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OBU global outreach center to be named for Avery Willis

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SHAWNEE, Okla. (BP)–Linking Oklahoma Baptist University’s tradition of global involvement with the vision and leadership of an outstanding alumnus, the university has launched the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach.

Named for Avery T. Willis Jr., retired International Mission Board senior vice president for overseas operations, the center is designed to unify academic study and hands-on field experience and to provide a structure for OBU students and alumni to benefit from Willis’ longtime experience, university officials said in a news release.

Willis, a 1956 OBU graduate, and his wife, Shirley, served as missionaries to Indonesia for 14 years before returning stateside in 1978. Widely known for his work in creating the “MasterLife” discipleship materials, Willis headed adult discipleship programs for LifeWay Christian Resources before moving to the IMB’s administrative staff in 1993. He retired in 2004 and has since moved to Bella Vista, Ark., in his native state.

“Dr. Willis has the perfect blend of a missionary call, a commitment to discipleship and education, and the broad scope of missions administration,” Bob Dawson, OBU’s WMU professor of missions, said. “He is ideal to provide guidance and vision for our work, locally, nationally and globally.

“Avery has often said he is just an ‘ordinary guy from Lepanto, Ark.,’ who was willing to answer God’s call to missions. We have seen God use him in ways that could not have been imagined,” Dawson said. “Our desire is to provide an outstanding collection of resources and opportunities for others who are willing to take that step of faith.”

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Willis said he is “overwhelmed that they would name the Global Outreach Center after me. However, the decisions that shaped my life were made there while a student and I am grateful to God that I will have the opportunity through OBU to influence students, churches, future missionaries and Great Commission agencies to finish the task God has given us.”

While he will not be an OBU employee, Willis will be involved in developing the structure and leadership of the center. During the 2005-06 academic year, the initial year of the center’s operation, Willis will serve as OBU’s Herschel H. Hobbs Scholar-in-Residence.

Since his retirement, Willis has continued active work in missions, traveling internationally approximately 25 weeks per year. He serves as a consultant to missionaries, as well as chairman of Epic Partners, a coalition of global missionary organizations, including the IMB, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Campus Crusade for Christ and Youth With A Mission. He also is the executive director of the International Orality Network, a partnership of major missions organizations committed to using oral strategies such as “chronological Bible storying” as a means of evangelizing and discipling approximately 70 percent of the world’s population which is functionally illiterate.

“The Willis Center will play a key role in helping to advance the orality movement,” Dawson said. “Our students will be able to build on their missions involvement and learn from cutting-edge leaders in orality outreach.”

OBU administrators emphasized that the center will offer multiple outlets for missions and service, including expanded academic offerings and an outlet for “think-tank” creativity. The center was developed through the work of Dawson; Michael Martin, dean of OBU’s school of Christian service; and M. Dale Griffin, OBU campus minister. They envisioned a center which would “equip students for vocational Christian service any place on the globe; help students, faculty and staff to develop and live out a missions lifestyle; and serve as a resource center and training facility” for varied constituents as they prepare for short-term volunteer assignments.

The center also is structured to provide missiological research tools for students studying missions and those preparing for volunteer assignments; to serve Baptists in Oklahoma through missions conferences and developing missions education resources; to provide and coordinate both domestic and international short-term service opportunities for students, faculty and staff; and to link students to ongoing local outreach experiences in Shawnee, where OBU is located, and surrounding communities.

“We want to provide our students with unprecedented resources for global outreach,” Martin said. “OBU has a solid reputation for missions and service involvement as well as academic preparation which prepares students for lives of ministry and leadership. By coordinating these efforts through a single center, we can build on our past success and be a resource center for innovation in global missions involvement.”

OBU, founded in 1910, has participated in various international missions and service programs throughout its history. Students have worked in projects in conjunction with local churches, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and the IMB. The university entered a partnership with China’s Xinjiang University in 1987 and has sent faculty-led teams of approximately 10 students to teach English at that institution for 15 of the past 17 years. Dawson said the Willis Center will give OBU leadership the opportunity to expand such programs in China, as well as increase international service opportunities in other countries.

According to International Mission Board data, OBU currently leads the nation in the number of recent graduates serving in the IMB’s Journeyman program, with more than 30 OBU alumni at work through the board’s two-year international service ministry.

University officials said the international involvement is an outgrowth of a vision presented to students while they are on the OBU campus.

“OBU has sought to equip students for service and missions since our founding,” said Mark Brister, the university’s president. “The Willis Center gives us a resource to build from a strong base and expand our outreach programs in our community, state and nation, as well as bolster a strong global presence.”

Willis said that, through the new center, “OBU should be able to add to its illustrious past involvement in missions and expand its influence … to the ends of the earth through local, national, and international missions to the glory of God.”
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Marty O’Gwynn is director of public relations at Oklahoma Baptist University.