It was 1975. The cabin rented at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center for the youth at Durant, Calvary was overflowing. It was a watershed moment for the young people in the group. It was more than a spiritual high—it was clarification of callings upon their lives.
Today, many of these students are in full-time ministry. Others are active lay leaders in their churches.
Their story begins a few years earlier, when the Durant church, with a limited number of young people, started a Bible study in the kitchen of the church. The eight students who attended were asked to each bring a friend. The next week there were 16, then 32.
The group started meeting in the small parsonage across the street from the church, which was the home of music and youth minister Norman Gooding. Soon the students were in the kitchen, living room and the two kids’ bedrooms.
“It was wall to wall students, and in the corner encouraging our Bible study leader, Skipper Robinson, were Norman and Cheryl,” said David Polk, one of the early attenders, who is now southeast area manager of the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma.
The study continued to grow until the students hesitantly moved from the house because there was no more room.
Gooding set up an area upstairs in the church. A deacon who owned a carpet business donated sample carpet squares, and a beat-up old “Joseph’s coat” patchwork chair was in the corner. That’s where Robinson sat to teach the group.
“That area was filled with as many as 130 students, while the adult prayer meeting downstairs would have maybe 35,” said Polk. “For most of the mid-to-late 1970s, this room was the hub of youth ministry in the community.”
Robinson said the pastor at the time, Earnest Potter, was an older man, and simply smiled and said, “I have never seen anything like it; the only thing I know is full speed ahead.”
The catalyst behind the success of the Bible study was Gooding, said Polk.
“One day, while driving across Oklahoma, my mind drifted to those days as a young person, and how Norman had influenced my life,” Polk recalled. “I realized I was just one of many who had benefitted from his gentle love and direction.”
Robert Griffin, who succeeded Potter as pastor of Calvary, said Gooding kept a tight reign on the kids, but they loved it.
“Every year, Norman took the youth group on a mission trip to Colorado,” Griffin said. “There was always a revival in a small mission church, then a day of skiing before returning home.”
Griffin said to be able to go on the trip, students had to attend Sunday School, the weekly Bible study and youth choir practice, with only three total absences during the year.
“Norman led the young people of Calvary to understand that ministry came at a cost,” said Polk. “He assured us that those who chose to follow the Lord, would have to make a decision to walk a narrow road that would sometimes cause us to face ridicule from friends because of the right decisions he had influenced through music and youth ministry.”
But most in that youth group were willing to pay the cost. Many are in leadership positions today, including Polk, Stan Norman, executive vice president and provost at Oklahoma Baptist University; Dale Griffin, dean of spiritual life at OBU; Kelly Anderson, worship pastor at Oklahoma City, Brookwood; Randy Anderson, assistant caretaker at CrossTimbers Camp in McAlester; Cindy Robinson Fuller, a medical doctor in developmental pediatrics and trustee for Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children; Melody Hatcher Boone, pianist at Durant, Calvary; Mark Gunnels, pastor of Burneyville Church in Enon Association, and David Anderson, media director at Victory Life, a non-denominational church and school in Durant.
Many others are lay leaders in their churches—Ron Norman, a member of the 1979 State Football Championship team, is a coach at Durant High School; Bill Smith has taught chemistry at Coleman for 30 years; Jill Polk is a Sunday School teacher at Ardmore, First; Scott Robinson is men’s director and Sunday School teacher at Skiatook, First; Keith Chronister is basketball coach at Berryhill; Lisa Metcalf is an elementary teacher in Texas; Ladonna Franklin is school counselor at Durant Middle School, just to name a few.
Robinson remembers that both Dale Griffin and Randy Anderson were gifted song writers.
“At one time, I counted five skilled guitarists all playing together and assisting in worship,” Robinson said.
Robinson noted that music had a great impact as the kids worshipped and meditated.
“Norman had a talented group of singers and instrumentalists,” he said. “In fact some of them formed a group called ‘Matthew,’ which often sang to incoming freshmen at OBU and also did special music at Falls Creek. Norman’s guidance and mentorship both in church music and youth choir had a tremendous influence on these kids.”
Robinson said there were some kids who came infrequently to the Bible study.
“One night a kid came in wearing his college baseball uniform,” he remembered. “Later I saw him play in the World Series. He was Brett Butler of the San Francisco Giants.
“Also David Whitlock (now president of OBU) would breeze in from time to time because of his deep friendship with Stan Norman, our lead guitarist.”
Robinson said Gooding was his best at Falls Creek.
“He had a great love for Falls Creek as he saw what a difference this camp had made in the lives of his students,” said Polk. “While I was in high school, Calvary had as many as 10 students working during the summer sessions.”
Polk said Calvary always had to rent a cabin, and that bothered Gooding.
“For the last three years, while dealing with considerable health issues, Norman led a group of men from Calvary on a mission to build a cabin,” Polk said. “Last summer, a new cabin on the creek near the main entrance was dedicated.”
Polk said Gooding has never pointed to himself, saying “look what I’ve done.”
“He always pointed those of us around him to look to the Lord for our guidance and direction,” Polk pointed out. “As I have studied Scripture these many years since high school, I understand that my direction is to come from the Lord. However, God also told me if I would look, He would place godly men and women who had sought His face to give me encouragement and leadership.
“God so richly blessed our lives because of the commitment of a man who left the private sector in midlife to enrich the lives of young people in Oklahoma,” said Polk. “Because of the simple obedience of a man named Norman Gooding, there are many of us from the “wrong side of the tracks” in Durant, who are serving the Lord today.”