Raising the Ruins

PT

Raising the Ruins

In his book Raising the Ruins, Trumpet executive editor Stephen Flurry exposes the reality of what happened to the Worldwide Church of God. Here is part one of the 25th chapter.
From the July 2009 Trumpet Print Edition

“[A]Nd I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.”

— Amos 9:11

After work on June 29, 2000, I picked up my wife and newborn daughter at home and we drove about 7 miles north in Edmond before pulling off the road onto an open field. The sun was setting—we have beautiful sunsets in Oklahoma—and since it was June, it wasn’t too hot yet. We got out of our car and walked across the field. I was holding our baby girl, and everything was calm and peaceful.

Not long after we arrived, a few other cars full of people pulled up and did the same thing—slowly driving through grass before parking and getting out. It reminded me of Field of Dreams—a movie about a farmer who built a beautiful baseball field and people from miles around showed up just to see it.

We didn’t have that many people show up—there were about 25 of us. And there was no baseball field. In fact, there was nothing! I mean, there was a certain natural beauty to the place—especially because of a small, spring-fed pond surrounded by clusters of trees—but most of it was just an open field with wild grass that had grown up to about knee level.

There were no roads.

No real entrance onto the property.

No buildings.

Nothing.

And yet, there we were—25 of us—wandering around, sipping champagne. We were fellowshiping. We were laughing. We were envisioning the future.

Shortly after we visited that field, my father wrote in the Trumpet, “I plan to start a small college in 2001, perhaps 2002. In June, the Philadelphia Church of God purchased 38 acres of land with a beautiful 3-acre lake.” 

That was quite an announcement! In our church newspaper, it had been mentioned that this 38 acres might also be the site for a future television studio, an office building, an auditorium and a youth camp. And—on top of that, a new college! That’s a lot to squeeze on 38 acres, especially when a small lake and shoreline cover seven or eight of those acres. My father continued, “At our college, we will teach our young people to open their minds to all truth and ‘prove all things.’ … [O]ur aim will be to provide students with a well-rounded, liberal arts education. We plan to have strong classes in history, journalism, music, nutrition, computers, television production, speech and leadership.”

He wrote this just two weeks after buying a field. Later in the article, he wrote, “We will have a class on news analysis, where students will be taught the true meaning behind world news. They will see how world news is fulfilling Bible prophecy. Their Bibles will come alive as they never imagined!

“We also have the capacity to teach accounting, agriculture, English, Spanish and some other basic classes.”

We hadn’t broken ground on a single building. There were no administrators. There were no departments, no teachers and no students. Even more astounding was that just a few weeks after my father wrote that article, the church purchased another field of 120 acres!

Without a doubt, our college and new headquarters facility had to begin first as a vision.

Day of Small Things

In the Old Testament, God commissioned His servant Zerubbabel to lead a band of captive Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem in order to build a temple. In Zechariah 4:6, God said to Zerubbabel, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit.” In other words, for Zerubbabel to successfully complete his task—even in the face of numerous obstacles and strong enemy resistance—he needed God’s power. Unless God built the house through His human instruments, all their labor would have been in vain.

So God started His rebuilding work in Jerusalem, which had become a desolate wasteland during its Babylonian captivity, through this small remnant of Jews. “For who hath despised the day of small things?” God asked in Zechariah 4:10. Zerubbabel’s enemies were critical of his work because of how small it started.

Mr. Armstrong’s critics also found fault with the way the Worldwide Church of God began. His God-given commission to preach the gospel to the world started in 1933 on a small 100-watt radio station in Eugene, Oregon. He began publishing the Plain Truth magazine the following year; the inaugural issue, mimeographed by hand, went to 234 recipients. Everything seemed so small and insignificant at the beginning. But it was all by design.

“When the great God, Creator and Ruler of the vast universe, does something by Himself,” Mr. Armstrong wrote, “He demonstrates His supreme power by doing it in a stupendous, awe-inspiring manner. But when it is actually God who is doing something through humans, it must start the smallest. Like the grain of mustard seed, the smallest of herbs, which grows to become the largest, God’s works through humans must start the smallest, but they grow, and grow, and grow, until they become the biggest!”

Though his work started from practically nothing, Mr. Armstrong walked by faith. He had no scholarly training, no corporate funding, and yet, thanks to the blessings of God, over a period of decades he raised up a highly successful, globe-encompassing work. When God builds something through people, He starts small, because He never wants us to forget that He is the one who provides the increase.

“Had Ambassador College started big,” Mr. Armstrong continued, “with several hundred or a few thousand students, a great campus filled with large college buildings—an administration building, classroom buildings, laboratories, music conservatory, large ornate auditorium, gymnasium, a fine quarter-mile track and football field, a large library building with 500,000 volumes, dormitories, dining halls—everything complete, then I could certainly have no faith in accepting it as God’s college.”

