Raising the Ruins, Part Two
“[A]Nd I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.”
By the time we purchased those 38 acres in 2000, my father’s vision had become crystal clear. We had to raise up everything the Tkaches ruined. And so we began in earnest, as soon as the contract was signed, to set up meetings with land developers, building contractors and landscape architects.
Tim Thompson, who negotiated the land purchase for the church, said, “In a couple of years, you won’t recognize this place. Five years and it will be a paradise.” We were thinking big.
Ten weeks after the purchase, on September 8, my father officially broke ground on the new property in a ceremony attended by our headquarters staff and their families. My father said the land belonged to God and that He had an intense interest in the building program. He reminded us of the many prophecies in Scripture that describe the worldwide rebuilding to take place after Jesus Christ returns to this Earth. Ours was the first of many ground-breaking ceremonies to occur in the World Tomorrow and beyond, he said.
One week after we broke ground on the 38 acres, we signed the deed on the additional 120 acres adjacent to our original plot. It was mostly pasture land that the previous owner originally wanted to develop into an upscale neighborhood for airplane owners. He had already developed a small, unpaved airstrip on the property. But his development plans changed and he instead decided to sell the property. Commenting on the fact that the 120 acres had an airstrip, my father said later in a sermon, “We know what Mr. Armstrong has done in the past …. And I think maybe that gives you some idea of what God is planning in the future. … [M]aybe God wants me to fly around, and others of the ministers, to get to people more quickly and do the work even faster than we have done it.”
So as of Friday, Sept. 15, 2000, we had 158 acres ready for developing. “Think about what could happen in a few years,” my father told our members. “I think God is kind of hurling the  acres out there to say, all right, now, here’s the vision. There’s something really wonderful going to happen in the near future. … [A]mazing developments are going to occur right before our eyes.”
Three days after we acquired the additional property, on Monday, Sept. 18, 2000, the Ninth Circuit filed its opinion on our case, ruling in favor of the Worldwide Church of God. Distribution of Mystery of the Ages would have to stop and yet, here we were about to embark on a huge building and development program so we might reach the largest audience possible with Mr. Armstrong’s literature.
My father knew God had opened the door for us to build, so he wasn’t about to let the Ninth Circuit discourage us. The same week we received the bad news from the Ninth Circuit, we broke ground on a 22,400-square-foot multipurpose center, complete with a gymnasium, a raised stage at one end for church services and musical performances, a second-floor sound booth overlooking the gym, locker rooms for men and women, a commercial kitchen, dining hall and several offices scattered throughout the facility. For a church as small as ours, having dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into a court case we just lost, as well as land we just bought, this was a HUGE undertaking.
As we pressed forward with construction through the winter months, we waited for the judge’s injunction that would prevent us from mailing out Mr. Armstrong’s literature. At the same time, my father waited as long as possible before deciding on whether to start the college in the fall of 2001 or to wait until 2002. I wrote to my dad in January of 2001, “In reading from Mr. Armstrong’s experiences, you do immediately think about starting things smaller—the mustard seed beginning, just like the Trumpet and The Key of David started. Do you suppose starting the college this fall, with a smaller class and fewer courses offered, would be better than waiting until 2002? It seems like by fall of 2002 that the land would be much better developed, more buildings would be in place and we’d be able to accept more students—all of that would kind of go against the ‘mustard seed’ beginning.”
My father was leaning toward the smaller start in 2001. But even with a small beginning, it had to be done right. He wondered if our headquarters staff would have enough time to develop the highest-quality courses in theology and the liberal arts, and if the time commitment to do so could be justified for such a small freshman class.
By the end of January 2001, the court-ordered injunction was filed and we stopped mailing Mr. Armstrong’s literature. Two weeks later, my dad gave the school, named Imperial College, a green light for fall classes later that year. We announced it to the membership on February 17. After he made the decision, my father admonished those of us who would be teaching at the school, saying that “if the college is done right, it can stir and motivate the entire church to get more and more behind the work.” He reminded us that we’re not here just to start a college, but that the college would be established to support the work’s worldwide mission and to facilitate faster growth.
On February 24, my father then told the church membership that there is “no money in the budget for the college,” but that we are in a time of “no more delay” and must move forward.
On April 2, more bad news on the lawsuit front—the Supreme Court rejected our petition. As we prepared for the damages trial in court, out on the land we rushed to complete the field house before the start of classes in August. That summer, we moved two mobile homes on campus to temporarily serve as student residences. We accepted 10 full-time students, including two married students, who would live just off campus.
