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75 Years: Still Focused, Still Faithful

By: President Matt Proctor

After Seventy-Five Years, Seven Things at OCC That Will Never Change

A lot can change in 75 years. 

In 1942, the world was a different place. The average yearly wage in the U.S. was about $1,800. Stamps were 3 cents, Cokes were 5 cents, and a gallon of gas cost you a whopping 15 cents. College students used slide rules instead of calculators, manual typewriters instead of laptops, watched Casablanca in the movie theater instead of on Netflix, and had never even seen a television.

A lot can change in 75 years.

In 1942, a small band of believers gathered in Bentonville, Arkansas—men like nationally known evangelist F.W. Strong and recent seminary grad Seth Wilson—all of them driven by a vision. In Matthew 9, when Jesus saw the crowds lost and helpless, his heart was moved with compassion, and he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (9:37-38). The group in Bentonville dreamed of a college that would prepare workers for the harvest field.

After all, there were still lost souls to be saved, children to be taught, hungry people to feed, wounded souls to love, Scriptures to translate, churches to plant and nations to reach. The need was great. Oh, for more men and women to go into the world with the good news of Jesus! Surely God could use a school dedicated to that very purpose. 

And on June 12, 1942, Ozark Bible College was born.

The One Constant Is Change

But as Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only thing constant is change,” and over the years, Ozark has certainly not stayed the same. In the early days, OCC students used a rotary phone to connect with an operator. Then our dorms went from payphones on every floor (remember waiting forever while some guy talked with his girlfriend?) to push-button phones on every desk to smartphones in every pocket. Of course, a few other things have changed as well:

We relocated our campus. Today Bentonville, Arkansas, is one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country—home to the world’s largest company (Wal-Mart), a world-class art museum, a 10,000-seat concert venue, and a high-traffic airport. But back in the 1940s, Bentonville was just a sleepy little town, and in 1944 the Ozark trustee board decided it would never amount to much. So they moved the college to Joplin. (Clearly they were preachers, not prophets.)

We grew our student body. With greater access on Route 66, more supporting area churches, and lots of part-time employment for students, the move to Joplin turned out to be a wise one. Word began to spread. From 16 students, the student body grew to 50, then 100, then 200. In 1963, Ozark moved from a large house on North Wall Street in Joplin to our present campus on North Main Street, where we grew to 300, then 400, then 500 and beyond. Last fall, we welcomed over 600 students. 

We changed our name. For 43 years, the college sign read Ozark Bible College—which led to inevitable jokes about Ozark Bridal College. (Each fall, within only a few weeks, the campus looked like Noah’s Ark—everybody walking around two-by-two. The college was a microwave for romance.) But in 1985, Ozark merged with Midwest Christian College and adopted Midwest’s middle name to become Ozark Christian College. (Of course, the new initials OCC lent themselves to a new nickname—Ozark Couple’s College. Some things never change.)

We revised our curriculum. Ozark was training men and women to serve the church, but as the needs of the churches changed, so did the classes offered. Whereas students used to learn to share the gospel through Chalk Art Ministry, today in classes like Worship Technology, they learn to share Christ using the latest software.

A lot can change in 75 years.

Finding Middle C

But some things never change.

When Lloyd Douglas, bestselling author of The Robe, was a university student, he lived in a boarding house. On the floor below him lived an elderly, retired music teacher, now infirm and unable to leave the apartment, but every morning the two men had a ritual. Douglas would come down the steps, open the old man’s door and ask, “Well, what’s the good news?”

The old man would pick up his tuning fork, tap it on the side of his wheelchair and say, “That’s middle C! It was middle C yesterday, it will be middle C tomorrow, it will be middle C a thousand years from now. The tenor upstairs sings flat, the piano across the hall is out of tune, but that, my friend, is middle C!”

We all need something we can count on, a truth upon which we can depend, a “still point in a turning world” (T.S. Eliot). For Christians, the one unchanging reality—the absolute in which there is no shadow of turning—is Jesus Christ. He is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8).

