SBU dedicates ‘awesome’ facility
BOLIVAR—The newly renovated Jim Mellers Center was dedicated Sept. 24 at Southwest Baptist University (SBU) with a special chapel service followed by another ceremony in a third-floor classroom of the center packed with donors, alumni, faculty, staff, students, and other dignitaries who managed to fill the desks and stand in the back and along the sides.
“This is a great day in our history,” said SBU President C. Pat Taylor.
The $1.5 million renovation completes the evolution of a center that was originally built in 1984 as a conference center. Faculty and students in the center endured various heating and air conditioning malfunctions and a hopeful, year-long exodus that dispersed them to various campus outposts while the 22,000-square-foot facility was being redone. A summation of the stories that were told on Sept. 24 amounted to a composite statement that it has been well worth the wait.
Stephanie Smith, a senior majoring in psychology and biblical studies, talked about a funny incident that occurred in the same room where the dedication ceremony took place. A male student next to her was sleeping in class when “the tile above his head (fell) right on his head. I’m pretty sure he never slept through class again.”
As she surveyed Room 303 and saw people in a celebratory mood, Smith talked about the difference the renovation has made.
“Now I look around and three years later, we have this lovely facility,” she said. “Talking to the different students around, asking them what they thought, this was the most common response that I got—‘This building is awesome!’”
Missouri Baptist Convention Interim Executive Director David Tolliver, who also serves as an SBU trustee, marveled at the process that unfolded to give the Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry a new home.
“It’s the culmination of several years’ worth of work and dreaming and fundraising,” Tolliver said. “Frankly, I don’t think anyone thought it would happen this fast, and we’re just pleased to see it.”
Rodney Reeves, dean of the Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry, spoke in the chapel service about the need for the people of God to have “sacred space,” such as a tabernacle or a temple, to call their own.
“Am I claiming that this building is now a temple of the living God?” Reeves asked rhetorically. “Have we carved out sacred space in the southeast corner of this campus? Well, even though students will offer sacrifices of hard labor, and even though their sacrifice might rise as sweet incense to a holy God, I will say this morning that ‘No, the renovated building is no new temple.’ The presence of God will not simply be found there or in any other building on this campus.
“Indeed, what God has predestined for us, to be conformed to the image of His Son, God is out to carve in your very soul sacred space. That the God of the universe would send the only Begotten, full of grace and truth, that He would stoop so low, and live among us, and show us what sacred space is supposed to look like. That He, obedient to the point of death, even death on a cursed cross, would reveal the very heart of God—a kingdom that would invade this world like leaven. The reign of God that would take back what God has made like wheat. Then indeed we know where sacred space can be found, because Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and He was one of us.
“He was one of us. And what He has assumed, He has redeemed. And that’s why we’re here.”
The center now features a preaching room that enables students to do a better job practicing sermons. The building also houses the SBU Intercultural Studies program and the in-service guidance office, which directs students into internship opportunities.
The Redford name within the center remains prominent as the 15th president of the university, who served from 1930-1943, was honored throughout the Sept. 24 festivities. Eight members of the family were recognized during chapel with applause, and one of the sons, David Redford, spoke during the dedication ceremony.
“I had the most loving, caring, sacrificial parents ever,” David Redford said. “My Dad always gave my mother more than half the credit for the fruits of his ministry. He loved her so much, and he always let her know how much he appreciated her, and he let us know that, too.
“My Dad was a people person. Everyone to my Dad was important. It didn’t matter whether they were little, lowly people. They were just as important as those who were prestigious or wealthy or powerful.”
One of the lasting memories of Courts Redford, who served as interim president of SBU in 1967 and died in 1977, is that he generally had something good to say about everybody, his son said.
“He planted seeds of God’s love into the hearts of many people who had weed-filled souls, and now here today, these seeds continue to blossom through the outstanding school of theology that bears his name,” David Redford said.
Another godly man was frequently mentioned during the day. Jack Stanton served SBU from 1975-1997 and retired as director of evangelism before passing away in 2002. The Jack Stanton Chair of Evangelism in the center is a large part of his legacy; many of the donations to the renovated building were made in honor of him, Taylor noted.
Gib Adkins, president of Mid-Missouri Insurance Agency in Lebanon and a member of First Baptist Church in Lebanon, gave the donor response.
“On behalf of all of our donors, Dr. Taylor, thank you for the opportunity to give to this living project that will last for many, many years,” Adkins said.
During the chapel service, Richard Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church of West Plains and president of the Board of Curators of Redford College, offered some alumni reflections. Wright is a 1981 graduate of SBU.
“Every time I come up to the university campus I get chills when I get off the ramp coming into town,” he said. “You’ll feel the same way if you come back some day. It’s a wonderful experience.
“Dedicating a building reminds me of something we do in Southern Baptist life. We dedicate babies. We don’t baptize babies, but we dedicate babies. When we dedicate a baby, what we’re really doing is saying that ‘God, we want this baby to grow up to know Jesus Christ, to live a godly life and to be productive for the kingdom of God.’
“So we’re dedicating the renovation of a building today. We want that building to be effective. We want it to be an atmosphere where students come in and be discipled, where teachers can have an atmosphere where it is conducive for learning and for teaching. But also when we dedicate a baby we also dedicate the parents and those around the baby to help in the discipleship of that child. And so today, I guess we’re also dedicating you (the students).”
Reeves summarized the purpose of the day by returning to his theme of “sacred space” in honor of all the labor, prayer and donations that were poured into the completion of a dream.
“We are here because we claim to follow the One who would teach us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind,” Reeves said. “So let me say that as long as this university and the Redford College seek to carve out sacred space in your soul that the kingdom of God goes forth as an irrepressible force of God’s righteous claim to retake what belongs to Him. That’s why we’re here, because we believe, and we bend our knee and swear our allegiance to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.”