At orientation on Thursday, August 30, my father kicked off our first school year by explaining why God raised up Imperial College. Though off to a mustard-seed beginning, he said, the college would eventually grow to be the biggest, until finally established worldwide after Christ’s return. On Tuesday, September 4, a full slate of classes began. The field house was not yet complete, so the students had to commute to our Waterwood offices each day for the first three weeks of classes. After classes and work at headquarters, they returned to the two trailers on the 158 acres.
What an exciting time that was for us. It was all so reminiscent of the way Ambassador started. “Would you really say it was a college that finally swung open its door to students the eighth of October, 1947?” Mr. Armstrong asked in his autobiography. “There were only four students! There were no dormitories—no place for students to be in residence on the original little ‘campus’ of one and three-quarter acres. We had some books and encyclopedias on shelves in the one room that served as music room, assembly room, library, study room and lounge—but no real college library. There was no gymnasium, no track or athletic field.”
Few people would have considered Imperial a legitimate college in 2001. But it has since enjoyed abundant growth—and at a much faster rate than Ambassador experienced in its early years. In 2002, we constructed two duplexes for use as student residences, one of which had a classroom built in between. The two structures, big enough to house 24 students, enabled us to accept 14 more students in 2002. With all the students moving into the duplexes that year, we converted both mobile homes into faculty housing, including one for my family. We also added an outdoor sports complex that summer—including a fenced-in softball diamond, a soccer field and a small two-story structure providing storage for athletic equipment and a classroom on the second floor.
In 2003, we completed construction on two faculty homes. We also finished work on a new swimming pool and bath house, located behind the field house. During our youth camp that summer, we received news from U.S. Immigration that the college had been certified and could begin accepting international applicants. Within weeks, after being accepted at the last minute, we had five new international students on campus. That September, in the tradition of Mr. Armstrong’s world-renowned concert series, the Philadelphia Foundation hosted the internationally acclaimed Canadian Brass in the field house. Later that year, in November, the church purchased an additional 10 acres, adjacent to the western edge of the campus. The acreage included a home—which was immediately purchased by another headquarters ministerial family—and a steel barn and fenced corral.
The following year, in 2004, we finished two more faculty homes, which meant five headquarters families were now living on campus—a total of 22 people, counting children. We also completed work on a new 5,000-square-foot men’s dormitory, with enough living space to house 22 students. The additional space enabled us to accept our biggest freshman class yet—23 students coming from five countries. It doubled the size of our student body to 46—14 of whom were from nations outside the United States. We were just beginning our fourth year and we had 46 students representing eight countries.
In July of that year, we purchased two items auctioned off by the Worldwide Church of God in Pasadena. With one of our representatives on hand at the auction, and several of us listening in on speakerphone in Edmond, we purchased a 9-foot Steinway concert grand piano and two 7-foot-tall candelabra, all from Ambassador Auditorium. The piano was one of three Steinways the WCG used for its concert series.
The candelabra were made of crystal used by the late Shah of Iran for the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire in 1971, then later acquired by the WCG and placed in the lobby of the auditorium.
In 2005, the college’s Choral Union gave its first-ever public performance, together with members of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra and professional soloists. On April 10, the 49-member chorus, 28-piece Baroque orchestra and four soloists packed the field house stage to perform Handel’s Messiah.
In the fall, we began our fifth year at the college—our first with a full four-year load of courses offered. We accepted 18 students, upping the student body size to 54. And with every student working for the church part-time, student labor was beginning to really flex its muscle. As our chief financial officer, Andrew Locher, explained, “Part of each student’s education comes through the work-study program, which places them in responsible positions in nearly all departments of church operations. The church in turn benefits from quality labor at a very reasonable cost. Altogether, the students combine to equal 25 full-time employees—at a fraction of the cost! The students are rewarded by earning their way through college and graduating without financial obligation to the church. This is truly a win-win situation conceived by Mr. Armstrong for Ambassador College.”
Yet another program we had raised from the ruins.
Later in 2005, we changed the name of our school to “Herbert W. Armstrong College.” Imperial College of London had wanted us to make the change years earlier, so as to avoid any confusion over the name. So we proposed various ways to use “Imperial,” but in a way that would make the name distinctly different, like “Imperial College of Edmond.” After our litigation ended with the WCG, however, we considered going in a completely different direction. Herbert W. Armstrong College was a name we almost used when we started the college in 2001, but since we were then embroiled in a lawsuit over Mr. Armstrong’s literature, we didn’t think it would be wise to use his name for our college as well. But by the end of 2005, after winning all that literature, and with our first crop of seniors months away from graduating, changing the name to Herbert W. Armstrong College seemed like a perfect ending to the story of our legal struggle—and a fitting tribute to Mr. Armstrong’s legacy.