For Ozark Christian College, there are also a few other things that, by God’s grace, will always remain the same. In honor of our 75th anniversary, here are 7 things at OCC that will never change:

“Training Men and Women for Christian Service”

Founded in 1636, Harvard University’s original purpose was to train pastors. But over the decades, the university drifted from its mission, and in 1701, a group of New England ministers started a new ministerial training college called Yale University.

Founded in 1938, Christian Children’s Fund’s original purpose was to share food, education and the gospel with orphans worldwide. After inventing the concept of child sponsorship, the ministry grew to one of the nation’s 100 largest charities. But over time, they lost their Christian identity, and in 2009, they changed their name to ChildFund International.

Founded in 1942, Ozark Christian College’s mission was to train men and women for Christian service. Over the years, we have certainly faced challenging seasons—a financial crisis or a personnel crisis or an enrollment crisis. But we have never had an identity crisis. We know who we are. We are called by God to be a Bible college, and we have not wavered. After 75 years, we are still focused on one mission: training men and women for Christian service.

May that never change.

“Teaching the Word of the Christ in the Spirit of Christ”

Our curriculum is divided into general education, professional education and biblical education. People often give me suggestions on classes we should require—usually in the areas of general education (Accounting 101) or professional education (How to Organize a Sports Ministry). Though many are good ideas, if we included every suggestion, our students would need eight years to graduate instead of four!

So which classes should make it on the required list? Our Bible college accrediting agency mandates 30 hours of required Bible classes. But at Ozark, we require 50 Bible hours—mostly straight-up exegetical classes like Acts, Romans, 1-2 Timothy and Titus. We are out of the norm, even among Bible colleges. Should we cut a Bible class or two for something more “practical”?

While we want our students to take general and professional classes, we want the most generous helping on their educational plate to be biblical classes, and we will guard those curriculum hours like a cherubim with flaming sword. One of Ozark’s longtime mottoes is “teaching the Word of Christ in the Spirit of Christ” because a mind full of God’s Word, a heart formed by God’s Word—these are the most important preparations for ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

May that never change.

“Go and Make Disciples of All Nations”

When Ozark moved to Joplin’s North Main Street in 1963, the first building erected on campus was named the Missions Building. (It’s still our main classroom building.) That was not by accident. The leadership was making a statement: Jesus’ last command would be our first priority. In Matthew 28, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” and Ozark would emphasize a heart for global evangelism.

So before the first shovelful of dirt was turned, President Don Earl Boatman, Academic Dean Seth Wilson and Missions Professor Woody Phillips knelt on that patch of ground and prayed, “Lord, the harvest is still plentiful, and the workers are still few. Use this college to send out laborers into your harvest field.” Their prayer has been answered. Over the past 75 years, Ozark alumni have carried the good news of Christ to all 50 states and over 100 countries, and our commitment to God’s global mission remains as strong as ever.

May that never change.

“Not to Be Served, But to Serve”

Ozark’s third president, Don Earl Boatman, was wonderfully down-to-earth. One day Gale Butler, wife of Professor P.T. Butler, called the college: her husband was traveling, their pipes had sprung a leak, and she needed the name of a plumber. Shortly President Boatman himself appeared at her front door—white dress shirt, sleeves rolled up, tie thrown back over his shoulder, pipe wrench in hand—and proceeded to fix the leak. He took the motto on the college seal seriously: “Not to be served but to serve.”

That’s the kind of leader I want to be. (Though when it comes to plumbing, I’ve got the will, but not the skill.) At Ozark, we still want to train servant leaders—men and women who follow the example of a Christ who washed his disciples’ feet (John 13). We want to send them into the world with a Bible in one hand and a basin and towel in the other.

May that never change.

