As a child, J.B. Rounds saw life in stark terms. His father sold whiskey for a living, and in those days such a profession was not highly regarded by either the alcoholics who secretly consumed the brew or the rough workers who found drinking alcohol more like a hobby. Life around a saloon just seemed to attract problems, and Rounds experienced many things most children his age could scarcely imagine.
Church life did not come easy to Jay Rounds. Something, however, drew this young Canadian boy to a local Baptist church. When he first heard the Gospel preached, the words made no sense. He was unable to piece together the facts in a way that fully captured the truth of the Gospel of Christ.
A brief study of his conversion to Christ, however, reveals, in the words of Phyllis Sapp, that the love of Christ “drew him back to the church like a warm fire in the wintertime.” For weeks after he was converted, Rounds was far too timid to publicly profess his newfound faith in Jesus Christ. He tried to muster the courage to make public his embrace of the Gospel. Finally, the courage came, and he professed Christ before the entire congregation.
Immediately, he was taken aside by one of the deacons who said, “Boy, I’d like to speak to you a minute. I’m a deacon in this church—and ah—you see—well—the fact is—your father is a saloonkeeper. I don’t believe we could have you as a church member. You understand, don’t you?”
No, he did not understand. If the love of Christ was really big enough for the most heinous sinner, why was he cut-off from membership in Christ’s body, the Church? Rather than cause problems, Rounds kept praying and thinking about the Gospel. He continued to attend the church alone, a peculiar practice for a 14-year-old boy. After some time, the pastor eventually apologized for the actions of the deacon, and Rounds was baptized. The event had a surprising effect on his father, who decided to give up selling alcohol and go to medical school. The family moved south to Detroit, Mich., where his father began his study.
In 1894, believing that God was calling him to the gospel ministry, he left Detroit for Louisville, Ky., where he would begin his theological studies at Southern Seminary. Rounds listened to some of finest theologians of the day lecture and teach the Bible. John A. Broadus was one of his favorite professors, but the course work was difficult for him as he had not received much education prior to his time of study at the seminary. Yet, he was among those for whom James Petigru Boyce worked so diligently to serve when the seminary was first established. Men like Rounds could come to the seminary and obtain the finest theological education of the day free from the requirements that other divinity schools required. Rounds had literally moved from spending his days at the saloon to studying theology at the seminary.
After graduation in 1897, he returned home to Detroit, and soon attended a Home Mission Society meeting where he heard from two Native Americans: Cheyenne Chief Buffalo Meat and Kiowa Chief Lone Wolf. This experience gave Rounds a hunger for seeing the Gospel reach Native Americans. He was fascinated by the American natives, and prayed for them often. He soon penned a letter to Daniel Rogers, the general missionary to the Indians in Tahlequah, Indian Territory, inquiring about mission opportunities in Oklahoma. Even as he wrote, he wondered if his fiancé, Louise Damm, would be willing to leave Detroit for the unsettled, but blossoming Oklahoma. Louise agreed, saying, “don’t you know that when I said I would marry you, I meant to go wherever God could use you best?”
Upon arriving in Muskogee, Rounds learned that the pastorate he came to fill had already been filled. This was a crushing blow, as he was a stranger in a distant land with no job and with a young fiancé who had made life-altering plans to join him in this place where his ability to provide for her was anything but certain. Eventually, a Baptist church in Bartlesville called Rounds as pastor. Louise soon made the journey to join him, and they were married promptly upon her arrival in Coffeyville, Kan.
In 1901, Rounds accepted a position as missionary to the Choctaws and Chickasaws. The assignment was difficult, requiring much travel in the volatile Oklahoma weather, and the pay was meager. Throughout his work with Native Americans, he sought to heal the contentions between Northern and Southern Baptists and faced the challenges of learning how to relate with the various tribes within Oklahoma.
Rounds often wrote for The Baptist Messenger, founded Trinity Church in Oklahoma City, and eventually served as the executive secretary for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. In 1917, Rounds, along with fellow Southern Seminary graduate, W. D. Moorer, located a place in the Arkbuckle mountains for a young people’s encampment. The two men found a suitable 200-acre plot, purchased it, and gave it the name Falls Creek. They selected “Buzzard Hill” as its central site.
Prior to the arrival of a group of students, Rounds once offered this prayer: “Father, we’ve worked hard for this assembly, and we both love it so much. We might not be able to see Your will. If you would have Oklahoma Baptists go on with an assembly at Falls Creek, show us, Father, so that we will know. Let us have at least one conversion.”
That evening, not one, but two, young people were converted to Jesus Christ. Since those early days, Rounds’ legacy at Falls Creek remains a crucial investment in the life of Oklahoma as a place set apart for the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of the Bible to thousands of young people.