Alvarez, GSR helping refugees in McAllen

Abel Alvarez is minister of the Harvey Drive Church of Christ in McAllen.

Abel Alvarez is minister of the Harvey Drive Church of Christ in McAllen.

The U.S.-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas, is on the front line of a humanitarian crisis that continues to drag on while legislators in Washington, D.C., figure out how to address it. Abilene Christian University trustee Abel Alvarez (’82) and others from his 100-member local congregation – Harvey Drive Church of Christ – are assisting by helping up to 1,000 people a week through one of several shelters in their city.

Abilene-based Global Samaritan Resources, where Danny Sims (’85) is executive director, is pitching in as well.

Alvarez said most of the Spanish-speaking refugees immigrating across the border are fleeing Honduras. Many of the volunteers are not bilingual, so Alvarez and others help interpret.

“The refugees either turn themselves in to the Border Patrol or they are caught,” Alvarez said. They are, in turn, delivered by immigration officials to bus stations in border towns and cities such as McAllen and El Paso. People wait there for hours at a time for a family member in the States to buy them a ticket. When concerned local families began to invite the refugees into their homes several months ago, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley stepped in to help. A local group, Faith Communities for Disaster Recovery, called a meeting to discuss the roles local churches could have in a humanitarian effort beyond any one congregation’s ability to staff.

“There are not a lot of things Catholics and Protestants cooperate on with each other,” Alvarez said. “So it was interesting to be in an initial meeting where leaders of kinds of churches – Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, the Salvation Army – were present to discuss what they could do to assist. It was good to be in a room where no one was arguing about the situation. We were just trying to figure out the logistics of helping people.”

The Sacred Heart Catholic Church shelter where Alvarez volunteers is on 15th Street, two blocks from the bus station, and one of several overseen by Catholic Charities. It needs 190 volunteers a day to provide each refugee with a hot meal, clean clothes (shoes, socks, underwear, jeans), access to a hot shower, a place to rest, medical attention (including Pedialyte to treat dehydration in infants and children), and a backpack with supplies for the rest of their journey. Alvarez said a Baptist church provides laundry service and the Salvation Army operates a kitchen in the shelter.

Clothes, sorted by size, are prepared for refugees to choose from at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas.

Clothes, sorted by size, are prepared for refugees to choose from at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas.

The refugees are largely women and children; two women gave birth in recent weeks at the shelter, which houses 90 people each night. McAllen sees a need for two more shelters; last week Catholic Charities began asking other churches in town if they would agree to be an overflow site.

Alvarez said it feels most days like the need will be “never ending,” which creates a lot of uncertainty among the volunteers.

“Politically, I’m not a fan of the current administration and the way it’s handling this situation, but I’m pretty clear on what the Bible says Christians should do to care for aliens among us,” said Alvarez, who grew up in poverty in Mexico before his family immigrated to South Texas when he was a young boy.

Sims was part of a team from Global Samaritan that delivered 230 cots and blankets to the shelter in mid-July. GSR will make another trip to the South Texas city after a current drive in Abilene ends this month to collect clothes for women and children at the border. Online donations for the effort can be made on the GSR website or the website for Catholic Charities.

Wildcat Caravan rolled through Texas last week

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Dr. Amy (Berry ’95) Fuller (middle) visits with Pam (Kennedy ’78) Speights at the Wildcat Caravan event in Houston.

Pound for pound, it may be the biggest road trip of the season.

ACU coaches and administrators fanned out across Texas last week for the fourth annual Wildcat Caravan, a series of high-energy, if not high-calorie, get-togethers at some of the state’s best eateries with Wildcat alumni, fans, families and friends to collectively cheer on the upcoming athletics season.

The fun began with barbecue on Sunday night, July 13, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco; continued Monday at legendary Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth for lunch and Blackfinn Ameripub in Austin for dinner; and concluded Tuesday at Rudy’s Bar-B-Q in San Antonio and Guadalajara Hacienda in Houston. We weren’t always hungry, but we took one (and sometimes two) for the team, hearkening back to a classic line uttered by former Wildcat letterman and ACU’s 2008 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year Lance Barrow (’77): “Sometimes you gotta eat hurt.”

