The First Years at Ozark Christian College
My five years at Ozark Christian College are a period in my life to which I look back with nostalgia, thanksgiving and joy. There were struggles, to be sure. At one point, as will be explained, I considered leaving. But even knowing what I do now, I would not hesitate to redo that period of my life. Indeed, it is precisely because of what I learned, and the mentoring I received, that I eventually came to where I am now, on the threshold of the Orthodox Church.
My first three years at Ozark were a mix of discerning my vocation (should I be a missionary, youth minister, pastor, campus minister?), learning how to defend the faith and growing in my ability to read, understand, apply and to teach and preach the Bible. I took three years of Greek, two years of Hebrew, and had exegetical classes in: Mark, John, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, and Revelation; and also took two (of six) semesters of a class entitled the “Life of Christ” which was a synoptic, chronological exegesis of the Gospels. I took a year of Old Testament history, and had a few classes in apologetics. There were ministry classes as well, but this will give a glimpse into the biblical worldview that was being shaped in my mind.
Mine was a fairly normal college experience. I had a few girlfriends while studying there, and went on dates. I rebelled against campus curfews. I played practical jokes on friends. I debated politics and religion with my friends. I played racquetball and went to the gym at the Y. And, seeking my vocation in the churches I was training to serve, spent most weekends as a student youth minister in Stockton, Missouri; later as a student pastor to yoked parishes in Mound City, Kansas.
But through these first three years imperceptible if no less fateful decisions and changes were occuring. First and foremost, I bought in deeply to the “plea” of my churches: to see the life and faith of the New Testament Church made a reality in my lifetime. I very much longed for that which the New Testament-era Christians had: a direct connection to the Church founded by the Apostles.
Secondly, I also bought in deeply to the insistence of my churches that our doctrine and the content of our faith conform to that of the Apostles. I very much longed for an adherence to the original Faith in all its purity.
Finally, the last important element was an insatiable appetite to understand ideas, and the skills to research them. This was to bear fruit in the last two years of college in terms of the papers I wrote and the friends I associated with, but I will write about that later. One early example, was my purchase of a text of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, including Ignatios of Antioch, the Didache, 1 Clement, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Shepherd of Hermas, and so forth. I bought the book during the Christmas holidays of my freshman year. Another example was my Church History class. Though I didn’t keep any papers I wrote for that class, I very much attribute to that class my awareness of such things as the Church Councils, the battle against heresy, the Fathers of the Church and their writings, and so forth.
So by the time I began my fourth, and next-to-last, year at Bible college, the foundations had been laid for the changes that were soon to take place.