First off, for those who may not be aware–I am not speaking of an individual by this name; but of my alma mater…Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC. I arrived there as an almost-brand-new Christian, and grew up there. Got my undergrad there. Worked there as staff, and then faculty, for ten years. Took grad courses there. Waded through a dozen or so relationships, and half as many proposals until I (*sigh* of relief) met my husband there. Besides an excellent education, let me tell you what I took from this place.
Now, when you read the title of this post, you may have been expecting a sordid confession of how I bilked the “World’s Most Unusual University” out of cases of paper clips, by covertly and craftily fashioning them into necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and those little things people hang around their necks to keep track of their eye glasses.
Sorry, no sordid tales. First, what I took from the University was not a larger-than-life view of the Doctors Bob. I did not know the Founder at all, and I only had one or two real conversations with Dr. Bob Jr.. Dr. Bob III we had more close contact with, chatting with him on numerous occasions at camps and churches, and while picking him up at the airport for a speaking engagement. All three of these men are, well, men. Men make mistakes. Men react incorrectly from time to time. Most men I know have at least one or two things in their past that they wish they had done differently. I admire each of the University presidents for different reasons; but this is not the main thing I took from Bob Jones.
As a new Christian and a freshman at BJU, I heard the term “fundamentalism” for the first time. I was taught what separation is. Over the years, I learned that people claiming the title of “fundamentalist” came in many shapes, sizes and “flavors”. Some were very balanced. Some were what we called “bad attitude Babdists”. I enjoyed learning about Baptist history under the tutelage of Dr. Beale. But an understanding of fundamentalism (or even of Baptist distinctives) is not the most significant thing I took from Bob Jones.
I had a great educational experience at BJU. Not only did I receive good, balanced instruction from my teachers; but I also learned that an integral part of my spiritual growing-up experience there was found in the dorm. It was there that God began to form me into a leader. I was thrown into a PC role in a dysfunctional prayer group. I stood at the door of my dorm supervisor’s apartment, ready to knock and tell her I was throwing in the towel. She wasn’t home, so instead I went to the prayer room, where I should have gone in the first place. I learned how to guide in love, how to say hard things in a gentle way, how to stand my ground, even when I was challenged. But leadership philosophy is not the best thing I took from Bob Jones.
Role models. Mentors. I had some excellent ones–some as an undergrad, some as a member of the staff. Dr. Jim Berg (then “Mr. Berg”) gave me free rein to ransack his file cabinet for handouts and counseling resources. Also, as a friend, he called me on the carpet when he saw that I was making an unwise choice in a relationship. Bruce McAllister also observed my beaus with a watchful eye, just like a big brother. I watched him lovingly guide his preacher boys. It was great to work with him. His predecessor, Dr. Richard Rupp, was like a spiritual Dad to me. I remember sitting down in a quiet moment and asking him what he “did for his devotions”…in a few sentences he clarified for me that it was not about “doing” anything; but rather about meeting Someone…whether in three or seven chapters, or just a simple phrase from the Word. Dr. Thurman Wisdom helped me painstakingly sort through predestination and the sovereignty of God…he could have made me feel like an idiot for even asking (after all, I was teaching a class in the school of Religion for ladies); but he never did. Miss Wilma Sullivan, who used to work in the Dean of Women’s office (an ex-nun) was the most faithful, tangible example of speaking the truth in love that I have ever known. Mrs. Naomi Deuink, then Dr. Wood’s secretary, has the sweetest testimony and demeanor I have ever observed in a Christian lady. Gracious, godly, genuine. Dr. Gus is musical excellence personified. Our family was privileged to be invited to stay with the Gustafson’s when we came back to visit the campus some years ago. As we sat around the breakfast table and had family devotions together, we saw excellence in their home as well. Such a precious blessing. But even these invaluable examples are not at the top of the list of things I took from Bob Jones.
So, what is it that comes to my mind when asked the question, “What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Bob Jones University?” A standard for excellence. Not perfection; but the understanding that whatever the best is that the world may have to offer–you, believer, ought to raise the bar on that. Just walking around the campus, you get a feel for it. There is no trash lying around. All the buildings you see are paid for. Things operate like clock work. Goodness, the flowers weren’t even allowed to bloom half-heartedly. When they started to wilt, they were miraculously replaced before I got to the office the next morning! 🙂
My Dad also had a philosophy for excellence: Never do things half-way (being a salty sailor man, he had a more “colorful” way of putting it). He was trying to prepare me for life. I not only learned this in my classes, when my teachers did not accept slip-shod work (I remember one teacher in particular who reamed out the class for coming in on a project day, all of us ill-prepared); but in the dorm (either you are on time, or you are not), in the dining common (how to be a correct hostess–etiquette is an excellent thing to know in a self-serving world–one more way to be biblically “peculiar”), in choir (don’t go sliding around or flaunting your abilities), dress check (don’t look shabby or immodest–you are not cheap goods; you belong to the King), room jobs (take care of the stuff God gave you, and have respect for others), getting my correspondence checked (and re-checked) for correct grammar and form when I was a secretary (yes, I know this is a monstrous run-on sentence…see what happens when I am not supervised? 😀 )–and even how to accept commendation excellently (Jim Berg shared this tid bit with me–say, “Thank you, that is so kind of you to say”–turn the compliment into a gracious gesture toward the giver and therefore away from self). That’s free. 😉
I love my school. It has come under fire over the years essentially because it is not perfect. Someone said something wrong. A policy isn’t seamless. A rule doesn’t meet someone’s criteria for reasonableness, people there have made mistakes. I have heard the criticism. I am tired of it. BJU has never claimed perfection. It is comprised of people who are merely trying to serve God as they each individually try and grow up into Him. I didn’t go there expecting perfection, nor did I anticipate that I would achieve it by obtaining my degree from there. If anything, I am more sensible of my flaws because there I also learned a love for the Word.
My 15 years at Bob Jones University helped me to learn to live Philippians 1:10. That’s all. That’s plenty.