One of our country’s crying needs is for an increased Christian witness at state universities. The example of the late Bill Wilson, my colleague and friend at Miami University, continues to inspire me.

In 1969 I came to teach history at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, after a stint at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Though not as old as Rutgers (1766), Miami University is a relatively old state university, with its establishment granted in the North-west Ordinance. Its founding date (1809) makes it ten years older than Jefferson’s University of Virginia.

Miami University is named after Ohio’s Miami Indians. (That more famous upstart in the South was named by an Ohio real-estate developer who bought a plot of beachfront in Florida.) One of Miami University’s most illustrious professors was William Holmes McGuffey, author of the best-selling Readers. McGuffey, who conducted Bible studies and preached, later became the first clergyman to teach at the University of Virginia.

As I had been the faculty adviser for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Rutgers, I immediately sought out Miami’s I–V adviser, William Wilson, a botany professor. I encountered a tall gentleman with white hair and a beaming countenance. “Prof” Wilson, as he was known, was a passionate and exciting teacher, who was honored as an Outstanding Miami Faculty member. Even in small classes, he lectured with vigor and fist pounding as he might from a pulpit. An inattentive student might be hit with an eraser or a piece of chalk. As he had been the catcher on the Wheaton College baseball team, he rarely missed.

Bill came to Miami in 1947 and taught here until his retirement in 1979. He forthrightly admired the Creator’s handiwork in plants and trees. And he inspired many of his undergraduate and graduate students to pursue further studies in botany.

The Oxford Bible Fellowship

Bill was responsible for establishing the Miami chapter of InterVarsity in 1958. He faithfully attended I–V’s meetings and encouraged the students with his love for the Lord and his knowledge of Scripture. On Sundays, he taught a Bible class for about 50 students.

Soon after my wife and I came to Oxford, we joined the Wilsons and others in forming a new, independent church, the Oxford Bible Fellowship, to minister to the campus and to the community. Influenced by the Wilsons’ Brethren background, four laymen took turns speaking for the first nine years of our fellowship.

The Lord has graciously blessed OBF, which was eventually able to erect a building right next to the freshman dormitories. Some 300 university students attend its two services each Sunday. An estimated 250 alumni have gone into various ministries as pastors, missionaries, and parachurch staff.

A salutary factor, which has served to promote the Christian witness on campus from the beginning of OBF’s history, is its role as a unifying factor in promoting cooperation among the various parachurch organizations—InterVarsity, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Navigators.

Another factor that has enhanced witness on this campus is the university’s rule that students, half of whom live in dormitories and half in apartments, are not to have cars on campus. The location of OBF in the middle of campus ensures them easy access to a church.

Prof Wilson’s testimony

When Bill passed to his reward last year, the dean of the college appointed me to chair a committee of Bill’s colleagues in the botany department to write a memorial to be circulated among the faculty. His colleagues and neighbors bore unanimous testimony to his sterling Christian character.

Bill preached simple, but moving sermons with a marvelously mellifluous voice. His life radiated his joy in Christ. Even after he had suffered a temporary stoppage of the heart, which led to some memory loss, Bill retained many Scriptures. Even those in the nursing home who knew him only in his debilitated state could not help being blessed by this man of God.

Bill Wilson was a marvelous example of what a dedicated Christian professor can accomplish for the Lord in a state university, and he continues to be an inspiration to all who had the privilege of knowing him.


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