orleans for an entire weekend, you are never going to have the same experience,” Kebrdle said. “You meet new people, and God directs you to work in their lives in a different way. That’s what’s so great about New Orleans; the ability to listen to the direction that God is leading you to get involved in someone’s life.”

The Carver Baptist Center in New Orleans, a small inner-city outreach near the edge of the levees on the south side of town, often has offered TNOP members a safe place to stay without having to pay for a hotel. Meals are simple, consisting of cereal and donuts for breakfast, sandwiches and chips for lunch, and hamburgers and hot dogs for dinner.

“We’re pretty content,” said Will McPherson, co-founder of TNOP. “We try not to focus on ourselves anyway. When you focus on yourself, seemingly little things like complaining and discontentment start to creep in. Then fear of approaching someone on the street can come up, or fear that your time is going to be wasted. Instead, we focus on what we know we are in New Orleans for. Our top priority is to transform peoples’ lives for Christ.”

McPherson, a senior majoring in theology and humanities from Athens, Ala., said this was the vision that started TNOP. Their motto is “Transformation occurs when the needs of people are met by the supernatural offering of people who have gained a Christ-centered perspective.”

McPherson said the words transformation, needs, offering and people form the acronym TNOP.

Neal Ledbetter, University of Mobile campus minister and director of campus life, said the initial trip was part of Urban Plunge, a 48-hour inner-city mission trip held concurrently in several cities throughout the Southeast. Urban Plunge is one of the University of Mobile’s ministry programs designed to provide opportunities for hands-on missions and to develop a personal and passionate response to the Great Commission.

Of particular interest to TNOP students is outreach to the homeless population, with a recent article in USA Today reporting that 12,000 people in New Orleans are homeless, or 4 percent of the population.

“So many people were misplaced by the hurricane and have nowhere to go, so they are left to the streets,” Kebrdle said. “Others have addictions, while others are mentally ill. There are just so many problems we have to deal with every time we go.”

One elderly woman’s home was ruined by Hurricane Katrina, leaving her essentially stranded in its remains. TNOP members found out about her from walking around the neighborhoods and asking if anyone needed help. The students spent the weekend repairing her house and making it livable.

The stories the students hear are both heartbreaking and inspiring. Through their service and witness, students actually see these stories played out in real life.

Sarah Richards, a University of Mobile sophomore psychology major from Pascagoula, Miss., and a regular leader of TNOP, recounted a story of faith of “Mary,” a woman she met on the street.

According to Richards, Mary had been beaten by her husband and son, fired from her job and was alone.

“Mary started telling me about the church that she goes to and how they are so forgiving,” Richards recounted. “My heart broke for her, but at the same time I was so glad she had that community. She has nothing else but God and community. I was able to tell her about how faithful God really is and be a listener at a time when she literally thought she couldn’t take anymore.”


The turning of the calendar page to 2010 signified a new era for Race Track Chaplaincy of America, when it relocated from Inglewood, Calif., to the Georgetown College campus in Georgetown, Ky.

According to its website, RTCA “is an evangelical, interdenominational, Christian organization whose purpose is to minister to those persons involved in all aspects of the horse racing industry.”

The group oversees about 70 chaplains who serve at more than 100 racetracks in the United States. RTCA also has chaplains at tracks in 11 other countries.

RTCA and Georgetown signed a working agreement last year that “provides for the enhancement and facilitates the mission and programs of both organizations,” according to an RTCA news release.

The chaplaincy organization wanted to move to the Bluegrass State for some time, said Enrique Torres, RTCA executive director. The organization, formed in 1971, formerly called Hollywood Park near Los Angeles home.

“In California, we [were] in a corner of the country and we want to be in the middle,” Torres said. “It will be easier to move among our chaplains.”

Paul Ransdell, RTCA’s director of development, said Kentucky’s reputation as the horse capital of the world makes it an ideal place for RTCA. Ransdell, a Kentucky native and Georgetown College graduate, was hired by RTCA in August and maintained an office at Georgetown before the rest of the staff relocated.

“RTCA is in a transformational kind of mode,” Ransdell said. “This is not just a move for RTCA, this is a move up.”

The shift to Georgetown makes sense for the chaplaincy group, Torres said, because of its proximity to so many other racing industry organizations, many of which are headquartered in the state.

RTCA also can tap into the resources of Georgetown College, Ransdell said. Specifically, RTCA holds chaplaincy training each year during its annual meeting. Organizers plan to “draw upon the talent and the expertise of the college in terms of instructors, facilitators and presenters that are either faculty or alumni,” Ransdell said.

Such resources will “help to really bolster the quality of our chaplaincy school and help us ensure that we’ve got better trained, better equipped chaplains doing what they do,” he added.

Georgetown College President William Crouch said the partnership between the school and RTCA is “a perfect fit.”

“They have the chance to interact with — and possibly recruit — some of our students,” Crouch said, specifically noting the college’s Equine Scholars program.

Crouch also explained that RTCA’s presence on campus could expose ministry-led students to chaplaincy and “a Christian-oriented career path that probably none of them had ever thought of.”

Torres said RTCA chaplains do not emphasize denominational affiliation, but rather a “spiritual relationship” with God. “We are trying to move people closer to the Lord,” he said.

The chaplains deal with a great number of needs of men and women — many of them Hispanics — who live and work on the backsides of racetracks. Often these individuals are caught up in alcoholism, drug abuse and pornography, Torres said.

RTCA chaplains provide “healthy entertainment” for workers to get them away from their troubles. The group also provides English as Second Language and GED classes, Internet access so workers can stay in touch with their families in their home countries, and basic necessities such as clothing and food.
Based on reports by Julie McGowan of Oklahoma Baptist University, Tim Ellsworth of Union University, Tammi Reed Ledbetter of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, Matt Dersch of the University of Mobile and Drew Nichter of Kentucky Baptists’ Western Recorder newsjournal.

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