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College of the Ozarks Forum and Art Exhibit

College of the Ozarks hosted the annual Spring Forum on Thursday evening, April 4. A capacity crowd gathered in Howell W. Keeter Gymnasium for “A Conversation on Israel,” featuring cultural theologian Dr. Jim Denison, founder and CEO of Denison Ministries, and The Honorable Mike Huckabee, 44th governor of Arkansas. 


Inspirational and patriotic prelude music was presented by the College of the Ozarks Concert Band, directed by Dr. Kevin Powers. Dr. Sue Head, vice president for cultural affairs and dean of character education, welcomed attendees, followed by presentation of the colors. C of O President Brad Johnson then took the podium to honor several individuals present.


C of O Chairman of the Board Shawn McKenzie and Gov. Huckabee joined Johnson for the presentation of the Friend of Israel Award to Sherry Herschend. Mrs. Herschend, an alumna of the College, came from humble beginnings, but her family instilled the value of serving and giving which led to her passion for meeting needs of others. After her marriage to Jack Herschend 70 years ago, the couple worked along with Jack’s brother, Pete, to rebuild a 19th-century mining town into the family attraction known worldwide as Silver Dollar City, and have consistently used the blessings God has entrusted them with to bless others in turn.


Mrs. Herschend’s passion for Jesus and for Israel is contagious. She has shared that passion with over 2,700 people on 55 journeys to Israel, where they experience walking where Jesus walked, including a visit to Nazareth Village, an historical recreation of Jesus’ boyhood home. Many in the audience acknowledged having been on one of those life-changing trips.


“We celebrate Mrs. Sherry Herschend tonight because of her love for Israel and the Israeli people,” Johnson said. “Her infectious enthusiasm for supporting God’s work in our world is evident, as is the investment she has made so that others can experience the land in Israel.”


Johnson and McKenzie next honored Ken and Barbara Larson, founders of God’s Ancient Library which showcases rare Torah Scrolls from around the world. To date, they have given 80 Torahs to seminaries, museums and other organizations for teaching, research and public engagement, and on Thursday evening, their gift to the College was unveiled, a German Torah estimated to be 250 years old.


“This Scroll includes the first five books of the Bible on animal skin that were carefully copied from another Torah Scroll,” Larson said. “This Scroll was written and used in a synagogue in Germany. No doubt, it survived the Holocaust, and we are delighted that we can give it to the school.”


The evening continued with “Is He Worthy?” performed by the College concert band, chapel choir, and chorale and directed by Gregg Busch. The audience was visibly moved by the inspirational modern hymn, with many attendees lifting their hands in praise to God.


The music was a fitting opening for evening’s discussion of Israel, featuring Huckabee and Denison in a fireside-chat format, discussing the current crisis in light of Israel’s history and the Bible. Dr. Johnson shared that his family was able to experience a life-changing visit to Israel last summer. “After the events of October 7, 2023, I began to feel the Lord move in my heart, and recognized the importance of having a conversation about Israel on campus,” he said.


Topics discussed included the October 7 attacks on Israel, the larger narrative of the Hamas hatred against the Jewish people, and why public sentiment in the United States has turned against Israel, especially on college campuses. C of O students at the Forum gave rapt attention to the discussion as the speakers framed those topics in a more biblically and historically accurate context than is presented in many media.


Denison holds a Ph.D. and a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Dallas Baptist University. He has taught philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries; serves as Resident Scholar for Ethics with Baylor Scott & White Health, where he addresses issues such as genetic medicine and reproductive science; and is a Senior Fellow with CEO Forum, 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, International Alliance of Christian Education, and Dallas Baptist University’s Institute for Global Engagement. Dr. Denison served in pastoral ministry in Georgia and Texas prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, and is Theologian in Residence for the Baptist General Convention in Texas.


“There is just something about being where stories from Scripture took place that you really can’t put into words,” said Denison. “Visiting Israel turns the Bible from black and white to color and turns 2D to 3D.”


Huckabee has also led many groups to Israel. His tenure as Arkansas governor from 1996 to 2007 was one of the longest in the state’s history, leaving a legacy including tax cuts, job creation, education reform and a nationally recognized preventative health initiative. He finished second in the 2008 Republican presidential primary and was also on the 2016 primary ballot.


“My goal is to encourage other Christians to experience Israel for themselves,” said Huckabee. “When these believers encounter Israel in person, I no longer have to tell them how to embrace the Holy Land.”


Of course, no special speaker at The College of the Ozarks leaves without a gift of student-made products and a Hard Work U shirt! In accepting those, both Denison and Huckabee expressed their appreciation of the College, its mission and values, and the wonderful students, staff and alumni they were able to meet during their visit.


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