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Profile in Excellence: Seeing Desert Flowers

March 17, 2005

Dr. Bruce Bell works in the Hispanic communities of Oklahoma City, serving families through his medical practice. For Bruce, this is a mission field. He takes no insurance. His charge: only $10 per visit. And if his patients can't afford payment, he services them anyhow.

This structure assures that Bruce helps the most needy in the community, a decision that he credits to his long experience with Jesus. But his relationship with Jesus and allowing him to guide his actions - this took time.

"I was converted at age 7, but I hated church," says Bruce Bell, '58. "I thought it was the most ridiculous thing. I was bored, and it got under my skin all the time. So, I would count heads, count hats, count bald heads, anything to pass the time." This would all change several years later when a traveling evangelist asked a simple question that sounds clichéd today. "If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?" the evangelist asked. "I had never heard that question asked before," Bruce says. "And the Holy Spirit began to approach me. I don't know what the preacher preached that night, but I began my journey then."

Bruce combines this memory with a growing curiosity about God's creation. "I became fascinated with the outdoors, especially the creek going by our house. I wanted to know about how creation worked. I saw a film around that time that magnified the view of the desert where you could see small flowers with stems and petals growing all over the desert floor. It was as if God was asking, 'What do you think about that?' I couldn't turn him away, this God who cared so intimately about his creation and its details.

"In my experience I've learned to listen and keep on listening to what God says about the Bible and everything else. Before I came to OBU, I was pledging at a University of Oklahoma fraternity. But I received a scholarship to OBU, so I changed direction. The OBU professors were not like any professors I had seen before. They had a commitment to students outside of the classroom. And it was at OBU that a group of us packed into several cars to make the journey to Nashville, where Billy Graham was holding a crusade. There, my eyes began to open to other people from other nations.

"I was only vaguely interested in medicine at the time. During my senior year, post Korean War and a Vietnam War looming, I received my draft papers. The next thing I knew I was an enlisted soldier.

"I got out before I became an officer because I had an opportunity to apply for medical school and continue in the Reserves. In my residency at St. Anthony Hospital, God reinforced what he wanted to do in my life. There, I learned from the nuns, who had a dedication that was pure, simple, and direct. The nuns were feeding the homeless before it was popular. I left for private practice with a great appreciation for mission work."

Through the years, he and his wife Barbara Stine, '58, have had ample opportunities to do short-term medical missions to such places as Haiti and Taiwan, mainly through Trinity International Baptist Church, their church home. And, four years ago, with his five children grown and established in their careers, he felt a new venture afoot. His experiences and the prompting of the Holy Spirit provided the context to question the focus of his work and how he could help needy people in Oklahoma City.

Knowing that more than 140,000 Hispanic people live in and around the city, Bruce explored how to change his price structure and location. "It was two years ago that I moved to this location," Bruce says. "I simply retired altogether from my old practice. Here, I don't accept any insurance or Medicaid. I just charge $10 and if families can't pay it, I don't worry about it."

In the lobby, a listing of Spanish churches is provided alongside Spanish New Testaments and other Christian literature. "This is just a start," he says. "I'm able to see about 100 people each week, but there is more to be done. That's the next piece of this work, to get more people interested in helping others who can't afford basic services; people that live right here in our communities."

Bruce Bell is one of 12 former students who will receive the Profile in Excellence Award in 2005. The award is given by the OBU Alumni Association in recognition of service and leadership.

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.