I have missed writing an article the past two weeks. In that time things have begun to change for our state regarding the re-opening of businesses, hospital operating rooms, and yes, houses of worship. Monday, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced that worshipers may return to houses of worship this Sunday. There are criteria that still need to be followed, but this is great news to those who have so greatly missed gathering in worship.
But I now return our attention to another trailblazer of the BMA of Arkansas (and America), one who impacted the lives of so many. I was just thinking about Dr. Charles Olin Strong.
Please overlook my personal references, but Bro. Strong was an integral part of my life from the time I was four years old in 1950 until his heavenly promotion 62 years later.
C.O. Strong, as he was best known, was one of the early leaders of the state association. He was among the pastors whose churches had been with the American Baptist Association prior to the Lakeland, Fla. split that brought about the North American Baptist Association, now known as the Baptist Missionary Association of America.
In those foundling days, churches voted as to which group of churches with which they would associate. Under the leadership of Bro. Strong, Central Baptist Church in Ashdown voted to unite with the NABA. Then, under his leadership, the church voted to become part of the newly formed Arkansas Missionary Baptist Association, now the BMA of Arkansas.
Shortly afterward, in 1952, the state association purchased the campus of the former Central College for Women in Conway. With Dr. D.N. Jackson as president, a new ministry of the association was begun — Conway Baptist College. Ten years later, another name was chosen for the school — Central Baptist College.
In 1956, despite being an excellent pastor, Bro. Strong resigned from the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Magnolia, to become an instructor at the new college, teaching English. He also authored several sermon outlines books that became excellent helps to pastors everywhere.
I enrolled at CBC in the fall of 1964, and Bro. Strong was my English professor. I had always been adept in the subject, but I learned so much from Bro. Strong that I had never previously known.
I answered the call to ministry in September 1964. I immediately went to tell Bro. Strong, who was then also my pastor at Central Baptist Church in Conway. He was such an encouragement to me from that day forward.
In the spring semester of 1965, I had a new relationship with Bro. Strong — he was my homiletics instructor. Sadly, I must admit that I was not his best student! But at that time this man who had affected my life for 14 years had become more than a pastor and professor, he had become a mentor. To say that he took a “Strong” interest in my ministry would be an understatement. I owe much to him.
In 1967, Bro. Strong was elected to serve as Editor of Publications for the BMA of America. He was superb editor. His background in English and composition qualified him for the position perfectly.
Again, a personal reflection. At the national association meeting in 1976, Bro. Strong was preparing to render his annual report to the messengers. He stopped me in the hallway and said, “I’ve been trying to locate you. In a few minutes I am going to announce that you are recommended to write for the BTS teaching guide, Golden Words.” I was almostspeechless! I guess I did better in his classes than I had thought!
Dr. C.O. Strong was certainly a trailblazer! However, I want to emphasize that behind what sometimes appeared to be a stoic personality, the man had a heart for young preachers. Today, many of the pastors in our association of churches owe much to the teaching, counsel and influence of the preacher who was their mentor.
Following his retirement from the Baptist Publishing House, Bro. Strong and his wife, Kathryn, continued to reside in Texarkana, where they were members of Central Baptist Church. (I found it somewhat amusing at how there seemed to be an attraction for him to be at institutions named Central Baptist!)
On April 17, 2011, the man who had been born near the southern state line of Arkansas, in the little community of Welcome, received his welcome to Heaven. Be certain of this… Dr. Charles Olin Strong left a well-defined trail to follow by those who have come behind him.