“Not a One-Man School”

As a student, I was in awe of Ozark’s founding academic dean, Seth Wilson. His knowledge of Scripture was legendary, but when the college bought its first property in Bentonville, Seth also knew how to sand and refinish the floors, paper the walls, and roof the buildings. In addition to professor and academic dean, Seth Wilson also served—at varying times—as librarian, typesetter, custodian, public relations field-man, bookstore manager, mechanic and magazine editor. The man could dissect a Greek text, quote vast portions of the Bible, overhaul a car engine and direct the college choir—a true Renaissance man. Leonardo da Vinci, meet Seth Wilson.

In Ozark’s early days, he did it all by necessity, but Seth was wise and humble enough to know they needed to build a team. “I told the trustees I wasn’t interested in a one-man school,” remembered Seth. “If you have one man training preachers, they too often take on the limitations of that one man.” So over the years, Ozark students have been shaped by many faithful men and women—folks like Don DeWelt, Wilbur Fields, Tasci King, Harvey Bacus, Jackina Stark, Kenny Boles and Lynn Gardner. 

Though you may not know all the names of our faculty today, folks like Michael DeFazio, Chris DeWelt, Shane Wood, Teresa Welch, Mark Scott, Jessica Scheuermann, Jon Kehrer and Isaac Schade are carrying on Seth Wilson’s legacy of biblical scholarship, service and spiritual fervor. For 75 years, in each generation, God has faithfully brought together a gifted, godly team here to train kingdom leaders.

May that never change.

“An Atmosphere of Grace, Trust and Freedom”

This phrase—one of Ozark’s seven long-held core values—not only adorns a wall in the Casteel Administration Building; it permeates the entire campus environment. Ozark isn’t a perfect place, but it’s a healthy place because grace has been the air we breathe. We accept and love one another, and the leadership has operated with high trust in Ozark’s people. “The more rules you make, the less cooperation you get,” said Seth Wilson, and that atmosphere has encouraged initiative and inspired creativity.

An old proverb says, “Methods are many, principles are few. Methods always change, principles never do.” Over the years, while the college has held firmly to its principles, we’ve never been afraid to try new methods. When Professor Don DeWelt had the idea to start College Press Publishing, the Ozark leadership said yes. When Professor Bob Stacy wanted to start Christ In Youth (CIY), the Ozark leadership said yes. When Meredith Williams wanted to begin a group eventually called Impact Brass & Singers, the leadership said yes.

We continue to try fresh things, like OCC’s NextLevel video resources and our new Creative Arts Academy. This campus culture of trust and freedom has helped produce generations of kingdom pioneers—spiritual entrepreneurs who have launched ministries like Good News Productions, International and Rapha House, who have planted thriving churches and who have blazed new missionary trails around the globe.

May that never change.

“A Jesus School"

When President Ken Idleman planned the Casteel Administration Building, he made sure visitors were greeted immediately in the lobby by a large mural of Jesus welcoming workers into the harvest fields (Matt 9:37-38). Current Academic Dean Doug Aldridge likes to say that Ozark is “a Jesus school,” and he’s right. Christ is at the center of all we do.

He’s at the center of our calendar, as we gather each week in chapel to worship him. He’s at the center of our curriculum, as each student studies his Word—especially his life in the Gospels. He’s even at the center of our campus. On the front porch of the Seth Wilson Library stands an eight-foot-tall statue of Jesus. Students call him “Scary Jesus.” (If you’re leaving the library at night and suddenly glimpse a towering figure in the shadows, you might call him Scary Jesus, too.) The actual title of the statue is Christ Teaching, and on the wall behind the image are the words of Christ, “Come...learn from me” (Matt 11:28-29).

It’s a powerful reminder: Jesus is the one we seek in every decision, the one we study in every class, the one we follow every day. He is the author of Ozark’s story, and for 75 years, he has kept us focused and kept us faithful.

Seth Wilson used to say, “Who we teach you to love is more important than what we teach you to know,” and more than anything else, we want our students to love Christ. We are a Jesus school.

May that never change.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of our college magazine, The Ambassador. Read this and other issues at occ.edu/ambassador.

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