We came bearing gifts. In addition to doling out football helmets, T-shirts and items from The Campus Store, San Antonio’s Stacy Canavan – whose daughter, Kyla, will be a freshman in 2015 – won a trip for two to the Wildcats’ season-opening football game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

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Former quarterback John David Baker (’13) tells a Caravan crowd about his growth as a player and person during his ACU football career.

Coaches recalled their favorite moments from ACU’s first season in Division I and previewed future opponents. The Wildcats’ record-setting quarterback John David Baker (’13) shared the story of being recruited by various teams and how ACU head coach Ken Collums’ pitch centered on what the football program would do for him – as a player and as a man – rather than what he could do for the program. And athletics director Jared Mosley (’00) gave an update on fundraising efforts for the two new on-campus stadium projects and other athletics program initiatives.

Two Very Tall Men

Athletics director Jared Mosley (’00) catches up with ACU Sports Hall of Fame member Greg Stirman (’75) at the Caravan event in Houston.

But the Caravan is always less about what is said than it is a celebration of the great moments that have defined ACU’s sporting history and the legacy that continues to be handed off to the next generation.

For example, try to follow this bouncing ball. In Frisco, we were joined by Rob Orr (’52), one of four brothers who in the summer of 1950 helped convince a young Wildcat football player – unsure if he wanted to play for a new coach, Garvin Beauchamp (’41) – to return to Abilene for his sophomore season. The Orrs successfully steered Wally Bullington (’53) back to campus where that fall he helped the Wildcats go undefeated. Bullington would go on to become ACU’s head coach and win a national championship in 1973 thanks, in part, to all-Lone Star Conference defensive lineman Dub Stocker (’74), a member of the ACU Sports Hall of Fame who attended the Caravan event in Fort Worth. One of Stocker’s teammates on that title team and fellow Hall inductee, Greg Stirman (’75), a third-generation Wildcat football player whose father, Fred (’50), played alongside – who else? – Bullington. Sitting back-to-back with Stirman at the Caravan event in Houston Tuesday night was Dr. Dave Fuller (’98), whose father, Clifton (’73), was one of Stirman’s classmates 40 years ago. Along with Fuller and his wife, Dr. Amy (Berry ’95) Fuller, were their grade-school kids, J.D. and Zoe, decked out in Wildcat apparel, listening to the stories and perhaps catching a vision for one day wearing the Purple and White themselves.

The Long Purple Line got a little longer last week as the Wildcat Caravan rolled along. It left our hearts and our stomachs full.

Football season starts Aug. 27 in Georgia Dome

ACU-HBU 2013 FBAbilene Christian University’s second full season as a member of NCAA Division I begins in only six weeks when the Wildcats travel to Atlanta to play Georgia State in a Wednesday night game on Aug. 27 in the Georgia Dome.

It will be the first college football game of the 2014 season involving a FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) team. GSU is in its first year as a FBS institution in 2014, while ACU has a FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) program.

Four games in 2014 will be televised: Georgia State on ESPNU, Troy and McNeese State on ESPN3, and Incarnate Word on the Southland Conference Television Network as the league’s Game of the Week.

Tailgate parties are being planned by the Office of Alumni Relations  for the Georgia State, Houston Baptist and Incarnate Word games, so watch the Alumni Relations website for details as the date for each approaches. Make your plans to catch the Wildcats in action (all times Central Standard):

  • * August 27 – at Georgia State University, Atlanta, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • September 6 – Northern Arizona University, Abilene, 6 p.m.
  • September 13 – at Troy University, Troy, Ala., TBA (ESPN3)
  • * September 20 – University of the Incarnate Word, Abilene, 3:05 p.m. (Southland Conference Television Network)
  • * September 27 – at Houston Baptist University, Houston, TBA
  • October 4 – Lamar University, Abilene, 6 p.m.
  • October 11 – Ave Maria University, Abilene, 2 p.m. (Homecoming)
  • October 18 – at McNeese State University, Lake Charles, La., TBA (ESPN3)
  • October 25 – at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TBA
  • November 1 – University of Central Arkansas, Abilene, 2 p.m.
  • November 8 – Northwestern State University, Abilene, 2 p.m.
  • November 15 – at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TBA

* ACU Alumni Association-sponsored tailgate is planned.

