A Vote of Confidence
Story by Patricia C. Hanlon
Dale and Ann Fowler's stories parallel, in many ways, the story of Gordon College itself, a similarity that makes their generous support of the College all the more meaningful. Both Dale and Ann have had a vibrant Christian faith from their early years, and have sought to put that faith to work in tangible ways in the world. They have "dreamed big"--but always to the greater glory of God. They hope that their support of the College will encourage others to step forward.
Ann Fowler became a Christian when she was about eight. "My mother was a believer," she says, "and she made sure we were involved in church activities." Her father did not become a Christian until much later in life, when he was in his 60s. "I prayed for him all those years. Sometimes I thought 'Well, Lord, you're just not listening to me.' But then finally He did answer this prayer."
Dale came to faith in Christ as a boy at vacation Bible school. "I remember sitting in a circle in little chairs, having punch and cookies." When the minister stopped by and presented a straightforward gospel message to the children, Dale readily accepted the invitation to receive Christ. "It was very real to me at that time and has been ever since."
As a couple the Fowlers have always desired to share their faith with others. Years ago Ann invited some neighbors to their home in southern California for tea and a talk by a friend who had had a life-changing conversion experience. Twenty neighbor ladies showed up; two accepted Christ that morning. "They were very open to asking questions about the Christian faith," Ann says. The meeting turned into a regular Bible study in their home, and when the men felt left out, the Fowlers started a couples' Bible study as well. From there it grew. As a result of this outreach, about 100 people in their neighborhood have become Christians over the years.
The Fowlers have been similarly enterprising in business. Their first real estate project--in the late 1950s--was an apartment building in Orange County, built when they were in their early 20s with their own "sweat equity." Since then they have been outstandingly successful in industrial real estate but had to wrestle with what Dale refers to as "a negative aura in some Christian circles, including my own, to being a business person. There were opportunities and recognition for anyone who wanted to be a missionary--they'd call them up in front of the congregation and pray for them--and yet I could never understand why we didn't need professional people and business people to pay for all those going out all over the world to share the gospel. And we had a need to share the gospel in our own neighborhoods."
Ann notes, as well, that a well-run business doesn't exist for its own sake, but "provides necessary jobs for many people," jobs that might otherwise not exist. The Fowlers would concur with author Michael Novak's incisive words on the subject: "Business is a demanding vocation, and one is not good at it just by being in it, or even by making piles of money. The bottom line of a calling is measured by pain, learning and grace. Having a good year in financial terms is hard enough; having a good year in fulfilling one's calling means passing tests that are a lot more rewarding" (Business as a Calling, 1995).
Things have changed in the Christian subculture over the years, Dale says. "There's more of an awareness of a need to achieve excellence in many professions--we're all called to be the best we can be as God created us. 'Full-time Christian service' has a lot broader meaning than it did."
It is a cultural shift that has also taken place in Gordon College, which now prepares students for full-time Christian service in a range of professions, including but not limited to ordained ministry or missionary service. "Gordon," Dale says, "is turning out young men and women who are committed to historical Christianity and who have been trained to make a difference for the better around the world. Perhaps the greatest difference between Gordon College and similar secular institutions is that we believe in and serve a living God Who truly interacts in the lives of the people who seek and serve Him."
The Fowlers are enthusiastic about the College's tagline: Freedom within a Framework of Faith. "Isn't that why the Holy Spirit exists--to show us how we ought to live?" Dale asks. "And that's what life is all about, making these decisions prayerfully--asking ourselves 'What would God have me do?' Our freedom is not license; it's freedom to be responsible."