Above: The leadership of the Tom Elliff Center for Missions includes, from left, Mike Hand, Tom Elliff and Elbert Smith. Collectively, they offer years of experience in missions and mission field training and church relations that propels the program’s vision and goals.
SHAWNEE—Words of reflection and evidence of God’s work were highlighted at the celebration of the one-year anniversary of the Tom Elliff Center for Missions (TECM) at Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) recently.
A room-filled crowd gathered on March 30, to recognize the impact the program has had on OBU students’ lives. The celebration also emphasized the growth of TECM’s vision to impact and equip the next generation of ministry leaders and missionaries for the call of the Gospel.
As part of the day’s events, John Brady, vice-president for the International Mission Board’s (IMB) global engagement, was the keynote speaker at the TECM’s second Mission Forum of the semester. Brady has served with the IMB for more than 20 years. He previously served as regional leader for missions work in Northern Africa and the Middle East where he led Southern Baptist workers to spread the Gospel.
Nearly 120 students, retired missionaries and ministry leaders gathered to hear Brady’s address titled, “Joining God at Work in the World.” He offered a panoramic view of the world through his message and led the audience on a global tour of the lostness of the nations. He emphasized the need for the gospel to be shared to even the remotest parts of the world.
“This is your time in history. You must lead the way,” Brady said in his charge to those attending, especially to students. “There is a new force of young folks, and you are among them. Walk in power to the ends of the earth, so people can know the Gospel. Offer wholeness and hope to the world in the spirit of Christ.”
Offering reflection during the event, Tom Elliff prayed and welcomed guests, expressing thanks for the work the Lord has done in the program’s first fifteen months of existence. “Our hearts are full. It is wonderful to see how far the Lord has brought this program since it began. We look forward to the future,” he said.
Elbert Smith, Elliff Center director and assistant professor of missions, as well as Mike Hand, special assistant to the president for Great Commission Initiatives, participated in the day’s activities as well.
Collectively, this trio of men have rich ministry experiences in church planting, pastoral ministry, church relations, mission field training, and years of service with the International Mission Board. They provide the scope of vision, strategy and training to continue to lead the program in the future.
OBU President Heath Thomas greeted guests via video. His personal challenge to students was to “put your ‘yes’ on the table and see what the Lord accomplishes through your life.” He also acknowledged the specific way the Lord has established the TECM by aligning the program leadership through the calling of Elliff, Smith and Hand.
The Tom Elliff Center for Missions officially began during the spring semester of 2022. The center’s vision is to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ, enhance education in the field of missions and empower missionaries by connecting local churches to OBU and the world.
Hand has been instrumental in traveling throughout the state and nation to share the purpose of the Elliff Center. He is strategic in strengthening the program’s relationship with churches and state conventions.
Smith serves as TECM course instructor, teaching a weekly class in biblical missiology for students. The Book of Acts was studied during the fall semester followed by the study of the epistles during the spring months.
C.J. Haynes, a junior majoring in accounting, is participating in the TECM program and is encouraged by what he has learned in Smith’s class.
“Dr. Smith has so much knowledge of Scripture,” Haynes said. “He makes it clear that God’s Word is the basis of our program. I am so inspired by him and the impact the Bible has on his life, and in turn, it overflows to us.”
A unique element of the program is the role of IMB missionary alumni. Many have committed to pray weekly for a TECM student by name. Serving as supportive partners, they are invited to each of the three Mission Forums held each semester, and are available to serve as mentors to the students. The forums are attended by pastors, state associational staff and other ministry leaders.
OBU senior Hayden Cunningham from Amarillo, Texas, is a global marketplace engagement major with a business emphasis. He explained, “I began sensing a call to missions during my later years of high school. As I looked at OBU as an option for college, the Lord confirmed this choice of a university for me because of scholarships provided to me. I was particularly interested in the global marketplace engagement major.
“I love going overseas and learning about different cultures, and I really love sharing the gospel,” Cunningham continued. “As a student, I am so thankful for the TECM Mission Forums because I have the opportunity to meet former missionaries. Those are the very people who have lived the life I hope to live. It is a great connection and a wonderful benefit.”
Currently, 45 students representing at least 18 different career majors participate in the TECM program. Students are encouraged to participate in GO trips in partnership with OBU’s Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach or to go on a mission trip with their local church. During the spring of 2022, nine TECM students traveled to five different countries. The summer of 2022 included student trips to at least four countries.
As part of OBU’s 2023 J-term GO teams, ten TECM students participated in mission work across the globe. On the day of the one-year celebration, four participating students had just returned from Poland, completing their three-month internship through the global marketplace engagement program.
“We are thrilled to be establishing the groundwork for such a significant training ground for those with a heart for missions,” Smith said. “Our students are eager, humble and have a heart for the Lord to use their lives for sharing the Gospel to the world.
“The beauty of this program is that, while a student is pursuing their academic major, they are also growing in their understanding and knowledge of the call of missions,” Smith continued. “The weekly classes, triad of forums, as well as the opportunities to travel abroad each year, build a wonderful portfolio of knowledge and experience for students.”
“The students’ stories are inspiring,” Hand said. “As we hear of their meaningful experiences in this program and on the mission field, it propels our faith to continue on the path before us. Often a student is already on the OBU campus, and as they continue in their career field and in their walk with the Lord, they begin to sense a call to missions. The TECM is here support them and equip them in that calling.”
Haynes recalled, “I have learned so much about how to share the Gospel with people from other nations. Particularly the importance of understanding how their background is different from mine and how I must learn to present the Gospel in a manner that they can understand. The TECM goal is for me to learn the Word of God in a way that I can teach others to study it for themselves, so they can grow and makes disciples in their world.”
Freshman Liv Todd, an OBU nursing major, commented, “I am so thankful for the staff in the TECM. They serve as tremendous role models and personally challenge and encourage me in my spiritual formation. I have found a great community here amidst a warm and inviting atmosphere.”
As the TECM program completes the spring 2023 semester, one final Mission Forum is scheduled for May 4 at 3:30 p.m. in the Geiger Center, Room 219 on the OBU campus. At the forum, Nik and Ruth Ripkin, authors of the “The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected” will be the featured speaker. The public is invited to attend.
To learn more about participation the Tom Elliff Center for Missions, visit this link.