9th of July: A city celebrates, a nation mourns

Original team members of the group that arrived to evangelize the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Original team members of the group that arrived in 1961 to evangelize the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

When my broadcast career took an unexpected detour in 2003, I was fortunate to catch on for a time with Great Cities Missions (formerly Continent of Great Cities), a non-profit organization dedicated to planting churches throughout the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world. GCM was inspired and founded by a team of Abilene Christian University graduates who in 1961 sailed from the Port of Houston to Santos, Brazil, en route to Sao Paulo with plans to plant a church.

Their mission strategy was (and still is to some) revolutionary: go as a team; work with and raise up local, long-term leaders; and find a location in the heart of an urban metropolis. So maybe it is fitting that the site of the first permanent congregation they established was on a busy avenue named for the day – the 9th of July (Nove de Julho) – on which the people of Sao Paulo in 1932 revolted against a corrupt government. That regime has long since passed, but the church – not just the building, but the people – remains standing and for decades has been under its own leadership.

The church in Sao Paulo, Brazil

The entrance to the Church of Christ building on Avenida Nove de Julho in Sao Paulo.

But the 1961 team didn’t stop there. Those 16 families fanned out across the massive Brazilian landscape (the entire continental United States can fit inside Brazil’s borders) and established congregations in virtually every sizable city, most of which are on the eastern coastline. In 1980, those families founded GCM to recruit, train and send teams to many of those same cities to strengthen the church already there, and to plant new ones.

How forward-thinking was this previously untested strategy? Consider that a half century later, every single city where World Cup matches have been contested has a congregation created either by that 1961 team or one sent by GCM. Some of those churches are huge, some are small; but almost all of them are organizationally and financially self-sustained.

When the rolls of 1961 Sao Paulo team members and GCM missionaries are called down yonder, you hear a who’s who of ACU. The original group included noted multilingual evangelist and Herald of Truth contributor Glenn Owen (’58) and his wife, Marlene (Mueller ’58); and former Students’ Association president and Christian Chronicle editor Howard Norton (’57) and his wife, Jane (Pearce ’58).

After Brazil’s stunning 7-1 defeat by Germany in Tuesday’s World Cup semifinal match (the country’s worst loss in its 85 years competing in the quadrennial competition), today was a national day of grief for Brasileros, as well as my friends at GCM, most of whom root as passionately or more so for their adoptive homeland as the one from which they came.

But in the midst of their mourning, Sao Paulo’s citizens (Paulistas) will still observe Nove de Julho and remember those who fought for a free republic. And as they do, I’ll be thinking about another kind of uprising, one engineered more than 50 years ago by a band of American college kids who went halfway to the end of the earth to share God’s love and wound up falling in love with a nation and its people.

Oglesby named ACU’s top teacher for 2014

ARobert Oglesby 2014 500x600bilene Christian University’s top teacher for 2014 is Robert Oglesby Jr. (’81), instructor of Bible, missions and ministry, and director of ACU’s Center for Youth and Family Ministry. He was presented the Teacher of the Year award at May Commencement in Moody Coliseum. The annual honor is based on nominations from graduating seniors.

Oglesby also works part time with the Southern Hills Church of Christ as a family minister in its youth and family ministry program. He earned a M.A. degree in marriage and family studies from ACU (1992) and has worked as a youth minister in Temple, Texas and Abilene.

