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The late Monty Daffern leads a devotional on the Oklahoma State University campus.
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Longtime campus minister washed feet — and dishes — and changed thousands of lives

Former students remember the far-reaching impact Monty Daffern made.

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STILLWATER, OKLA. — “Worship where you are.”

It’s just one of the famous, or maybe infamous, one-liners for which Monty Daffern was known.

Over nearly 30 years, thousands of students who passed through the Oklahoma State University campus ministry — dubbed “UC@OKState” — at the Stillwater Church of Christ heard Monty share those words.

I was one of them. 

From fall 2000 to spring 2004, I was blessed to be a part of that ministry. Monty was, for many of us, the builder of the bridge that took us from the faith to which we were born into the faith we could claim as our own. 

He taught us how to see God not in the words of our parents but in our own lives. And he taught us the importance of growing that faith wherever we go — to “worship where you are,” as he told us in his “Going Home” sermon at the end of every semester.

It’s hard to know how many lives Monty touched, but now that he’s gone, it’s heartbreaking to think how many will miss out on the chance to learn from, laugh with and be loved by him.

Monty was called to his eternal home on May 13, 2024, at the age of 54. He was born Oct. 31, 1969, to Gary and Jeannie Daffern. He grew up in Hooker, Okla., with his sister, Tonya, and brother, Casey.

Monty had attended Oklahoma State University in the early 1990s. As he wavered in his faith, he found the University Center at the Stillwater church a place to belong and grow. He went on to attend Abilene Christian University, where he received his Master’s in Biblical Studies, before returning to Stillwater in 1994 to serve as campus minister.

In 1995, he married Jenny. Together they had three children, Harrison (who is married to Hannah), Melanie (who goes by Mellie) and Kyeson.

It was in 2013 that Monty’s health took a hard hit. He was diagnosed with Isaac’s Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder with less than 200 known cases. But Monty was a fighter and refused to give up. He stayed in ministry and kept touching lives.

Monty Daffern on one of the many mission trips he made to Mexico.

Monty Daffern on one of the many mission trips he made to Mexico.

In 2016, after a trip to the Mayo Clinic, a medication combination was worked out enabling him to live a fairly normal life. In August 2022, he got COVID-19, and from there, things gradually began to break down.

In a sermon last fall, Monty — in a wheelchair and struggling with his speech after spending several weeks in the hospital —  talked about Isaac’s Syndrome.

“It’s like Parkinson’s and MS (multiple sclerosis) had a baby,” he quipped.

In January this year, he was hospitalized again. In addition to Isaac’s Syndrome, he was diagnosed with Morvan Syndrome, another rare disorder with only 14 reported cases. He went through several rounds of an experimental treatment. For a while he seemed to be improving, until he wasn’t.

From hospitals to rehabilitation facilities to a nursing home — and then in May came word he had once again entered the Stillwater Medical Center. Doctors had put him in hospice care. His family gathered close.

Within days, the man who had touched so many lives was gone.

Tributes poured out on social media as former students and friends shared the things Monty taught them and the impact he made on their lives.

Those tributes continued at a memorial service this past weekend, where hundreds showed up to grieve together, with others joining online from around the nation.

Greg Summers, a children’s minister for Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Ark., said he often tells students, “I came to saving faith in Jesus at 14, but I got to meet Jesus in my 20s, and I got to meet him through this man named Monty. Because Monty lived with the spirit of God just dwelling inside of him, and every time you interacted with him you got to see a little bit of Jesus.”

Monty Daffern with his wife, Jenny.

Monty Daffern with his wife, Jenny.

Summers served as an intern in the Stillwater campus ministry from fall 2005 to spring 2007. He is one of many campus ministry students who became a minister himself.

Monty believed finding a place to belong was essential to helping students come to believe in the Gospel. That relationship building was a huge part of his ministry. He was a mentor, a friend and a wise teacher. 

“Monty, you were … quirky,” Matt Mills chuckled as he listed things like Dr Pepper, the Green Bay Packers and Elvis. “But you loved what you loved. You loved the Lord. You loved your family. And we’re so glad you loved us. You will be missed dearly.”

Mills, preaching minister for the Perkins Church of Christ, south of Stillwater, is also a former University Center student. He later worked alongside Monty as an associate campus minister.

Matt Mills preaches for the Perkins Church of Christ, south of Stillwater, Okla.

Matt Mills preaches for the Perkins Church of Christ, south of Stillwater, Okla.

Mills reminded everyone how Monty often quoted Romans and was known for other one-liners, including, “The process is more important than the task — that’s my least favorite one. Don’t start a relationship during finals week. And, if you don’t know what to do, wash feet.”

Washing feet was something Monty led student interns through each year, a group I was fortunate to be a part of.

As one group of interns left, they’d ceremoniously sit with the interns chosen to serve the next year. They’d take buckets of water and rags — washing feet while sharing lessons learned that might help the new interns.

“He embodied what it means for a Christian to wash feet,” said Barry Bachman, who had served alongside Monty for the last several years and now leads the campus ministry. “I can’t tell the times I walked in to find Monty washing dishes, moving chairs, doing the things that maybe nobody wanted to do.”

Many laughed as Monty’s “bromance” with Paul, the writer of Romans, was referenced. Monty loved to teach Romans and frequently offered a study of Romans class to the University Center students for college credit.

Monty Daffern in his office.

Monty Daffern in his office.

While ministering to students was his career, Monty was so much more than just a campus minister.

He was a father, a brother, a son. Jenny and their children have also been instrumental in the ministry. Students have watched his children grow up and admired the marriage he and Jenny had.

He counseled many young couples and officiated countless weddings — ending each couple’s vows with the phrase “until I lay you in the arms of Jesus.”

It’s something his sweet wife has now done, much sooner than she, his children, his family or anyone who knew him would like. 

But we are confident that those arms are exactly where Monty is now — worshiping where he is, as he taught us all to do.

CHELLIE ISON is a freelance journalist and works as a social media and video production manager. She and her family attend the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.

Memorial donations

Monty Daffern always talked about and hoped to leave behind a new facility for the students at the University Center before he retired. If you would like to make a memorial donation toward the completion of this venture, contribute via this link or mail a check:

UC Foundation Building Campaign

P.O. Box 2168

Stillwater, OK 74076

More photos

Monty Daffern with his family.

Monty Daffern with his family.

In 2023, Monty Daffern was awarded the Stephen Ekstein Lifetime Achievement Award at the Campus for Christ Conference.

In 2023, Monty Daffern was awarded the Stephen Ekstein Lifetime Achievement Award at the Campus for Christ Conference.

Monty Daffern "just being Monty" at the University Center.

Monty Daffern “just being Monty” at the University Center.

Filed under: campus campus ministry feet washing Monty Daffern National Obituaries Oklahoma Oklahoma State oklahoma state university Opinion Stillwater Church of Christ Top Stories UC@OKState Views

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