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Evangel University: ‘A vine of divine planting’

By Scott Harrup

The ’dozer had no trouble with the wooden framework, but the concrete floor and supports were a bigger challenge. Its diesel engine strained and the blade hit cement again. Another ghostly structure from Evangel University’s past was crumbling to make way for a new building.

Students walking nearby stopped to watch. When their grandparents were young adults this was home to O’Reilly Army Hospital, which treated 44,000 soldiers between 1941 and 1952. In 1955, a major portion of the land was made available to the Assemblies of God. That fall, Evangel held classes for the first time.

It was a new direction for the Assemblies of God, which had promoted Christian education throughout its history and sponsored Bible colleges and institutes across the country. Evangel was the first Pentecostal liberal arts college chartered in America.

"I never want to take for granted what I believe so strongly," says President Robert Spence. "Evangel is a vine of divine planting; it is not the creation of a person or a committee or even a movement. It is an instrument that God himself brought into being."

Evangel has pursued a mission distinct from its sister education centers. Here, students can prepare for ministry in churches or on the mission field. But they can also pursue training for numerous careers at the highest proficiency levels. More than 80 majors — from biology to criminal justice to special education — offer Evangel students the tools they need in order to serve as Christian professionals.

That flexibility of purpose is reflected in every class. Students discuss with Professor Milt Krans the role of tradition during a Pastoral Ministry lecture. How does a pastor lead his or her congregation in Communion, for example? Students describe very different church traditions, all enacting the same expression of worship.

"Whether you’re going to have some alternative methods of having Communion," Krans tells them, "or whether you’re going to follow tradition, you need to practice wisdom."

For Brendan and Lisa Gallagher, recently married and about to graduate, Krans’ semester of instruction has become another piece in the mosaic of their ministry preparation.

"Sometimes our traditions get in the way of letting the Lord use us in any way He chooses," Brendan says.

"We look forward to a lot of opportunities to work with unchurched youth," Lisa says.

Krans’ class is in one of the few remaining O’Reilly structures. Across campus in the new academic building, one of four new buildings on campus in the past four years, students file into a brightly lit lecture hall for Dr. Elizabeth Fletcher’s Senior Marketing Seminar. No Bibles, but plenty of practical biblical instruction in navigating the secular business world.

"Giving a tip acknowledges that someone has given you excellent service," Fletcher says, discussing an upcoming trip when students will interact with waiters, bellhops and other hotel personnel. "I don’t want us misrepresenting Evangel or misrepresenting Christ."

"I knew Evangel had a very strong business program," says Melissa Mequet after class. "My major is business education, so part of that is working with high school students. I think one of the most beneficial things is being an example to them and including in the class moral issues where you can."

Stephanie Patterson, early childhood and elementary education major, agrees. While sharing the gospel is not possible in a public classroom, living the gospel is. "My education classes were centered around Christ and how to teach and how to love the kids through Christ’s eyes," she says.

Evangel students come from around the world to pursue their education, and minister internationally as a vital part of their college experience.

"I’m Filipino," says Maureen Daco. "I worked at the admissions office for a couple of years and I know the admissions team has a heart to expand the minority population here." A psychology major, Daco plans to pursue a career in marriage, family and child counseling.

"We’ve had a continuing growth over the last couple of years in missions emphasis," says Campus Pastor Dwight Colbaugh. "Assemblies of God Foreign Missions invited a team of our students to go to Bosnia with faculty. Another team was sent to Thailand. We have a lot of students who want to come in and be non-traditional missionaries."

Dr. Eliezer Oyola, a 25-year veteran at the university, has integrated the missions fervor of his students with their curriculum. After studying medieval pilgrimages with his Spanish class, he put together a summer trek following a traditional pilgrimage 800 miles across Spain and France.

"I told the students to be sensitive because there would be people doing the pilgrimage for religious reasons," Oyola says. "They would be looking for answers, and we had the answer. We met a lot of people from Britain, France, Italy, Portugal and many parts of the world. We had many opportunities to share the gospel."

As students become tools of the gospel’s transforming power, they see their own lives changed as well.

"Evangel has made me go beyond what I had ever thought about things theologically," says Jessie Kuhns. She is a senior biblical studies major who has led numbers of student outreaches. "It’s forced me to really look and examine what I believe and integrate that with my life."

John Dorlon says the university has made him the person he is. "I want to go into ministry as a children’s pastor," he says. The choice seems incongruous with the size of an offensive lineman on a Crusader football scholarship. But his voice is gentle and warm. "Evangel helps temper your faith, like tempered steel, so when you’re challenged in the real world with why you believe what you believe, you’re able to stand and prove and back up what you say."

As seniors look back on four years of Evangel’s shaping of their lives, they reaffirm that the experiment the Assemblies of God undertook nearly 50 years ago has been abundantly successful.

"I’ve just really enjoyed my education here," says graduating senior James Hayes. "There’s a focus on having Spirit-filled Christians out in the world. I’ll be going into the marketplace. Others will be going into the classroom. Everybody is going into full-time ministry. We’ll all be doing full-time ministry; we’ll just be out in the world."

For more than 27 years, President Spence has watched the university blossom, building on nearly half a century of prayer and sacrifice by countless people.

"We are seeing remarkable things done on this campus today that are possible because of an innumerable, unnamed, unknown host of people who have prayed, who have given, who have supported the ministry of Evangel for these 46 years," he says. "And we are eternally grateful for God’s blessings at this time."

Scott Harrup is an associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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