J.W. Treat (1976 and 1963), Dr. John Willis (2006 and 1974), Dr. Perry Reeves (1998 and 1988), Dr. LeMoine Lewis (1977 and 1956) and Dr. Jim Nichols (1989 and 1977) are the only two-time recipients of the teaching award, which was first presented in 1953. Treat taught foreign languages at ACU, Lewis taught Bible, Reeves teaches chemistry and Nichols teaches biology. Willis just completed his 42nd year on the faculty of the College of Biblical Studies.

Previous winners:

Joyce Haley, journalism and mass communication (2013); Andrew Little, J.D., management sciences (2012); Randy Harris, Bible, missions and ministry (2011); Dr. Tracy Shilcutt, history (2010); Dr. Jonathan Stewart, accounting and finance (2009); Dr. Richard Beck, English (2008); Adam Hester, theatre (2007); Dr. John T. Willis, Bible, missions and ministry (2006); Dr. David Wray, Bible, missions and ministry (2005); Dr. Steven Moore, English (2004); Dr. Paul  Morris, physics (2003); Dr. William “Bill” Rankin, English (2002); Charles Trevathan, J.D., sociology (2001); and Michael Winegeart, management sciences (2000).

Dr. Charles Mattis, biology (1999), Dr. Perry Reeves, chemistry (1998), Dr. Jim Nichols, biology (1997), Dr. Stephen Weathers, English (1996); Dr. John Little, biology (1995); Dr. Chris Willerton, English (1994); Dr. Rick Lytle, management sciences (1993); Dr. Don C. Jackson (1992), management sciences, Dr. Mel Hailey, political science (1991); and Dr. Monty Lynn, management sciences (1990).

Dr. Jim Nichols, biology (1989); Dr. Perry Reeves, chemistry (1988); Dr. Charlie Marler, journalism and mass communication (1987); Jozell Brister, business administration (1986); Elizabeth Campbell Rotenberry, exercise science and health (1985); Benny Gallaway, history (1984); Dr. Herschel Avinger, education (1983); Dr. Paul Faulkner, marriage and family (1982); S.E. “Sam” McReynolds, mathematics (1981); and Dr. Bea Speck, history (1980).

Dr. F.M. Churchill, agriculture (1979), Dr. Neil Lightfoot, Bible (1978), Dr. LeMoine Lewis, Bible (1977), Dr. J.W. Treat, foreign languages (1976); Dr. Rex Kyker, communication (1975); Dr. John Willis, Bible (1974); Dr. B.E. Davis, journalism and mass communication (1973); Dr. Overton Faubus, business administration (1972), Dr. Juanita Avinger, education (1971); and Dr. Carl Brecheen, Bible (1970).

Dr. Clark Stevens, biology (1969); Dr. Tommy McCord, chemistry (1968); Dr. Abe Malherbe, Bible (1967); Dr. Ed Brown, communication (1966); Troy Caraway, art (1965); Dr. Zelma Odle, English (1964); Dr. J.W. Treat, foreign languages (1963); Dr. James Culp, English (1962); Dr. Keith Justice, agriculture (1961); and Norman Whitefield, art (1960).

W.C. Sikes, mathematics (1959); Dr. Frank Pack, Bible (1958); Dr. Orval Filbeck, education (1957); Dr. LeMoine Lewis, Bible (1956); Dr. Paul Witt, chemistry (1955); J. Roy Willingham, M.D., biology (1954); and Penn Gilbreth, education (1953).

Summit program booklet now online

You can make plans now to attend Abilene Christian University’s 108th annual Summit by exploring the program booklet now online. More than 130 top preachers and teachers are scheduled to present Sept. 21-24 on the theme “Earthed: Discovering Our Origin in God.”

Theme Speakers are Don McLaughlin, pulpit minister at North Atlanta (Ga.) Church of Christ; Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor, New York Times best-selling author and Butman Professor of Religion at Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga.; Lawrence Murray, assistant professor of psychology and family studies/liberal arts at Oklahoma Christian University; Sam Barrington, pastor of Living Stones Church in South Bend, Ind.; Dr. Stanley Hauerwaus, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School; Sam Gonzalez (’93), campus minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio; and Randy Harris, popular author and speaker, and instructor of Bible, mission and ministry at ACU.