Growth of the Work
In his autobiography, Mr. Armstrong repeatedly said the growth of the work “directly paralleled” the development of the college. He said, “Without the college, the work of thundering Christ’s gospel around the whole world could not have been possible. It could never have gone around the world. It was the development of the college in Pasadena that made possible the growth of the whole gospel work!” The same has been true with our work as we raise up the ruins.
After obtaining all the literature in March of 2003, we saw an immediate need for a multipurpose facility where we could store huge quantities of literature and process mail. We also wanted to update and expand our TV studio in anticipation of offering Mr. Armstrong’s literature on The Key of David. In a matter of months, we completed plans for a 17,400-square-foot Mail Processing Center. Today, the building anchors the northeast corner of the church’s property and can be seen from nearly anywhere on campus. Two thirds of the structure is an enclosed warehouse for all our literature, stored on double-pallet storage racks. Adjacent to the warehouse, under the same roof, are the centers for processing mail and answering calls for the tv program. There are also six offices for MPC employees. Above the offices, there is a 2,400-square-foot mezzanine, soundproofed and enclosed for our state-of-the-art television studio and editing equipment.
In the spring of 2004, a year after the victory, we began the piecemeal process of moving our headquarters staff from the Waterwood complex out to the 168 acres, beginning with those assigned to work at the MPC. We also unveiled plans for a two-story, 22,825-square-foot Hall of Administration to serve as our new headquarters.
Later that year, after we acquired the piano and candelabra from the WCG auction, my father took the purchase as God’s signal for us to begin thinking about building an auditorium in the tradition of Ambassador. It would be smaller and less expensive than Ambassador Auditorium, but a beautiful centerpiece on the campus landscape nonetheless. “I do believe …that with God giving us these beautiful furnishings right out of the house of God [Ambassador Auditorium], that He does want us to build an auditorium,” he said just three months before we were scheduled to begin construction on the $3.7 million Hall of Administration. My dad said that because of the urgency of time, we might have to consider building our facilities, not successively, but perhaps concurrently.
In October 2004, during the same week we broke ground on the Hall of Administration, the Pasadena Star-News revealed the WCG’s plan to move its headquarters operations off the Ambassador College campus in Pasadena and onto the “smaller, less expensive trappings of an industrial building” in Glendora, California. Even as Tkachism prepared for its last ruinous act, selling off the formerly great Pasadena headquarters, God showed His mighty hand by raising the ruins in Edmond—and during the very same week.
In the summer of 2005, with construction on the Hall of Administration in full swing, we broke ground on a $2 million college building that would provide housing for 34 more students downstairs and serve as an academic center upstairs. Thus, we had two huge structures going up concurrently on campus in 2005, just as my father had indicated might happen.
Meanwhile, the work of the church was experiencing explosive growth. The year the lawsuit ended, The Key of David aired weekly on just one station: WGN. In March of 2005, two years later, we were on 92 television stations around the world. And with all of Mr. Armstrong’s works printed except his autobiography, we were churning out an average of 45,000 pieces of mail per month (not counting any of our magazines). Perhaps the biggest step forward in 2005, as far as literature is concerned, came in January when we started updating and revising Mr. Armstrong’s Bible correspondence course. By the time 2005 ended, we had sent out twice as much mail as in 2004 and had received 50 percent more phone calls from the TV program than we had the year before.
In January 2006, exactly 20 years after Mr. Armstrong’s death, all that was left from the PCG operations at the old Waterwood complex moved into the new Hall of Administration. Herbert W. Armstrong College and the church’s headquarters were now completely joined together.
The new administration building—rising 41 feet above the mostly residential countryside—instantly doubled the PCG’s executive office space and made for a tremendous upgrade in quality. Ron Fraser said, “Mr. Armstrong knew that by lifting the tone and quality of environment to the highest possible standard, humans would be inspired to lift themselves to meet that standard.”
On the ground floor, the 40-office building has several open spaces for numerous cubicles, as well as an elegant and spacious library that wraps around the central staircase. Commenting on the building’s breathtaking beauty, my father told members, “Shouldn’t the most wonderful message people could ever hear … come out of a building like that—something that is worthy of God?” As with every other structure on campus, the building itself is a message—a testament to our work of raising Mr. Armstrong’s ruins. God has raised the ruins so we might give a powerful warning to this dying world.
