This blog post is an essay that I am planning to submit for a book being written about my alma mater, Ozark Christian College. They are collecting stories from 75 years of lessons learned from this school. Honestly, I feel like I could write a book about the lessons I learned while I was a student at OCC, but this is the one that was laid most heavily on my heart. I may write other essays like this in the future if others will find value in this. Maybe, you will see this essay in the book sometime soon. If any of you were a part of this community I’m talking about, thank you.
One of the lessons I learned throughout my time at Ozark was how to live out life in genuine Christian community. I remember being specifically taught during Spiritual Formation Retreat in January 2013 about how essential it is to live our lives in the context of the body of Christ. Before this retreat, I had not realized how important this concept is to our spiritual lives. Although there are several verses in Scripture that describe community or instruct us how to properly live in community, one verse stands out above the rest in my mind:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15, NIV84)
This verse seems to bookend my memories of community at Ozark in so many ways, especially my last two semesters.
We often rejoiced with those who rejoiced while I was at OCC. We would rejoice as a campus when we all received the text that informed us that classes were cancelled (usually because of snow), especially when it happened more than one day in a row. We would rejoice as a dorm floor when one of the girls announced she was engaged. We rejoiced over someone’s birthday (On Goodman 3rd [my dorm floor, also known as G3], this included writing affirmations for the birthday girl on the mirrors in the bathroom and decorating the door of their room with toilet paper). We rejoiced whenever someone hit a milestone in their Ozark career, like when they completed their Principles Project or their Theological Integration Paper. As a music major, we rejoiced when we completed juries, recitals, or the Living Christmas Tree. We rejoiced whenever someone had plans for their future confirmed. And we definitely rejoiced when we watched our friends receive their diplomas and graduate from OCC. In those moments, the joy was all the more genuine because it was mutual. In many of those moments, G3 even made the habit of singing Doxology as part of our rejoicing. This is because we saw God’s hand in the joy we shared.
But there were also moments that we mourned with those who mourned. We would help each other bear grief or get through difficult seasons of life, simply by being there for each other. Sometimes, you just needed someone to listen when things were getting difficult. Other times, you were the one that needed to do the listening and offer your shoulder to cry on. On G3, it seemed that if you were going through something, you could literally walk out into your hallway and walk into any room to ask for advice or comfort. Even if you may not have been super close, the girls on my floor would probably have dropped anything to help each other if they needed it. Some of those moments of turning to others for help were so beautiful and powerful. But there was one instance in which together, our whole campus learned what it truly means to mourn with those who mourn.
When our friend and fellow student Brandon Stuckey passed away in a car accident on February 6, 2013, we had the opportunity to live this out. Many of us stood outside of Boatman dorm for hours that night. We sang songs about comfort, peace, and heaven. We prayed for his family, his friends, and his dorm brothers on Boatman 3rd. But most importantly, we comforted each other in our tears. Even though we were all hurting from this loss, we declared together that we would trust the Lord, even in our grief. When we are bearing such extreme or sudden sorrow, we are called to cry with our brothers and sisters, to help bear the burden of their pain. Although that was one of the hardest nights on my life so far, I cherish the bittersweet memories of community. In fact, I remember that another student posted on Facebook, “Tonight, the term ‘Christian community’ was defined.” I agree.
[This is not part of the essay, but this video is a spoken word poem I just released this month about the experiencing of losing Brandon. It specifically talks about Christian community and mourning with those who mourn]
Because of these and other experiences, I believe that the term “Christian community” was defined not just that night, but throughout my whole experience at Ozark. Much of the other experiences I had fell somewhere in between the two extremes of sharing great joy and sharing extreme pain. But through all the highs and lows, I learned that the place where we find the best community is in the place where those that surround us are willing to identify with us, regardless of our current emotional state. Through that, we learned many of the other concepts about genuine community in Christ that are also listed in Romans 12, like be devoted to one another in brotherly love (vs. 10) or doing what we can to live at peace with everyone (vs. 18). We had the opportunities to live these out every day in the context of community in Christ. It was something that on one hand I loved while I was in school, and on the other hand I took for granted while I was a student, especially my first few years. After I went on Spiritual Formation Retreat, I made more intentional efforts to build community and to get to know more people on campus. And it made my experience my last two semester all the richer. I definitely missed that when I completed my internship my last semester as a student, but it also made me more intentional to seek out community at the church where I interned. This, again, make my experience all the richer.
As I remember the community we fostered at Ozark, I praise God that He brought me to OCC, so that I could learn what genuine community looks like. This way, I can help others seek it out for themselves, both within their own churches and within the body of Christ as a whole. I hope anyone else that reads this story will be inspired to do the same.