Special Guest presenters are Brown, Hauerwaus and Andrea Dilley, author and documentary producer from Austin.

Taylor was featured in the April 28 cover story of Time magazine. She was named in 1996 by Baylor University as one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world, along with Dr. Fred Craddock, Billy Graham and Dr. Charles Swindoll. Hauerwaus’ book, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic, was named one of the 100 most important books on religion of the 20th century.

Ghosts, zombies highlight Shakespeare festival


“The time has been that when the brains were out, the man would die, and there an end. But now they rise again …”

Macbeth was not speaking of zombies when he delivered this line in William Shakespeare’s famous play – but he could have been.

That’s essentially the premise of William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead, a humorous twist on the typical summer performances of the Abilene Shakespeare Festival, which wraps up this weekend.

This year’s shows – Land of the Dead and Macbeth – share that line in common, among the many famous Shakespearean turns of phrase Land of the Dead adapts for its dialogue. The play is set entirely in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, where the famed playwright, Francis Bacon, top actor Richard Burbage, Queen Elizabeth and her retinue have barricaded themselves against the terror and chaos that “the affliction” has visited upon London at the turn of the 17th century. Besides the zombies, the characters also must navigate the tensions within the theater – particularly between Shakespeare and his actors, and between the queen and her advisers.

Directed for the Abilene Shakespeare Festival by professor of theatre Gary VarnerLand of the Dead was written for the 2008 Minnesota Fringe Festival, where it became a hit and garnered rave reviews.

The other, ahem, thriller this week is Macbeth, directed by Adam Hester (’77), professor and chair of theatre. The production – which chronicles the descent of a heralded Scottish general into murder and madness – comes with a twist of its own: Although hewing closely to the Old English of the original, the script replaces 1000s Scotland for 1930s Brooklyn and substitutes kings for mob bosses. The performance stars in the title role Josh Blann (’00), associate professor of drama at Tarrant County College-Northwest and a member of the Actors’ Equity Association – marking the second consecutive year the Abilene Shakespeare Festival has included a professional Equity actor, said Dawne Swearingen Meeks (’95), associate professor of theatre.

“It’s wonderful training for our students to work alongside an equity union professional,” she said. “It also will allow us to eventually hire a union stage manager so our students can start earning points towards their union status. … We are thrilled for this opportunity!”

Several actors perform double duty during the performances. Among them: Jacob Alexander, senior acting major from Vestavia Hills, Ala. (Macduff, Macbeth’s nemesis, and Shakespeare); Miranda West, senior musical theatre major from St. Louis, Mo. (Lady Macbeth and Kate, the Globe’s costume designer); Ben Starkey, junior theatre major from Garland (Banquo, Macbeth’s friend, and Burbage, who co-owned the Globe and starred in many of Shakespeare’s plays) and Kari Hatfield, assistant professor of theatre (Lady Macduff and Queen Elizabeth).

William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead will be Wednesday, July 2, with a talkback session immediately afterward, and Saturday, July 5. Tickets are $10 each. Macbeth will be Thursday, July 3; admission is free, with a talkback session afterward. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. in Fulks Theatre of ACU’s Williams Performing Arts Center, and doors open at 7 p.m.

Alumna’s firm wins U.S. Supreme Court case

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Lori (Halstead ’01) Windham speaks about the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp v. Sebelius cases. (Video still via CNN)

An Abilene Christian University alumna is in the national spotlight today after the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., announced its ruling in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby.

Lori (Halstead ’01) Windham, J.D., senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, is a member of the legal team representing Hobby Lobby’s challenge of the Affordable Care Act contraception mandate. She holds a political science degree from ACU and a law degree from Harvard University.

“This case is about the freedoms of all Americans – women and men – and it’s something that all Americans should celebrate today,” Windham said in a press conference shortly after the ruling was announced.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that closely held companies — including those owned by a family with religious convictions — cannot be required to cover some types of contraceptives for their employees.

