'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.' Psalm 116:15
Today (Monday, January 9), Oak Hill College is mourning the loss of our beloved friend and leader, Mike Ovey, who went to be with the Lord suddenly on Saturday evening. We have been thinking especially of his wife, Heather and children, Charlie, Harry and Ana, who have lost a beloved husband and father. Please keep them in your prayers.
All normal college activities have been cancelled so the college community can grieve together and spend time thanking God for Mike's wonderful leadership.
At 10am, we worshipped together in the chapel; students, faculty, administrative staff, housekeepingf and kitchen staff, maintenance, and groundsmen shoulder to shoulder remembering a man whose whole life revolved around the gospel.
People have been crying and laughing, telling stories, phoning family, remembering the first time they met him and paying tribute to a life well-lived.
Mike would have been delighted to note that recurring themes of the day were of his resolute determination to hold fast to the central truths of the gospel but also a humility, gentleness and kindness that doesn't often go alongside such determined tenacity. Everybody here felt these things, even the non-Christians working here. We'll all miss him deeply.
As Theology for Crossing Cultures Director at Oak Hill, I'm also going to miss a man deeply committed to mission. Although Mike has largely ministered in western contexts and was quintessentially English in all kinds of quirky ways, Mike understood the importance of mission. He 'got' the importance of the global.
As college Principal, along with his Vice Principal Dan Strange, the wider mission community couldn't have wished for a better advocate from within theological education.
He actively promoted and encouraged the development of the TCC stream under first Ray Porter, from OMF, and now myself from Serving In Mission.
He wanted Oak Hill to train more and more missionaries well-equipped to impact the whole world for Christ. Not content with that, Mike wanted to ensure that every student graduating from Oak Hill would have mission front and centre in their theological thinking - whether they were going on to become UK church leaders, youth workers or overseas missionaries.
Ray sometimes used to joke that 'mission was taking over the college!' Mike often used to quote Ray's comment, but always with delight and approval, because the importance of mission in theological education was no joke to either man.
I remember the day I started teaching here. Mike looked at me with that Ovey twinkle in his eye and said, with excessive gesticulation: "David, whatever else you do, we want you to exude The Great Commission!"
Missionaries don't get told that by UK churchmen every day and I was immensely grateful that he said it. Mike didn't want any part in training up parochially-minded ministers with expressions of the gospel that couldn't transcend cultures and of increasing irrelevance to the contemporary global church. He might not always have known himself how to ensure these things immediately, but he was resolutely committed to finding ways to make college as mission-minded and globally relevant as possible.
Mike was immensely grateful to God to hear any news of Oak Hill graduates (Old Oaks) serving faithfully anywhere. Over recent years this has increasingly included news of at least 40 Old Oaks serving in five continents with more than a dozen different mission societies. I know that Mike was personally delighted that at least five well-known mission societies are currently being led by Old Oaks. It thrilled his heart.
The current college strap line is 'Best Possible Gift'. On college open mornings Mike clearly articulated, from Ephesians 4, the college's conviction that Christ's best possible gift to today's church is thoroughly trained Christian ministers, equipped to teach and apply God's word in God's world despite constantly changing circumstances.
In his own words, this is what 'get's me out of bed on a Monday morning!' This Monday morning Mike didn't get out of bed, but in living himself as one of Christ's 'Best Possible Gifts' while he was with us, he has given us our bearings, left a shining example to follow and plotted our course for the future.
In no small part due to Mike's leadership, training for mission is alive and well at Oak Hill College.