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The Pastor’s Piece – August 7, 2022

The Pastor’s Piece


August 7, 2022

It had been a few years since my wife and I visited Branson, Missouri. When we were last there, our children were small and the town was too. Actually, we’ve been there twice before. The first time was in March and they had 14 inches of snow (which is very unusual) and most of the shows weren’t open. The second time was in the summer and we made it to some of the shows – whatever our budget would allow. The show we remember the most is “The Titanic.” It was still there this time and looking exactly the same (hasn’t sunk yet). That show has a lot of sounds and 3-D aspects to it. While watching it several years ago with our children, there was a loud bang and the whole building shook and vibrated. Everyone in the theater thought it was part of the show, until we went outside afterward and saw a ton of emergency vehicles surrounding the building. Turns out, while we were inside, a small twin engine plane crashed outside a few hundred feet from the theater, and four people were killed. That was tragic. 

Last week my wife and I found ourselves in Branson for the third time. Things have changed quite a bit in the last couple of decades. It is much more commercialized. There are more waterparks and more entertainment opportunities. Since we were there for a conference and not on vacation per say, our time was mostly spoken for and we didn’t get to see a lot of different shows. However, we did make reservations at the Sight and Sound Theatre where we saw an elaborate live theater play called JESUS. I would highly recommend it. The cast included live animals on the stage. Animals like horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, doves, and camels! The animals ran up and down the people aisles at certain designated times during the program. Everything was very real and very professionally done as it portrayed the life of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 

While we were in Branson we also made time to visit a college called College of the Ozarks. I had never heard of this school before last week, and I was pretty much amazed by their strategic plan and wonder why more schools don’t use this model. 

College of the Ozarks was founded in 1906. It has a total undergraduate enrollment of about 1,500 students on a rural campus of 1000 acres. The school offers degrees in just about every area of study. To name a few, they offer degrees in Accounting, Business Administration, Education, Environmental Studies, Political Science, Pre-Med, Pre-Pharmacy, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, English, Education, Nursing, Engineering, Music, Theatre, Agriculture, and a host of other majors and minors.

I am not a big fan of one sending their children off to college to rack up (sometimes) a six figure student loan debt then launch them out into the world where they spend the next ten years (or longer) paying off that loan while they try to establish a career, family, homestead, and everything else that is involved in life. In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes that was ever invented was the guaranteed student loan program. That allowed colleges to raise their tuition to any amount they chose, because they knew with the guaranteed government loan program, they would get their money – which at first came from the government, but after graduation, that loan falls directly on the backs of the students.

College of the Ozarks came up with a better way. The students who attend, work off their tuition by taking jobs on campus. The school has its own hotel, restaurant, dairy, beef, and vegetable farms along with all the supporting industries needed to successfully operate those enterprises. While we were there we took a tour of the school. What interested me the most, because of my farming background, was their dairy. They milk between 40 and 65 cows in a fully equipped dairy facility. The students not only milk the cows but they balance the ration and mix the feed components. Another segment of the university grows the crops that feed the animals. In the summer and fall they harvest the crops and store them at the farm on campus. What the farm doesn’t grow, they purchase. The same is true of their beef and swine enterprises. The students learn all these details and put them into practice. 

Along with the dairy, beef, and swine operations, they also have gardening where the students grow a garden, take care of the planning, maintenance (weeds) and harvesting the fruits and vegetables. Most of their produce goes to the culinary school where it ends up on the plates of those visiting their restaurant. The on-campus restaurant is of 5 star quality with impeccable service and delicious cuisine served up in a very relaxing atmosphere. The milk from the dairy is used for ice cream and other dairy products served in the restaurant.

As we toured the campus guided by students from each department, we were amazed by the planning and quality that went into every aspect of the college. The students were friendly, informed, and excited about explaining how each department operates. The most obvious characteristic of each student was their love for their school. The goal that is reached by every student is they graduate with a degree of their choice with absolutely no debt. When asked what the requirements were for admission, other than grades and attitude, one student said: “To be accepted, you need to love Jesus and have the financial need.” 

Each student is required to work 15 hours a week on campus during the school year. The work is not limited to agriculture only. There is also a stained glass and candle shop (student-made stained glass and candle-making studio), horticulture (greenhouse and plant sales year round),  landscaping, restaurant and hotel (open to the public) where the students are the staff.  The students who stay and work over the summer, work a 40 hour week – room and board included. This seems like a fresh, new idea in education, yet this school has been in existence since 1906.

Next time you’re in Branson, stop in for a visit. You’ll be glad you did. 

(Kevin Cernek is Lead Pastor of Martintown Community Church in Martintown, Wisconsin)