In a Q&A earlier this month on the ACU Today magazine blog, Windham talked about the excitement of taking a case to the nation’s high court, as well as other religious freedom cases she has argued in her nine years with the Becket Fund.

Windham was named ACU’s 2009 Young Alumnus of the Year.

Preparation underway for VIA projects

Chambers Hall – which has served as residence hall, dining hall, library and the home to several academic departments – will eventually make way for the Halbert-Walling Research Center.

Chambers Hall – which has served as a dormitory, dining hall, library and the home to several academic departments since 1929 – will eventually make way for the Halbert-Walling Research Center.

As fundraising continues for ACU’s historic Vision in Action initiative, preparation is underway this summer for construction of two new science buildings and two new on-campus stadiums.

Track detail 600x400Crews this morning began groundwork on what will become a new stadium for ACU’s legendary track and field program and dominant women’s soccer team – clearing and leveling the site on Campus Court, south of Wells Field and north of Edwards Hall.

Among the changes to campus caused by the work is the closure of Oliver Jackson Boulevard, which runs south from Ambler Avenue to Coliseum Way, and the north portion of the Edwards Hall parking lot.

Likewise, several campus offices are shifting to make way for the former occupants of Chambers Hall, as well as WFF (the campus custodial services) which occupied a small building behind Chambers. Both structures eventually will be demolished to make way for the Halbert-Walling Research Center.

Soccer detail 400x400

Before that can happen, however, a series of dominoes must fall across campus, involving seven other facilities. The Department of Language and Literature will move to the Hardin Administration Building after the Graduate School takes up residence in the renovated third floor of Brown Library. The Department of Psychology will move into McKinzie Hall after the Office of Student Life occupies the renovated lower level of the McGlothlin Campus Center. And WFF will move into the Nichols House across Campus Court after renovations to the Vanderpool Building allow staff to move there from Zellner Hall, which will clear room for the Nichols House’s current occupants.

Meanwhile, crews are finishing foundation and electrical work on the Engineering and Physics Laboratories at Bennett Gymnasium. Delays in acquiring permits have pushed the projected completion date for the project into September. Likewise, the Campus Center renovation is not expected to be complete until later in the fall, delaying psychology’s move until after the semester.

Vision in Action is a $75 million fundraising effort that will transform the ACU campus in a way not seen for nearly 50 years. At its conclusion, ACU will feature three new science facilities – the Bennett laboratories, the Onstead Science Center and the Halbert-Walling Research Center – and two new stadiums, including Wildcat Stadium, the first on-campus football facility in more than 70 years. To date, $49.7 million has been raised, including the largest gift in ACU history.

More information about Vision in Action can be found here.

Wildcat fans cheer Gilbreth and Rangers

Photo by Jeremy EnlowMore than 750 alumni and fans of Abilene Christian University attended Monday night’s ACU at the Ballpark game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Texas Rangers couldn’t solve the Cleveland Indians, but at least former Wildcat baseball great Bill Gilbreth (’69) got things off to a good start with a successful ceremonial first pitch  (one that didn’t make ESPN for dubious reasons).

Photo by Jeremy Enlow

Gilbreth puts on his game face before taking the mound at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

The hard-throwing lefty has a knack for rising to the occasion when the Indians are in town: his first major league win was a 5-1 complete-game gem during his rookie year (1971) for the Detroit Tigers.

This was the third straight year for an alum to have the pre-game first-pitch honor, following 1960 Olympic gold medalist Earl Young (’62) in 2013 and ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) in 2012, the same year country recording artist Aaron Watson (’00) performed the national anthem.

Thanks to freelance photographer Jeremy Enlow and ACU Exceptional Fund program manager Rachael Hubbard, here are a few images from Monday night; you can view others on the Alumni Relations Office Flickr gallery:

Photo by Jeremy Enlow14201707728_eb1d7eb3cf_zPhoto by Jeremy Enlow