Two years ago some missionary friends contacted me to ask about Oneida Baptist Institute. They were helping a student from the country where they serve to find a boarding school in the United States where she could come for high school. They wanted to know if this might be a good place for this student, an outstanding young lady with great potential. I assured them that Oneida would be a great school and I would be happy to be of help.
I learned that a church in Alabama had been sending mission teams to their country for several years, so there were already two families who were eager for her to come and would be the primary sponsors. I have been a part of the support team and provided transportation and overnights at our house on each end of school breaks for Mari, and also her brother who arrived this school year.
This weekend I attended graduation – Oneida style. No airhorns or the raucous behavior I’ve experienced at the last few graduations that I’ve attended. This was graduation as it should be. God-honoring, dignified, yet fun and deeply emotional. Every student in the 2012 class was individually recognized. Granted, this is much easier to do with a class of 48, but it was still a three-hour ceremony! I lost count of how many states and countries were represented in the class. As each student’s name was called, there was a slide of pictures of that student on the screen, and his or her significant accomplishments as an Oneida student were noted. And then Dr. Davidson read from each student’s essay about his or her Oneida experience.
The essays had a common theme – initial adjustment to a boarding school in “the middle of nowhere” was hard. Some students came with attitudes about school and authority. Others had come from other countries and had to adjust to American culture and cope with homesickness. But the common themes continued as over and over the students did adjust, discovered a “family,” learned the value of work (every student has a job), and made changes in their lives. Quite a few spoke of their new faith in Christ as Savior or the spiritual growth that they had experienced at Oneida.
I was most impressed with Dr. Paul Davidson, the new OBI president, and know that this beloved school is in capable hands. His experience as a missionary is an asset in this setting which includes students from so many countries. Dr. & Mrs. Underwood were there to celebrate the graduation of their grandson who was the 2012 class president. It was so good to see the evidence of a smooth transition in leadership.
We “packed a pew” (actually one full pew and parts of two more) to celebrate with Mari. The families from Alabama came with a few more folks and I did not quite learn all of the connections. We were thrilled that she not only received the “most likely to succeed” award, but also received the Williams Evans Loving Cup Award, the TOP honor for an OBI graduating senior. This award is determined by the faculty for an outstanding senior.
I’ve always been impressed by the reports from Dr. Underwood about the ministry of Oneida Baptist Institute. Today, I had a first-hand glimpse into the impact this school makes on students. Not every student who attends OBI decides to stay through graduation. Some come for a season and then return home, often having made needed academic and social improvement. Not every student who comes stays, but those who do find OBI to be strict, yet loving as evidenced in the essays shared today.
While waiting for graduation to start, I noted the “hall of fame” pictures hanging in the chapel There was even a Kentucky governor in the mix of significant OBI graduates. In addition to helping students from Kentucky, there are students from other states as well. And above all, Oneida is touching Kentucky and the world with the gospel. Students from countries like Ethiopia, United Arab Emirates, Iran, South Korea, Germany, Liberia, and others were part of the 2012 graduating class. Every one of these international students has college plans and many will eventually be leaders in their home countries. Who knew in 1899 when Oneida was established that God would use a school in the mountains of Kentucky to teach and share the gospel with students from around the world. I am thankful for the faithful giving of Kentucky Baptists through the Cooperative Program which helps make the Oneida experience possible!