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Alum Andy Taylor: Foot Prints of Jesus, Boot Prints of Soldiers

December 8, 2010

Sometimes it is the small things that can change the course of a life -- or many lives. In the case of Army Chaplain Major Andy Taylor, a 1991 OBU graduate, God used the gesture of a youth minister who contacted OBU admissions about a potential student to shape his future profoundly.

Taylor enlisted in the Army Reserves while in his senior year of high school and left for basic training five days after graduation. He returned after a year of training.

"I was wrestling with God about ministry at the time," Taylor said. "An admissions counselor called me from OBU telling me that as a potential ministry major I would receive a scholarship. I told her I didn't know that I was planning on coming to OBU. In fact, I didn't even know the Baptists had a college!

"Even with the scholarship, I knew I couldn't afford OBU. But the finance office told me to show up with $500, and they would keep me here as long as they could. And God was faithful to provide for me all the way through my OBU experience. And I didn't owe a dime the day I graduated."

Taylor said the OBU experience created in him a thirst for life-long learning and a deep appreciation for the Scriptures. On Bison Hill he met his wife, Laurie (Ratliff) Taylor, '94; his best friend, Dr. Todd Fisher, '92; and a host of people who invested their lives in him.

"God used my OBU experience to shape virtually every aspect of my life," he said.

Student ministers Guy Grimes and Odus Compton impacted the young soldier perhaps more than anyone in his four years on campus. He said they modeled incarnational ministry, leadership and compassion. Having little biblical background, Taylor learned to dig into God's Word, encouraged in his love for Scripture by Dr. James W. (Bob) Evans, professor emeritus of religion, and Dr. Rick Byargeon, former assistant professor of religion. It would not be long until Taylor would begin sharing such encouragement with others.

Following graduation from OBU and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Taylor served as pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Chickasha, Okla. During the Christmas season of 1999, he sensed God calling him back into the military as a chaplain. Born while his father was fighting with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, Taylor grew up wanting to be a soldier. When he enlisted in the Army Reserves, he served with his dad in 12th Special Forces Group. In April 2001, he was sworn in as an Army Chaplain in the Oklahoma Army National Guard.

"Little did any of us know what would happen just five months later on Sept. 11," Taylor said. "I immediately knew I needed to be serving on active duty."

One year later, he resigned from Trinity Baptist Church and went on active duty at Fort Sill, Okla. He deployed for a year to Iraq in April 2003 on his first combat tour. Since then he has deployed again to Iraq (15 months with the 25th Infantry Division) and to Afghanistan (eight months with the 82nd Airborne Division).

In his work as an Army chaplain, Taylor believes and preaches the fundamentals of his Southern Baptist faith. He does not try to proselytize soldiers of other faiths, but when they ask -- and they often do -- Taylor shares with them about the One who gives hope, strength and courage.

"The cool thing is that I work side-by-side with my congregation every day," Taylor said. "Every morning I do physical training with my paratroopers. One day I may be talking with a soldier at the rifle range. The next day I may be ministering to a paratrooper as we are walking into a C-130 aircraft in order to make a parachute jump.

"Chaplains go where soldiers go. We hold church services just like a civilian pastor, but we also walk in the same boot prints of our soldiers."

The most challenging aspect of Taylor's job is helping soldiers deal with the deaths of their comrades. As the Brigade Chaplain for 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, he dealt with more than 5,000 soldiers operating across southern Afghanistan.

"During our deployment, 38 paratroopers gave their last full measure," Taylor said. "Over 200 Fury Brigade soldiers were injured, with nearly 25 receiving amputations. Walking with our soldiers through so much death and destruction is very difficult. But ministry generally happens in the midst of chaos. War tends to be chaos. The best ministry of my 22 years of ministry has been my three years of being deployed."

The most rewarding aspect of his job is seeing young heroes, so committed to the ideals of the United States, commit themselves to being full followers of Christ.

"These great Americans are honest about where their life stands and honest about where they want to be," Taylor said. "Army chaplaincy presents a raw yet refreshing context for ministry."

He believes OBU provided the resources he needs to be successful in his ministry, providing him a solid foundation of faith and ministry skills he has carried into each new phase of ministry.

"Bison Hill challenged me to think through my faith, to understand why I believe what I believe," he said. "Soldiers have no issue with walking right up to the chaplain and challenging him on issues of faith. OBU set the conditions for success for me by providing a solid biblical theology, a compassionate pastoral ministry, and a critical analysis of the intersection of culture and conviction."

In addition to his foundation for ministry, Taylor traces the beginning of his family to Bison Hill. He and his wife started dating in August 1990, and, after bribing the security guard for admittance, he proposed to Laurie in the steeple of Raley Chapel. They have been married for 18 years.

"Soldiers are constantly lauded as heroes because of what we do during deployments," Taylor said. "In my mind, Laurie is the real soldier and true hero. Parenting three children while half of the team is away requires real courage. The Army has pinned a chest full of medals on my uniform, but I know who really deserves them."

The couple has three children: Seth, age 11; Cole, age 6; and Lexie, age 3. One of the predominant themes in the family's life has been autism, as Seth was diagnosed at about 2 years old. The family works diligently to provide him with the best care possible. Recently, he learned to communicate by using a letter board, a significant advance since he is completely non-verbal.

"One of the greatest moments of my life was a phone conversation with Laurie while I was in Afghanistan," Taylor said. "Seth had spelled on the letter board that he had asked Jesus to forgive him of his sin."

Taylor also traces enduring, life-changing friendships to his campus days.

"I loved Noondays, intramural sports, CAB activities and all the BSU meetings," he said. "But the best, and most memorable, part of OBU was the times with my roommates and friends. Chris Brewster, Jason Yarbrough, Marvin Schoenecke, Doug Wisel, Jon Hix, Chris Wall and Jeremie Kubicek provided a laugh every day as roommates. Gene Phillips, Don Overton and Doyle Pryor constantly sharpened me in my walk with Christ.

"Undoubtedly, the best thing about OBU is the relationships developed. And I have carried that with me from Bison Hill to the mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts of Iraq, and all around the world."

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