By Maggie Fipps
It is a word thrown around a lot on weekends like Homecoming.
Is Cedarville simply a name on a degree, written in bold cursive? Does it truly ingrain itself in a person or a family? What about people who meet their spouses at Cedarville? What is the difference in their future family, their future children and grandchildren?
If these questions seem too weighty and overblown, you are probably right. For most, Cedarville will be a rest stop on their journey of life, a stepping stone into the next phase, (insert your favorite cliche here).
But for some, the legacy of Cedarville is long-lasting. The Strong family has 13 students, three generations and 50 years at Cedarville. For them, it is not just a place, it is a legacy.
The family lore starts with Tom Strong.
As a Baptist pastor’s kid, in high school, he lasered in on a few Christian schools, with Cedarville at the top of the list. Picking a school? Easy. Picking a major? Also easy.
Tom simply wanted to hop on the computer programming trend stirring in the late ‘60s and decided to major in math. One semester in, he quickly pivoted to, of all things, preaching.
Back in 1978, the buildings were not yet centered around Cedar Lake, but it still centered on the Word of God, which fired up Tom’s passion for ministry.
“If I were to point to one person on staff, it would have been a fellow by the name of Doctor James Greer, who had probably the most influence on my life,” Tom said. “Plus, hearing some of the chapel speakers, just got me fired up to share the Word.”
Tom eventually met his wife Norma at Cedarville, and he whisked her off to their first date at the Artist Lecture Series. Lest Cedarville guys feel they missed out on an easy opportunity to ask a girl out, Tom recalls the evening with a laugh.
“Our first date was at the artist lecture series with a guy by the name of Bill Sands who spoke on Prison Reform,” Tom said. “From that moment on, we’ve been together.”
Fast forward to when their kids started to make college decisions, and one by one, the family made their way back to Cedarville, Ohio.
Populated with a few more buildings, majors, and people, Randall Strong never doubted following in his father’s footsteps. His future wife Mindi, however, was not on the same page. Many students from her Christian school attended Cedarville, but she wanted something foreign. Literally, she wanted part of her degree to be in French. But something about Cedarville drew her in.
“The atmosphere totally won me over,” Mindi said. “I completely changed what degree I could get in order to have it be at Cedarville.”
Ministry continued to be a theme in the Strong family when Mindi and Randall joined Abundant Life Singers, a traveling choir that predated Cedarville’s current HeartSong travel teams. Their quartet-style harmony, collared shirts and ties do not exactly jive with the skinny jeans and electric guitars of today, but their time on the team grew both Mindi and Randall.
“That ministry gave me a philosophy of worship,” Mindi said. “We were both pastor’s kids and grew up in that kind of bubble, so for me to just really figure out what my own walk looks like and my own relationship with the Lord, it was so impactful to have those years with those teams to launch me into adult life as a follower of the Lord.”
Although the team formed at the beginning of the school year, Mindi and Randall did not become a couple until March, but Mindi always had her eye on him.
“When I got the list of who was on my team my senior year, his name was on it, along with the other guys who I had all traveled with,” Mindi said. “So (my friend) said, ‘Well, this Randall Strong must be your future husband because we know all these other guys and that hasn’t worked out.’”
1998 proved to be an eventful year for them, their first date in March, engaged and graduated in May, and married in December. 2001 brought their first daughter, Aubrey, 2003 brought Lincoln, and 2005 brought Sawyer. The Strong quintet was born.
They added a guitar player to the group when Lincoln started guitar lessons in fourth grade. In seventh grade, he got involved in his youth worship band and immediately fell in love with it.
“The idea of being a worship leader, I didn’t really know what that was supposed to be,” Lincoln said. “I just thought it was somebody who led the music in the church. And then from that, I kept leading worship and through that really developed theology in general.”
Once he decided to pursue a worship degree, he determined not to repeat his family history.
“I had always been told that Cedarville was the best,” Lincoln said. “And I didn’t really buy it because I was told that by Cedarville graduates. I would go through phases where the curfew and the rules didn’t appeal to me. I was in that phase of life where I wanted to get out and be free.”
“At some point, we wished that we hadn’t gone there for his sake,” Mindi said. “And you know, when you just see the generations all having gone to the same place, you don’t want it to be a deterrent”
Lincoln seriously considered Biola University in Southern California, evidenced by the small red Biola Bible he still uses. However, he just could not shake Cedarville.
“I really worked hard to find somewhere better than Cedarville and I couldn’t find them,” Lincoln said.
Once he was accepted into the worship department, he immediately auditioned for Heartsong ministries.
“It was part of the Cedarville decision for me to have the opportunity to do Heartsong,” Lincoln said.
Still, his Heartsong experience was radically different than he expected.
“I thought it was going to be a bunch of competitive, really talented musicians that just wanted to show how good of musicians they are,” Lincoln said. “I got into Heartsong, and people just looked an awful lot like Jesus.”
“I come from a really healthy family with great Christian parents,” Lincoln said. “I really just didn’t know the Bible and I was surrounded by people that read their Bible consistently and challenged me to do the same. Those rhythms and patterns would not be what they are now in my life if it weren’t for Heartsong”
Lincoln also credits his ministry legacy to his grandfather, who gave him his first worship internship of sorts. In his senior year of high school, he led worship at Tom’s small church, where Lincoln had the freedom to make mistakes and learn.
For Lincoln, Cedarville is not just about his degree, it is all about the legacy of faith in his family.
“Both sets of grandparents of mine loved the Lord and have followed him faithfully for years and years, and I’m feeling the ripple effects of that two generations later,” Lincoln said. “I may not love Jesus if it weren’t for my grandparents and parents.”
Maggie Fipps is a junior Journalism student and the Editor in Chief of Cedars. She enjoys playing the piano and thrifting, and you may spot her around campus sporting Packers gear head to toe.
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