Our First Graduates
Of course, we will always have our critics. Mr. Armstrong certainly had his share. In 1951, after Mr. Armstrong had labored for four years to get the college off and running, there were some, even in the Worldwide Church of God, who could not see the vision Mr. Armstrong had for the college and the work. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “When God first started Ambassador College, many brethren and co-workers lacked faith. They couldn’t see God’s hand in it. Some felt your pastor’s duty was solely to preach the gospel to the world—not realizing that one man alone can’t do it all!
“They had forgotten that Jesus, Peter and Paul surrounded themselves with specially God-called men whom they trained to assist them in their great mission.
“Some said, ‘Why, there isn’t time! It will be four years before the first students graduate, and even then they will still be just youths without maturity or actual experience.’ …
“But there was, and still is, enough time—though there is not a day to lose. The end of this age can’t come until this very gospel of the Kingdom has been preached and published in all the world as a witness to all nations (Matthew 24:3, 14).”
This had been his lifelong approach: preach God’s message to the largest audience possible while surrounding himself with specially called individuals he could train in order for the work to expand further. Mr. Armstrong went on to explain how Ambassador’s first graduates were already having a strong impact on the work after only four years.
The same has been true of our work. We had 13 seniors graduate from Herbert W. Armstrong College in May 2006. And from that group, nine were hired by the church. Three of them were given positions in Editorial, two in Mail Processing, and one each in the business office, Information Technology, the call center and college administration. With only 66 full-time employees working at headquarters, the fact that nine of them are AC graduates is remarkable when you consider that we have only had one senior class to this point.
And even as the college facilitates a more expansive work, we continue upgrading and expanding the college itself. With the completion of the new dormitory/academic center in July 2006, we doubled our classroom space and have enough accommodations on campus for about 90 students. So we have room for growth—and we will certainly need it.
Viewer response to the key of David in 2006 increased by 45 percent over 2005. And with more people being exposed to our literature, it follows that more have requested contact with our ministers. In 2006, ministerial visit requests jumped 80 percent over the previous year.
We also re-launched the public appearance campaigns in 2006 (our first series occurred in the late 1990s). Public lectures, radio and television broadcasts and printed matter were all part of Mr. Armstrong’s “three-point” plan—the strategy he employed for preaching the gospel message to the largest audience possible. It was yet another of the ruins we have been able to raise up. In describing the initiative to our members on May 6, 2006, my father called it a “new phase” for our work. He explained how Christ’s commission in Matthew 10:23 was actually intended for the Philadelphia Church of God and that we wouldn’t be able to cover all the “cities of Israel” before the return of Jesus Christ. In the first phase of the campaign, from July to September, my father visited Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, New York and Portland.
During this same time period, our architects put the finishing touches on the drawings for the $15 million, 800-seat auditorium we intend to build and dedicate to our great God. We hope to break ground on God’s house in 2007.
The Road Ahead
As I look out my window across campus from my second-floor office in the Hall of Administration, I sit here in absolute awe of WHAT GOD HAS DONE. To think that all of this started 16 years ago with a Worldwide Church of God minister who was fired and excommunicated, offered no severance pay or pension and then laughed to scorn within the circle of Tkachism for simply believing and teaching what he had always been taught.
That’s what God had to work with at the start of raising these ruins—that, AND FAITH.
Even today, in viewing what God has raised up already through a relatively small church with a modest annual income of $14 million or so, the numbers just don’t add up. Yet the work keeps growing and prospering as more doors swing open for us to finish our commission.
Mr. Armstrong introduced one of his books by writing, “No story of fiction ever was so strange, so fascinating, so absorbing, so packed with interest and suspense, as this gripping story ….” That’s the way I feel about our story. It’s so strange it seems almost unbelievable. And yet, what a fascinating and incredible ride this has been. But we still have a long way to go.
Herbert W. Armstrong died with his mind on reaching the largest audience possible with a message—a commission the Tkaches were dead-set against. They stopped the work and ruined everything God had given Mr. Armstrong for the work.
Then God raised it right back up. He began with a small, faith-filled ministry intent on delivering the exact same message Mr. Armstrong did. A few people responded to that message and devoted their lives to support that work. Later, God amplified the message with many of the same tools Mr. Armstrong had used so effectively—radio and television programs, magazines, books and booklets. And when the fledgling work of the Philadelphia Church of God plateaued, God raised up a college to train additional personnel for service in the work—to make it possible for the work to have a worldwide impact. At the same time, God dramatically increased the size of our facilities for doing the work.
Now God has granted us ownership of all that literature.
It’s as if everything to this point has happened to prepare us for what’s ahead—to make reaching the “largest audience possible,” possible. In many ways, to paraphrase the conclusion in Mystery of the Ages, it feels like the story is just beginning.