The Appalachia-Malibu-Saudi-Olympic Connection

The London Olympics end today. The first woman to run for the Islamic bastion of Saudi Arabia is blessed by hillbilly Christians, a generous Muslim autocrat, a visionary stenographer and Malibu posh. How does God change the world? He answers our prayers by connecting the dots of history in improbable ways.

In northeastern Kentucky, disgruntled Presbyterians gathered in the largest one-room log building in America, seating 500. The year was 1804. The Rev. Barton Stone and five compatriots rejected organized church denominations and declared themselves simply “Christian.” Thus began the Churches of Christ.

One hundred years later a Kansas farmboy, George Pepperdine, was attending Parson’s Business College, Parsons, Kansas. He and his family were faithful members of their local Church of Christ. After two years, teenager George Pepperdine took a job as a stenographer. He saw a car for the first time. In 1907 he began working as bookkeeper for a mechanic’s garage in Kansas City for $12 per week.

Pepperdine began to see mail order advertisements for clothing, farm implements and other wares. The idea struck that he could do the same for cars. Pepperdine worked out printing his first advertisements on credit and spent $5.00 for 500 one-cent stamps. Sales spiraled dramatically:
• 1909 $12,000
• 1910 $22,000
• 1911 $46,000
• 1912 $67,000
• 1913 $106,000
• 1914 $229,000 (the year Ford introduced the Model T)
• 1920 $2,000,000

From a $5 investment in 1909 to $2 million in sales in 1920! George Pepperdine supported several charities, but in 1937 a friend persuaded him to start a college. He wanted a college based in Christian faith but where anyone could study, no matter what religion. In 1937 he started Pepperdine University and affiliated it with the Appalachian-based Churches of Christ.

After 30 years in south-central Los Angeles, there came the Watts riots and a threat to torch the Pepperdine campus. A school supporter offered 138 acres in snobbish Malibu. Thus, Princeton Review has twice named Pepperdine as the most beautiful campus in America. In one of the most elite zip codes in America, there lies this very conservative Christian college.

Pepperdine moved to Malibu with skin-tight cash flow. When they dedicated the campus, landscapers moved in sod for the ceremony and the next day took it away again. It was a tough way to launch the new site. Then our God who “writes straight with crooked lines” solved a problem. The head of a Muslim country wrote a check to Pepperdine—for $1 million!

In 2012 the International Olympic Committee threatened to exclude the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from the Olympic Games in London because the country banned women from competing. Saudi relented, and Saudi’s first female runner ever in Olympic history is an Art major at Pepperdine University—Sarah Attar. Her nation required that she compete with her head and her body covered, and she ran 800 meters. Attar finished last place in her heat by 30 seconds, and the stadium gave her a standing ovation.

I do not fully understand Pepperdine—or God—but I am grateful that God weaves improbabilities into exquisite realities. Nestled in luxurious Malibu, Pepperdine’s student parking lots resemble luxury car lots. In contrast, when I pray in Pepperdine’s chapel, I appreciate the beauty and simplicity of the Church of Christ no-icon design. A student invited my family and me to stay for an evening chapel service, and we were deeply moved. More than 200 students—faithful to their Church of Christ tradition—sang song after song a cappella. (Because the New Testament does not mention musical instruments, Pepperdine’s Church of Christ forebears relinquished instruments in worship.)

Peace Corps has ranked Pepperdine as one of the “Top Producing Colleges and Universities.” Princeton Review ranks Pepperdine among the top 10 worst party schools in America. The Law School’s dispute resolution program is ranked #1 in the nation. When I visited with an attorney in this program, he expressed his deep appreciation for Pepperdine along with his atheistic-leaning agnosticism.

I am eager to watch God’s unfolding plan for Pepperdine.

About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
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One Response to The Appalachia-Malibu-Saudi-Olympic Connection

  1. This unique posting, “The Appalachia-Malibu-Saudi-Olympic Connection | Ben Unseth’s Red-Letter Ideas” indicates that u truly fully understand just what exactly you are talking about! I absolutely am in agreement. Thank you ,Sonja

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