(This is another post detailing my time in northwest Arkansas and at Ecclesia College. If you have no ties to either then you probably won’t appreciate the post. Here is a link to my first post about the trip.)
The weekend went by quickly. Before we knew it, Jana and I were packing up the car to head home. Liam didn’t want to go since he enjoyed playing with his new friends all the time. (I’m sure life in Omaha seems boring now to him.)
On Sunday, we were able to connect with a few more people. We saw Mike and Starla Novak and their three boys (Mike, Sam, Will), Oren sr. and Inez Paris, Nic and Sonya Stice and their daughter (Leah), and Marian Wadkins and her son (Elijah). The biggest shocker was seeing how grown-up Elijah had become. He’s now fifteen years old. Elijah was not even one year old when I first came down to Arkansas. I remember his dad, J.E., introducing his family and talking about Elijah. Crazy. I use to talk with Elijah about Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and he told me he still has the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings collectibles I gave him. That made me smile. He’s quite the young man now. I’m sure J.E. and Marian are quite proud of him.
Of course seeing Mike Novak was fun. It was easy to slip back into conversations we use to have all the time. Yesterday, before we left, we went by the offices one more time. It felt normal to be back in my old office talking to Mike as the chaos of Communications/Advancement was all around us. And, there was Mountain Dew available.
When we were at the campus yesterday it was great to see how alive it was. Students bustling about the place. (That will happen when you have 130+ full-time students and 230+ students all together.) The last few years I was on staff there I sometimes have jokingly referred to as “the dark ages”.
(Going into the details about this time period and what led up to it would take a long time to explain. I’ll encapsulate quickly.)
In 2001 the ministry went through a split when a number of people didn’t agree with the refined vision and direction Oren was leading Ecclesia College in as he attempted to modernize and adapt to the changing world and culture. For a long time the college was affiliated with Youth With A Mission (YWAM), however as the years went by what Ecclesia College was trying to do and accomplish seemed to clash with YWAM traditions and orthodoxy. The reasons varied from Oren wanting to pay salaries, to encouraging people to continue their education which ran counter to the YWAM ethos at the time. (I don’t know if YWAM, as a whole, is still like this.) A number of pro-YWAM staff left, not in agreement with his actions, but unfortunately a faction of those that left tried to do everything possible to ruin Ecclesia College as well. One thing to not agree with someone or something and leave peacefully, quite another to maliciously attack someone or something. Some of those doing the attacking did it representing YWAM, and unfortunately a number of YWAM leaders stood idly by as it unfolded before them. Ecclesia College ended its partnership with YWAM in early 2003.
They say time can heal all wounds. I don’t think that’s true, but in this case time has brought some perspective. Loren Cunningham, the founder of YWAM, hand delivered a letter of apology to Oren awhile back for the attacks that were directed at him, his family and Ecclesia College. A few others in YWAM have been held accountable for their malicious actions toward Ecclesia College by Loren and other YWAM leaders. While it was a bit late, it still was good that it was done. After all the junk Jana and I endured, I was glad to hear about what Loren did. It would’ve been easy for YWAM leaders to forget what occurred and to sweep it all under the rug. I’m glad that didn’t happen. Hearing what Loren did restored a small measure of respect and hope in YWAM again.
A number of people that did leave Eccleisa, while “burning bridges”, have come back to Ecclesia wanting to reconnect. A number of them have also apologized to Oren, having received a taste of their own medicine when they found themselves in leadership positions. Oren always took the high road. He consistently did this even during and immediately after the split, never resorting to slander or gossip to retaliate. He always blessed them and prayed for those that attacked him. He responded in a Christ-like way when those of us that stayed there with him didn’t always respond in the right way. (My attitude was not always loving and I wanted vengeance at times for the attacks directed at my friends, coworkers, Jana and me.) Oren’s response through it all made an indelible mark on me, and now he is beginning to reap the reward for his consistent gracious and loving actions over the years.
Ecclesia College is not perfect by any stretch of the means. The steel framework of the “new” educational building continues to stand out like an eyesore, but progress is happening on that front. Dealing with their registrar office makes the DMV seem efficient. Their online presence could use an upgrade. The politics still are overtly GOP, but not as bad as before when I was publicly called out, condescendingly, during a staff prayer meeting by praying for then President Clinton in a gracious manner. (This attitude is at a lot of churches. It makes me smile when people I work with now whisper to me they voted for President Obama. Needless to say, I don’t publicly call them out.) It’s not perfect, but Ecclesia College is being restored. Considering I was a part of it for a decade and have many fond memories and friendships from that time, I’m glad to see everything being restored. I’m glad relationships that were once severed are now being restored. I’m glad to see the campus come into the 21st century as opposed to when I was there in the 90’s and people seemed bent on keeping the mindset in the times of The Jesus Movement of the 70’s.
The college has a number of majors, is receiving recognition for what it’s doing, enrollment continues to climb…The acorn was buried in the ground and died, but now has produced an oak tree. (If you’re an alumni you know what I’m talking about there.)
We did manage to see J.E. Wadkins on Monday, which was cool. We also saw Ramona Toth. Both Jana and I worked with her on separate occasions in her home country of Romania.
Everyone I encountered there seemed joyful and upbeat. One person did try and recruit us to come back on staff, which Jana and I expected to happen, but we’re happy where God has us.
Oren and Cari (and Emily!) were great hosts, and their kids were awesome with our boys.
When Jana and I moved up here in 2004 we left when things were just starting to turn, but our last impression was still our last few years there when it was “the dark ages”. Now, my impression is that its going through its own renaissance. It was cool to see and hear firsthand all that is going on there. Hopefully those that have left Ecclesia over the years, for whatever reason, can find a reason to go back and see all God is doing in and through Ecclesia College.