That wasn’t how Ambassador College developed at all. It began as a modest institution, almost comically tiny.

A Man of Vision

On Nov. 27, 1946, Mr. Armstrong located what seemed to be a suitable building for the school, though it was somewhat run-down. Within weeks of the purchase, Mr. Armstrong produced a special edition of the Plain Truth magazine, January-February 1947, announcing the exciting news: “This year, September 22, our own new school, Ambassador College, will swing open its doors to students!”

If something like this seemed unlikely in 2000 after we bought those 38 acres, how much more so in 1947, considering the limited help and experience Mr. Armstrong had at his disposal? He wasn’t raising ruins that had been built before—he was starting from scratch! Mr. Armstrong continued, “Ambassador is to be a general liberal arts institution—not a Bible school, ministers’ college, or theological seminary. It will fit students for all walks of life, offering a general and practical basic education, with unusual advantages for special technical courses, as well as a thorough, sound, complete Bible course. … There is no other college like Ambassador.”

No other college like Ambassador? There wasno Ambassador at that point. All the church had was a run-down building in Pasadena. And besides Mr. Armstrong, there was no faculty. No students had even applied.

But why was Mr. Armstrong so confident his vision of Ambassador College would turn into reality?

Because he had faith in the power of God!

Here is how Mr. Armstrong described this college which, as he wrote, did not yet exist: “It is, in a sense, a revolutionary new-type college—different from those of today’s world—a forward-looking, progressive institution built on soundest principles, having highest goals and objectives, yet employing the best of proved methods of administration, and maintaining highest academic standards.”  How clear the concept was in Mr. Armstrong’s mind. He continued, “The vision of this new and different college, and its imperative urgent need, came like a revelation straight from God last spring. At first the idea seemed impossible, for us—almost fantastic.

“But the Eternal our God is a miracle-working God who promises to supply every need. And literally, God has performed a miracle! When one knows the facts and circumstances, that cannot be doubted. Events have happened swiftly! Amazing developments occurred unexpectedly. The vision has become a definite reality. The opening of Ambassador College next September is assured.”

What an example of faithful reliance on God—and of vision.

In that same article, Mr. Armstrong described the vast difference between an Ambassador education as compared to what any other college had to offer. Instead of teaching students how to make a living, Ambassador’s focus would be on how to live—on developing godly character.

Modern education, he wrote, wastes precious years on “nonconsequential details and impractical and untrue theories, instead of teaching young men and women the basic knowledge of life—what life is, why we are here, where we are going, and how to live successfully, usefully, happily, joyfully!” 

Ambassador was to be the solution to the evils of modern education. Its curriculum would be different from all other colleges. He wanted to offer general education courses in science, math, music and physical health. But the spiritual instruction on how to live would underpin all of it.

Mr. Armstrong also had a crystal-clear vision of social life at Ambassador. He said it would be “directed not toward just ‘fun’ alone, or worldly pleasures, but toward personality and character-development, the acquisition of that portion of culture which includes the graces of politeness, courtesy, kindness, gentleness, self-restraint, selflessness.” 

This great visionary was in his 50s when he wrote this, and he had never been to college himself. Even more remarkable is how this 1947 article perfectly describes Ambassador College during the 1980s—more than 30 years later. The Ambassador College that existed at the time of Mr. Armstrong’s death in 1986 truly was the product of a vision that started in the smallest of ways—in one man’s mind.

The Remnant and the Ruins

Amos 9:11 says, “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.” Even in the early days of the pcg, my father said this scripture was a prophecy that the work built by Herbert W. Armstrong would be turned to ruins—and that we would then raise it back up. God wanted to replicate the way things were done “in the days of old.”

Verse 12 continues, “That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the Lord that doeth this.” As my father has taught, Edom and the heathen refer to those who have forsaken God’s truth in this end time. God says those who raise up the ruins will take possession of the remnant, or surviving portion, of Edom. That remnant, my father wrote in 2001, “must include Mystery of the Ages and Mr. Armstrong’s other books and booklets.”

That has now happened. God gave us those books and booklets.

In Amos 9, God says possessing those many books and booklets coincides directly with the work of raising the ruins that were built before Mr. Armstrong died! Of course, as with everything God builds through human beings, it started incredibly small. There were no visible manifestations of construction and building when we started printing Mr. Armstrong’s literature in late 1996.

But God did plant a seed in one man’s mind.

We received our first copy of Mystery of the Ages from the printer on Dec. 20, 1996. My father announced the new phase to our members on Jan. 4, 1997. During this same time period, the Worldwide Church of God entered its final phase of destroying Mr. Armstrong’s legacy.

