pine needles and ash clung to Michael Tenneson’s long, scraggly
hair. His hands and bearded face were covered in soot from the
forest fire he had been fighting. Normally not self-conscious,
he found himself analyzing everything he wore. The love beads
that dangled from his neck seemed inappropriate. His pants were
ripped and tattered, and his shirt was stained with perspiration
and mud. For a second, he contemplated turning back, but his nagging
curiosity wouldn’t let him.
his way across the parking lot toward the hilltop church that
sat on the edge of John Day, a tiny town in eastern Oregon. He
moved swiftly into the sanctuary looking for his wife, Cheryl,
who had begun attending the church a few months earlier.
first person to make eye contact with him was the pianist. With
their eyes meeting she stopped playing and for a moment he regretted
stepping foot in the place.
must be Mike,” she said leaving her bench. “We’re
so glad you’re here.”
took him by surprise and disarmed any skepticism or doubt he had
carried with him. Though the pastor was a tough-as-nails cowboy
— as were many of the worshippers — and Tenneson was
a free-spirited hippie, he felt unusually at peace in the foreign
environs of a church.
heart broke,” admits Tenneson, 46, now a biology professor
at Evangel University, as we sit in his office. “They offered
open fellowship and genuine caring love. Through their actions
they showed me what an abundant life it is to follow the Lord.”
face is unusually tan for early spring. The tan is a mark of hard
work and a souvenir of sorts from a medical-missions trip he and
nine of his students recently took to Belize with a team of medical
the trip the team set up clinics in Assemblies of God churches
in the villages of Altavista, Dangriga and Belmopan. They spent
long days shadowing doctors as they battled patients’ diabetes,
high blood pressure, aching backs, poor eyesight, parasitic infections,
respiratory problems and malnourishment. The team examined and
treated more than 1,100 people in a week.
of people talk about wanting to be a physician or a nurse, but
until they get hands-on experience they don’t know if they’re
cut out for it,” he says.
passion is to prepare students for medical school or wherever
else their lives lead. To accomplish that he offers rigorous studies
and pushes students to seek God’s will for their lives —
Tenneson knows the value of both.
serving in the Peace Corps in the early 1980s, Mike and Cheryl
felt called to full-time missions ministry. To that end, they
moved to Springfield, Mo., where he enrolled at Assemblies of
God Theological Seminary and took a teaching position at Evangel
to pay the bills. The move would prove to be a deferment of their
calling to the mission field.
a long series of arguments with God,” says Tenneson, “He
convinced me that it was His will that I stay at Evangel rather
than become a missionary.
obeyed and now I am the happiest man on earth because of it,”
in his teaching and mentoring are extensions of that happiness.
One visit to his office bears this out.
is open at all times so students feel free to pop in. There is
a box of tissues ready for the homesick, confused or stressed-out
student who needs to vent. Tenneson, a burly man with a thick
beard, is no “softie” though.
motorcycles with his teenage sons, spends days camping in the
wilderness, and has a nose for adventure.
also extremely demanding academically of his students. If he doesn’t
push them so that they are prepared for the next stage of life
he hasn’t done his job. Though a taskmaster academically
he also finds ways to make learning fun.
other year Tenneson takes his biology students to the Florida
Keys to study ecosystems. For two weeks the students will camp
out with Tenneson and his family on the beach, collect data —
which is shared with Florida’s Department of Natural Resources
— and minister in local churches.
office wall hang diplomas from UCLA, the University of North Dakota,
the University of Missouri at Columbia, and AGTS.
is also a framed letter from Robert Spence, president of Evangel,
thanking Tenneson for tirelessly preparing Evangel premed students
for medical school. Each year at least six premed students are
admitted to medical schools from Evangel.
carving on the wall is Tenneson’s motto:
you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,
not for men” (Colossians 3:23).
years into Tenneson’s tenure, his deferred call to missions
has taken him to Central America several times but more importantly
into the hearts and minds of every student who has sat under his
his is a call fulfilled.