Senior Mark Cole Wins 2019 ORU Overcomer of the Year Award
In what has become an annual tradition, Oral Roberts University bestowed its Overcomer of the Year Award today. The honor, delivered by ORU President Dr. William M. Wilson, was given to Senior Nursing student Mark Cole.
"My time at ORU was just supposed to be about finishing my nursing degree and then going back to a normal day-to-day routine," Cole wrote in remarks delivered during one of the University's twice-weekly chapel services. "While enrolled at ORU, God called me to Uganda, Zimbabwe, and to Ghana twice."
Cole came to ORU at the age of 27 after deciding to obey the Holy Spirit's call to the University. "My wife Tess and I were filled with excitement and apprehension as we withdrew our last $1000 from the bank and drove a Penske rental truck from Asheville, North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma to answer that call," he said.
The young couple, along with their Labrador retriever, made the trip with a notion of an unbounded future ahead of them, only to get the news a few weeks later, on Thanksgiving Day 2014, that Cole's father had passed away suddenly in an automobile accident.
"My dad had a passion for missions," Cole said, "and during the following summer Tess and I traveled to Africa for the first time; I remember feeling more alive than I have ever felt."
That feeling of aliveness was soon tampered once again by the tragedy of death as Cole's mother-in-law was diagnosed with a brain tumor, passing away in December of his sophomore year.
At the time I was still working full time," Cole recalled, "but I took time off to assist in caring for my wife’s mother, which I considered an honor. I remember going to classes in the mornings and then studying and caring for 'Momma Denise' at night."
Grieving but undeterred, Cole and his wife carried on through the highs of continued missions efforts and the lows of the complicated delivery of their first child, Cole ever-determined to be the first member of his family to obtain a bachelor's degree.
Then, just before beginning his senior year, Cole was diagnosed with a particular aggressive type of cancer that was growing in his appendix, with an additional concern that it would spread to his intestines. A fleet of physicians attended to him surgically, but were met in subsequent visits with surprising results.
"I had one surgery and was consulted three times by the tumor board," Cole said, "[but] every time they went in to do a scan, the doctors were perplexed—there were no cancer cells detected!
"Although I will still have to walk out the next two years to confirm this," he assured the assembled students, "I stand before you today assured that in Jesus I am cancer-free!"
After the remarks, Wilson acknowledged Cole's outlook on his time at ORU.
"Way to keep going, Mark; we’re so proud of you," Wilson said. "Your humility and graciousness have been a huge part of today. God is blessing you because you humbled yourself."
In a surprise turn of events, Johnie Hampton, Chair of the ORU Alumni Association Board, took the stage and announced to an astonished Cole that the Board had taken the step of paying off Cole's remaining balance, sending him into his post-graduate life debt-free.
Cole maintains a remarkable viewpoint on the education he received, despite the various trials he and his family have encountered during their time here.
"Graduating isn't about me," Cole said. "It’s about victory for my family, my friends, my professors, and anyone else who was a part of the 'village' that empowered me to answer the call and to hurdle over any obstacle that was placed in my path. Whether it was working with family members to care for my daughter so I could go to my clinicals, or walking with me through numerous doctors’ appointments, or helping me figure out how to complete all my nursing objectives, Jesus has been faithful in everything.
"I know that I’m just one book in [God's] huge library, but I am excited for the chapters ahead and look forward to pressing on toward the goals that God has laid out for my family and me to achieve as a team," Cole continued. "No matter what we accomplish in life, we need to make sure that we always point back to Jesus because, without Him, we can do nothing."