A new initiative called the Tom Elliff Center for Missions is building a missionary pipeline that connects local churches and Oklahoma Baptist University to the ends of the earth.
Launched in early 2022, the Elliff center is described as a “missions education enhancement” for Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) students, designed to develop more effective national and international missionaries. Tom Elliff — a long-time pastor and former International Mission Board president — is the center’s namesake and will serve as a lecturer, mentor and missions facilitator.
“Since its founding, our nation has been recruiting young men and women for the armed services, preparing them to give their lives for this country, if needed,” Elliff says. “Why in the world would we have any reservations about recruiting students and equipping them for the mission field? … God gave me a clear vision of what could happen if we reached out, took His hand, and aggressively followed His will.”
That led Elliff to invite missions veterans like Elbert Smith to be the center’s director and assistant professor of missions, and Mike Hand, who serves as the special assistant to OBU’s president for Great Commission initiatives. Smith has over 30 years of experience with IMB and has helped train more than 7,500 missionaries. Hand also served at IMB and has recruited Oklahoma Baptist pastors from across the state to partner with OBU in various missions endeavors.
The Elliff center has been in the making for years. Many are excited to see it come to fruition, especially OBU’s president, Heath Thomas.
“We want OBU to be the global leader in university education for missions,” Thomas says. “Through the Tom Elliff Center for Missions, OBU students will have the opportunity to be equipped by some of the finest in the world.”
The Elliff center will augment OBU’s existing missions emphases by providing the opportunity for students to learn from experienced missions leaders, through forums and other on-campus events, as well as by connecting with local churches to support their missions activities. Some practical examples of this partnership include the Elliff center offering OBU scholarships to high school students who are called to missions, and the students’ home churches providing funding for the university’s Global Outreach (GO) trips.
This spring, more than 75 pastors, students and friends of OBU attended the Elliff center’s inaugural missions forum. Elliff, Smith, Hand and Thomas spoke at the event and challenged students to not to waver from their calling to carry out the Great Commission.
Caylin Chlouber, a junior family science major at OBU, attended with a friend.
“The Elliff center brings a relational aspect to what I’m learning,” Chlouber says. “Knowing that we’re all called and that I’m not alone in this process makes it less daunting.”
Freshman Harry Shuman was there, too. He is a global marketplace engagement major at OBU and thinks he’ll likely be a missionary someday.
“It’s such a whirlwind of things that God is doing in my life, and it’s all culminating in this program,” Shuman says.
Thanks to an anonymous donor, the Elliff center was able to create a revocable trust with a board of directors that will work to ensure consistent leadership and vision, as well as fund the center, for the next four years. Thomas says OBU is also actively working to create an $2 million endowed chair for the center and is seeking gifts from donors who are passionate about missions. Thomas says that raising the funds is a priority for the university because it creates stability and security for the Elliff center’s future.
“I want evangelism and missions to be ensconced in the heart of our university. And one way you do that in the context of higher education is to provide an endowed chair,” Thomas explains. To date, more than $250,000 has been raised for the Elliff chair, and Thomas hopes to have it fully funded by the end of 2022.
“The Elliff center is essentially putting booster rockets on everything that OBU is already doing to prepare students for missionary service,” he says. “I’m excited to see how God is going to use it to empower students take the Gospel to those who haven’t heard.”
Help Grow OBU’s Great Commission Legacy
Oklahoma Baptist University is equipping future missionaries through the Tom Elliff Center for Missions as well as providing students with a nationally ranked education grounded in a Christian worldview. WatersEdge can help you maximize your gift’s impact. Start a conversation with our giving professionals today.
By Holly Easttom & Anna Dellinger