Dear Ozark Christian College,

imageI am writing to inform you about the passing of one of the young men who attended your institute of learning a few years back.  I sent a note to whoever runs your Facebook page, asking them to share his obituary with his classmates who might have remembered him.  I received a genial, “Thank you!” But several hours later, no one has shared the news of his passing.

It’s been an interesting few days and if I seem angry, I assure you, it is related to the treatment my friend received from your institution and the products of your institution.  If a Proctor or a Scott or Weece had passed away, Meredith Williams would have been all over it, but for some reason, my friend’s passing mattered not.

I posted something on my own Facebook wall about my friend’s death on Tuesday, I wanted people that went to school with him, people who knew him and loved him to know that he was gone.  Several people offered condolences and wishes for peace for his family.  Very few of those who responded were actually Ozark alumni.  I’ll tell you right now, I was surprised on Tuesday by the lack of empathy.

This morning, I posted a blog about his passing, referring to him as Charles.  I probably did not need to change his name, but I thought that if his parents somehow found out about my blog, it might hurt them.  You see, my friend was gay.  But you probably know that, that’s probably the reason why his death means nothing to you.  

After I posted this blog, an attempt to tribute this friend who became my friend only in the past few years, only via Facebook, that I really saw the alumni at Ozark, the people I once counted among my best friends, as the people they really are, the people you taught them to be.  With few exceptions, and YES, there were a few exceptions, the several people that responded, that offered condolence or prayers of peace were people who never knew him at all.  They were friends of mine from high school or New York or Los Angeles.  I was moved that these people, many not Christians at all, did not need to know the guy to respond compassionately. Only a handful of Ozark alumni seemed to care.  

And then I went to my friend’s Facebook page, it was flowered with hundreds of messages of love that my friend will never see.  People telling him how funny he was, people thanking him for always being there for them, people who loved him.  Only one comment was from an Ozark alumni, it read, “Does anyone know what caused ________’s death yesterday?”  In my opinion, a genuine “I’ll miss you” would have been better.  Someone else from my school private messaged me asking about Charles’ real identity.  I felt like saying you don’t need to know his identity to pray for him and his family.  God is expansive enough to figure it out.

If it seems that all of this has unhinged me a little, you are correct.  As much as this is about my friend, it’s also about me.  I know now that when I go, you people will not care.  Oh, some, hopefully many, people will care, but the Ozark Christian College community, as a whole,  will not.  And that’s okay.  I finally figured it out.  Now I know why after 15 years of trying to get the Alumni News sent to me, the administrator keeps telling me my address is, and I quote, undeliverable.  I know.

In the 24 years since I graduated, in the 21 years since I came out of the closet, I always had a certain pride about going to Ozark Christian College.  I have many fond memories and I always thought that I learned a lot there.  I was on a camp team, for pete’s sake!  What I did not realize until today is that the moment I sat in Gary Zustiak’s office, a couple years after graduation and told him I was gay, I ceased to exist to you. I was too much of an embarrassment.

I will not forget this, I will not forget my friend. I will not forget the scores of other men and women, homosexuals, that you would like to pretend were never a part of your institution. We exist. We will not go away. And if anyone ever asks me again about my college education, instead of smiling and saying, “it’s a funny story…” I’ll say, I went to Ozark Christian College were they tried to beat the compassion out of me. They failed.

12 thoughts on “Dear Ozark Christian College,

  1. We are all beneficiaries of the fact that they failed, Ray. However, I can see how much it pains you that people who purported to care about everyone only cared about those who fit their definition of what was acceptable to [their definition of] Christianity. I’m not Christian, or any defined religion, but when I read about Jesus I just don’t believe he would tell us to treat one another the way that we do. Thank you for your caring soul but also for your outspokenness.

    • Alistair, thank you, it’s true that if I’d stayed in the midwest and stayed in ministry, I never would have met some wonderful friends like you and Amy. I love you guys. You are both the picture of compassion. We all fail, especially me, in the way we treat each other at times, but hopefully, we learn as we go.

  2. Ray, I am pained to read of how the college and faculty who were teaching about Jesus, failed to be like Jesus. I love you.

    • Rindi, you know I love you too! Someone on FB posted a tribute about my fellow OCC alum who passed away. It was written by one of the young people who had been in his youth group when he was a youth minister. It made me think of you and the rest, of course. I am glad that we have stayed in contact over the years, still connected. It heartens me that you are the bright light, the sunshine, now, still, that you were at 15 and 16.

  3. Ray,
    I am sorry for for the loss of your friend. However I am even more sorry for the way that “Christian agencies” seem to miss the true meaning of their own religion. Especially since Jesus taught us to love….

    I remember you in elementary school, playing Charlie Brown, and even in high school how your personality, laughter and compassion always brought a smile to my face. Even today and after reading your blog over the past couple of days I can see that you are still the same compassionate and wonderful person that you always were. I am glad that you have not changed and that you still care enough to share your heart with us. We are all truly better for having known you, and I am sure that Charles felt the same!

    • Stacy, thank you for reaching out, it means a lot. And thank you also for remembering my Charlie Brown. I’m just going to say it: it was probably the best performance of my life. I peaked at 10. And you were witness to it! 🙂
      I hope that you are well!

  4. Ray:
    You’re a great man. You’re a great friend. You’re a true example of Christ to all. Thanks for loving and defending Charles. You model Christ well. Heidi and I love you, friend and fellow Ozarkian.

    • Greg, I am not a great man. I am a man who sometimes gets it right and unfortunately, sometimes gets it wrong. I love the Coronas, too and am happy that we’ve maintained contact through the years. I know how proud you and Heidi are of Aidan and Wilson, as you should be. I still think about that video they made a few months ago and smile!

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