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Portland area church leaders concerned about Cascade’s closing

Mike Thomas, an elder of the Metro church in Gresham, Ore., describes the closing of Cascade College as “sort of like a death in the family.”
“You don’t really know what to do,” Thomas said of news that the small Christian college will shut down after the spring 2009 semester.
Thomas is among leaders of Churches of Christ in the Portland area concerned about the spiritual impact of Cascade’s closing on the Pacific Northwest.
“We’re hurting,” Thomas, who has lived in Oregon for 24 years. said. “Many of us in the congregation have been involved with the college for years. It’s ingrained in us.”
About 20 of Cascade’s 45 full-time faculty and staff are members of the Metro church, including the part-time pulpit minister, Brian Simmons, who is part of the communication faculty. 
“These are key people, active, involved, some deacons and educational coordinators,” said Thomas, who believes the loss of the college will leave “a big hole” in the area but is hopeful that many school employees will find jobs and remain.  
At the Eastside church, which meets on the campus of Cascade, part-time pulpit minister Rudy Wray also is troubled by the Christian college’s closing.
Five Cascade families and at least a dozen students are members at the Eastside church. Another part-time pulpit minister, Darren Williamson, is a full-time college employee. The wife of youth minister David Rude, Carrie, is a Cascade employee.
“They don’t know what is going to happen to them,” Wray said.
While the church will miss ministering to Cascade students, Wray is also concerned about the impact of the shutdown on the community.
“They are now going to look at the school as a failed Church of Christ school, and this adds to the negative view of the church,” said Wray, a former missionary to El Salvador and Honduras.
Wray, who also works with Lubbock, Texas-based Sunset International Bible Institute, said Eastside has been trying to reach out to the community on the east side of Portland, and Cascade’s closing isn’t going to help.
But Wray said he was relieved and grateful when Oklahoma Christian University stepped in to reopen Cascade College and provide Christian education in the area after Columbia Christian College closed its doors in the early 1990’s.
“Their impact has been great, and the students trained at Cascade College will continue to have an impact for good for many years to come,” he said.
Long-time Vancouver, Wash., minister Craig Brown fears the closing could mean that area churches may lose many young people who might not return to nurture and strengthen the church in the Northwest.
“As they have to relocate to educate, their roots will grow elsewhere — outside the Pacific Northwest,” Brown said.
At the Southwest church in Tigard, Ore., life-group minister Craig Benjamin believes that area churches will miss the opportunities the college provided.
“Cascade has had a unifying influence upon churches and ministers,” he said.
The college regularly hosts a number of events that equip and encourage church members including monthly area-wide ministers’ luncheons and annual Bible and church growth seminars, Benjamin said. Cascade hosted
Abilene Christian University’s Elderlink, and faculty members frequently speak at area churches.
While few Southwest church members are Cascade employees. many  are graduates of Cascade or its predecessor—Columbia Christian College. The members still have strong ties to the college and are saddened by news of its closing.
At PUMP, Portland Urban Ministry Project, an eight-year-old urban church and ongoing ministry, the prospective loss of Cascade students and staff will degrade their ability to minister to the community, said PUMP staff member Allan White.
“We have many students who come to PUMP who are attracted by our hands-on, service-oriented approach to ministry,” White said.
College students serve as drivers, teachers, role models and mentors to the children who participate in the program for underprivileged families. They also serve as summer program interns.
“A school like this one is a magnet for talent and innovative thinking when it comes to ministry,” White said.
“But the constant stream of new blood and energy coming in the doors will be gone when Cascade closes.”
He added: “It’s becoming clear that a Christian college in the area is a glue, a networking agent for believers in ways that’s not apparent until it’s gone.”
Although he understands why Cascade is closing, Ron Clark, minister of the Agape church in Portland, said “the loss is still great.”
While he believes Cascades’ closing will hurt area churches, he thinks many will respond by enlarging their outreach to the community.
“We haven’t had campus ministries to the various colleges in Portland,” Clark said.  “Churches will now have to go to the colleges to evangelize the students.”
At Agape, a church plant begun in Clark’s home two years ago, leaders have hired an intern couple and begun a small ministry to the Portland State University campus.  They plan to expand the campus ministry to other city colleges.

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