TIMELY COUNSEL ON CHRISTIAN EDUCATION PRINCIPLES GIVEN MORE THAN 100 YEARS AGO STILL SPEAK TODAY.
QAKWOOD COLLEGE, LOCATED IN Huntsville, Alabama, the only historically Black college of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is a premier educational institution. It ranks among the top IO schools in the nation that graduate students who continue on to medical school, and is also among the top 25 schools that graduate students who go on to complete dental school. According to the U. S. News and World Report, Oakwood has ranked among America’s best colleges in the Southern Region for IO consecutive years. It also has the distinction of being a leader in technology, collaborating with its neighbor NASA in groundbreaking research. Oakwood College’s alumni, hailing from more than 30 countries, are providing invaluable service to the church, the community, the country, and the world at large. Oakwood’s programs are designed to prepare students to face the challenges of modern life. The New Beginnings Single Parent Resource Center assists single parents who have challenges to completing their college degrees. Also, as of this year, 2008, Oakwood has received accreditation approval for its first graduate level program, the Master in Pastoral Studies. Oakwood’s physical campus is also seeing many changes with the addition of the Bradford-Cleveland-Brooks Leadership Center (BCBLC) and the construction of a state of the art men’s residential hall. Recently, a Monument to Service Memorial was established along with an eternal flame, both representing Oakwood’s dedication of service to humanity through the example of Jesus Christ.
NOT MUCH PROMISE Indeed, Oakwood College and its accomplishments are now legendary. Its beginnings, however, seemed less than promising. The year was 1896. A 360-acre plot in Huntsville, Alabama, the site of a former slave plantation, was chosen as a location for the first Seventh-day Adventist advanced school for Blacks. The Alabama landscape was sloping and uneven; the red clay was hard as granite; dense brush encircled the property; the limbs of the trees sagged; derelict brush lay strewn all over; and the soil was barren from having been overworked. It took vision and faith to see a future in this unpromising plot in Alabama in the heart of the South 30 years after the Civil War. To make matters more challenging, barely enough funds were on hand to buy the property, let alone start a school. The General Conference was pressed for money, and the church leaders would be slow to funnel funds into an enterprise such as this. Conditions did not look good. In the midst of this challenging situation, a clarion voice was heard. It was a voice that spoke for God, convinced that this was the spot the Lord would have the denomination purchase for a school to train Blacks to be workers in His vineyard.
From the start Ellen G. White championed Oakwood’s cause. Unquestionably she is worthy of the title “cofounder of Oakwood College.” Throughout the subsequent years as Oakwood grew, Ellen White continually spoke out for the school. She did all in her power to make sure it prospered, writing, visiting, prodding, sacrificing, praying, donating, advocating, and crying for the then fledgling institution to fulfill its God-given destiny. As a result of her efforts and the sustained support of the General Conference and the world field, and subsequently the support of the Regional Conferences, Oakwood College is the success it is today.
CHRONICLES OF PROVIDENCE During its uoth anniversary year, Oakwood College collaborated with the Ellen G. White Estate to compile all of Mrs. White’s statements on Oakwood College. The project was at once enjoyable and daunting. It was ultimately fulfilling, though, and in doing it one could see clearly how God has led the Seventh-day Adventist Church and His plans for its educational institutions. From Oakwood’s founding to her death, Ellen White sat on the school’s board. Her counsel to Oakwood, found in speeches, letters, articles, diary entries, and books, can be applied to any educational institution, as well as the personal life of a Christian. Ellen White’s writings about Oakwood can be divided into five categories:
- Circle of Providence: From its start God initiated His divine providence in the development and operation of Oakwood.
- Conditions with Appeal: Mrs. White saw Oakwood as a place deserving of denominational funds and personal monetary sacrifice.
- Support Educational Progress: Ellen White constantly pied for financial, spiritual, and missionary support on behalf of Oakwood and its Christian educational ministry.
- Well-Rounded Instruction: Ellen White conveyed inspired directives about leadership, administration, operation, curriculum, and other areas of Christian education.
- Service Focus: She made successful appeals to the students and workers of Oakwood to be spiritual, to evangelize the world, and to be constant in self-improvement.
Perhaps Ellen White’s oft-quoted 1904 statement at Oakwood best reveals God’s interest in this school, her passion for its success, and the rich portents in the days ahead: “I am so pleased to see the colored students who are here today. I wish that there were a hundred of them, as it has been presented to me that there should be ….
“In regard to this school here at Huntsville, I wish to say that for the past two or three years I have been receiving instruction regarding it-what it should be and what those who come here as students are to become. All that is done by those connected with this school, whether they be White or Black, is to be done with the realization that this is the Lord’s institution, in which the students are to be taught how to cultivate the land, and how to labor for the uplifting of their own people” (The Gospel Herald, June 1, 1904). The recently established bronze Monument to Service created by sculptor Alan Collins now provides a 24/7/365 witness to the legacy of service of this place called Oakwood. It is beautiful to see through the pen of Ellen White and history how God established Oakwood and led it to where it is today. Oakwood’s success and God’s divine guidance are inextricably linked.
BENJAMIN BAKER is the author of A Place Called Oakwood, a comprehensive compilation of Ellen White’s statements on Oakwood College. He writes from Hyattsville, Maryland.