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If my wife Katie has taught me one thing, it’s this: making room for recreation is making room for relationship. In a moment, I’ll ask you to help Ozark make that kind of room, but first, grain bins and swimming pools…
With her gift of hospitality, my wife Katie loves designing spaces that welcome people. When we remodeled our house in 2007, she built a huge living room that has hosted over a thousand people the last fourteen years. As a children’s minister, Katie designed our church’s new playground last year (including a massive “Jesus boat”) that has already drawn several new families. But her best creation is still our backyard swimming pool…
Katie loves to swim, so when her agribusiness brother offered her a free grain bin, she borrowed a backhoe, dug a deep end in our backyard, and built a swimming pool with it. (Yes, a grain bin swimming pool. Our friends and presidential predecessors Ken and Kaylene Idleman are distinguished and regal—a true Christian gentleman and lady—but Katie and I are full rednecks. As Katie once said, “They’re Ken and Barbie. We’re Raggedy Ann and Andy.”) We even rigged a homemade zipline across the yard that drops into the pool.
The pool is humongous. The steel grain bin is 36 feet across and holds over a quarter-million pounds of water. (My son Conrad dubbed it “the Metal-terranean Sea.”) Over the last five years, that pool has welcomed hundreds of people, and this summer, it will be filled with floaties, teenage boy basketball games, laughter, and friends old and new. The conversations there will encourage and nourish and sometimes nudge someone closer to Jesus. We’ve had at least four baptisms in that pool so far.
Katie’s instinct is right: making room for recreation is making room for relationship. We don’t have a swimming pool at Ozark (unless Katie gets another free grain bin). But we do have recreational spaces—like a weight room, cardio fitness room, racquetball court, and basketball court—for three important reasons.
These spaces promote health. “Physical training is of some value,” said Paul in 1 Timothy 4:8, and wise bodily stewardship matters for ministers-in-training. Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a powerful Scottish preacher in the 1800s, but neglecting his health, he died at age 29. On his deathbed, he regretted his disregard for his body: “The Lord gave me a horse to ride and a message to deliver. Alas, I have killed the horse and cannot deliver the message.”
These spaces relieve stress. Recreation is good for the body, but also the mind and soul. OCC junior Colton Cockburn is busy as a student, grounds crew employee, and weekend preacher: “When I need a break from homework, there’s nothing like a good lifting session in the weight room.” When students get stressed, a basketball game or a treadmill run can release God-given endorphins to refresh their spirits.
But here’s the best reason and why I need your help...
These spaces cultivate relationships. When I was a student, missions professor Harvey Bacus would meet my friend Chris McMichael and me every Saturday morning to play racquetball at OCC. The games we played weren’t very good, but the friendship we built was great. Harvey influenced both of us, and maybe it’s no coincidence that Chris became a missionary and I became a professor.
Over the years, I’ve seen professors like Mark Moore and Peter Buckland lifting with guys in the weight room, staff members like Dawn Lahm and Sara Hill leading girls in cardio workouts, and deans like Chad Ragsdale and Shane Wood playing students in intramural basketball and volleyball. I saw professor Kenny Boles gently humiliate every student that challenged him in racquetball. Like that grain bin pool, the conversations in those spaces encourage and nourish and sometimes nudge a student closer to Jesus.
Katie’s right: making room for recreation is making room for relationship. Over the next few months, we’d like to improve Ozark’s recreational spaces, and we need your help…
We’ve got three projects planned to improve OCC’s recreational spaces, one inside and two outside:
- Upgrade our weight room. It’s a converted racquetball court with older equipment. Our motto is “excellence without extravagance.” So while we’re not aiming to be Planet Fitness, we’ll upgrade our facility to match the quality of the high school weight rooms our students used.
- Outfit a pickleball court. What’s pickleball? The fastest-growing sport in the US! It’s like ping pong on a tennis court (but easier to learn than tennis). We’ll convert the area next to our tennis court for pickleball, and students are already excited.
- Build a Turkey Creek bench area. Though beautiful Turkey Creek runs across campus, we have no benches there for students to study, pray, talk, or just enjoy the view. We’ll add outdoor seating to make our property’s most picturesque spot more welcoming.
The total cost for these projects is $38,000. Would you consider a gift to help create and improve these spaces?
When I was a high schooler, Ozark professor Bud Clapp preached at my week of church camp. In one afternoon basketball game, I guarded Bud (who has a shriveled arm from childhood polio). To my surprise, this “disabled” middle-aged guy zipped a few beautiful passes right past me, nailed a jump shot in my face, smiled, and said, “Bet you weren’t expecting that.” I didn’t know Bible college professors were allowed to trash talk! (In Christian love, of course.)
I listened to his sermon that night with new respect because of the connection made on that basketball court. Recreational spaces really do foster relationships. Would you give a generous gift to create spaces for those relational connections to happen?
Thank you for considering a gift toward this $38,000 project, and the next time you’re in Joplin, I hope you’ll visit campus to sit by Turkey Creek or pick up a pickleball paddle. We’re grateful for your partnership in training men and women for Christian service!
Yours in Christ,
P.S. When the Lord wanted to walk with Adam and Eve, he built a garden. Ozark’s recreational spaces aren’t Eden, but God can even use weight rooms and grain bin pools to draw folks closer to him. Thanks again!