James E. Copple
In February of 1966, my father announced to the family that we were moving from Kansas City to Seattle. I was sixteen-years-old and a Junior in High School. This was devastating news in so many ways. I was new in the faith, a football player in the local high school and had so many friends and family in the area. My protests fell on deaf ears. My father had made up his mind. Ten days later, we were in Seattle. I felt completely uprooted and displaced.
The first Sunday in our new home I attended the Renton Church of the Nazarene. I knew nobody. Out of nowhere a man in his mid 40s came up to me with a huge laugh and a handshake that practically pulled my arm out of its socket. He introduced himself as Oscar Hickerson and it was clear he was about to take me under his wing. For the next two years, Oscar and his wife Janelle would host me in their home, take me camping, and provide guidance and counsel as I made choices and decisions on every topic from girl friends to college. Oscar came to every high school event and he would always greet me with that over-the-top handshake. When I needed money to pay the fee or tuition for the International Institute, a youth event for leaders in the Church of the Nazarene, held every four years in Estes Park, Colorado – Oscar wrote the check. It was at the International Institute that I made my commitment to serve the poor and to work in missions.
A year later, Oscar knowing that I wanted to attend a Nazarene College and that I had made a commitment to go to the first Nazarene school that would give me at least a $600 scholarship, he wrote the check that put me on an airplane to head to Boston where I attended Eastern Nazarene College. Every vacation, I spent time with Oscar and Janelle. We camped, spent time over dinner talking about politics, religion, and my plans for the future.
Over the years time and distance would make our visits less frequent. I received word this week that Oscar passed away. He was 94. I never forgot the investment Oscar made in me. I was always impressed at the confidence that he placed in this sixteen-year-old. His sponsorship in two of the most critical events in my life laid the foundation for a life of service and commitment to the poor. Over the years, I would also find ways to invest in the lives of young people – sending someone to youth camp, providing a scholarship, or underwriting a vision trip to discover one’s place and calling in life. Oscar taught me how to do that. Because of the investment Oscar made in me, I have had the privilege of preaching in every state in the Union, 42 countries, meeting with every President since John Kennedy and investing in thousands of young people in schools, communities, and congregations around the world. Oscar’s shadow and presence has never been far away.
I have worked hard to earn the trust and support that Oscar placed in me. His investment has multiplied a thousand times over. He leaves a legacy that is hard to quantify – but it is significant. He lived a life that begs to be imitated. I have tried to make similar investments in youth around the world. I can only pray that those young people will build on Oscar’s foundation and invest in others as he invested in me. While the man named Oscar might be missed – he will not be forgotten for his legacy will live on in the thousands of young people touched by his influence.
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