When Mr. Tkach decided to pursue accreditation for Ambassador College in 1988, it set off a chain reaction that had a massive impact on the college and the work of the church. They broke ground on a new administration building in Big Sandy the same day my father was fired—Dec. 7, 1989. The following year, Tkachism closed the campus in Pasadena and consolidated all college resources in Big Sandy. They intended to move all headquarters operations to Big Sandy. They built nine new buildings on the Texas campus in 1990 alone—including the Hall of Administration, Ambassador Hall and student residence halls.

On June 25, 1994, Tkachism finally obtained accreditation for the college. Upon receiving the news, Tkach Sr. decided to change the name of the college to Ambassador University, saying it was a “more appropriate description of the range and diversity of programs” the institution had to offer. By 1996, the sprawling campus had become a virtual self-contained city. There were more than 50 buildings encompassing 730,000 square feet—administrative buildings, multipurpose centers, a gymnasium, classrooms and lecture halls, dormitories, a huge convention center and 25 single-family homes. The campus center was surrounded by 2,000 acres of farmland and timberland. There were two beautiful lakes, a campground, on-site water and waste treatment plants and an airstrip with a hangar to accommodate corporate jets.

Yet, on Dec. 29, 1996, just 2½ years after being accredited—and nine days after we received that first reprinted copy of Mystery of the Ages—Ambassador’s board of regents shocked the surrounding community, as well as its own church membership, by announcing that the college would abruptly and permanently close after the spring semester ended in May 1997. Exactly 50 years after Mr. Armstrong established the school to support the church’s worldwide mission, Ambassador College had been completely ruined.

Yet, even in the midst of this desolation, God planted a seed.

The Vision Expands

Big Sandy’s demise in 1997 set off another chain reaction—one that had a massive impact on our work.

Two months after the college’s final graduation in May, our news bureau chief, Ron Fraser, toured the facilities in Big Sandy on a fact-finding mission for my father. “I was informed,” Mr. Fraser wrote soon after his visit, “that the wcg would seek to sell the whole campus intact.” He explained that if the campus didn’t sell after 12 months, the wcg would consider breaking up the property to sell off parcels. This piqued my father’s interest.

In September of 1997, Grubb and Ellis, a real estate agency in Dallas, listed the property with an asking price of $32 million, which was reasonable, considering how much money the wcg had invested into it. At the same time, however, the property was uniquely designed to service the church’s needs during the days of Mr. Armstrong, and it was situated in a remote location in the middle of East Texas. We didn’t think there would be too many interested buyers—not at that price.

Apparently, the wcg didn’t think there would be either. After the property was listed, one of our members in Dallas obtained additional information from a broker who had contacts at Grubb and Ellis. He said that while it was listed at $32 million, the fire-sale figure floating within real-estate circles was $6.5 million. That figure really piqued my dad’s interest.

By early 1998, the campus was still on the market. Meanwhile, my father’s vision for our work had expanded. To reach the largest audience possible with Mr. Armstrong’s books and booklets, he believed we needed the same kind of facilities Mr. Armstrong used for his work—we needed to resurrect those desolate ruins. At the time, it seemed like the best way to accomplish this was by breathing life into a dead campus that had been built specifically for the needs we had.

My father wanted more information before taking such a bold step for a small work that was already entangled in litigation over Mystery of the Ages. So I sifted through all the church writings I could find about Big Sandy. Having attended there for a semester in 1989, I was somewhat familiar with the environs and its facilities. I found a couple of articles I thought my dad would be interested in and then wrote to him on April 18, 1998. I said, “If God should provide us with Big Sandy and all the buildings on that campus, I cannot see Him doing so unless He has huge plans for this work and plans for resurrecting the now-defunct Ambassador College. If you read those articles I included in this packet, you will notice two things that happened quickly after AC started in the 1960s [in Big Sandy]: 1) The work began to grow phenomenally and fast. 2) They began to reap much fruit in the way of qualified personnel and leadership after just two or three years.”

I went on to explain how we needed student labor in order to produce more literature, process more mail, answer more calls and correspond with more prospective members. I drew up a proposed course load for an incoming freshman class of an estimated 24 students. I totaled the number of hours those students could work part-time and explained how this work force would impact the day-to-day operations of the work. “In short,” I concluded, “the opportunities Big Sandy would open up for us, this work and for God’s children are truly limitless.” 

The following month is when we made our anonymous offer of $5 million for the Big Sandy property.

What we didn’t fully realize at the time is that when God begins a work through human beings—even a work of resurrecting what has been ruined—it must start the smallest! God didn’t want us to make a big splash with a ready-made infrastructure like Big Sandy.

He did, however, want us to think big! So He used Big Sandy’s demise to help focus my father’s thoughts on acreage and facilities—administrative buildings, multipurpose centers, a gymnasium, classrooms, lecture halls, dormitories, a convention center, faculty homes and an airstrip. But God didn’t want us to obtain all those facilities with one single transaction.

We had to start from scratch.