For Homecoming ’19, I was asked to share about the impact that Chaplain Ron Kopicko made on me while I was a student at Spring Arbor University. As Ron transitions from one chapter to the next, his ministry will continue, I hope, for years to come. Some things cannot be adequately put into words. Here’s my best.
Fall of 1998 had me sitting outside Lowell Hall with hundreds of incoming freshman and transfer students, listening together to a new student orientation designed to get us inspired and on the right track at Spring Arbor College. Suddenly a man with a huge beard, deep stare, and stylish sweater vest took the stage and did what can only be likened to a sudden midnight freight train: we were startled and snapped to attention.
Ron launched into a litany of what I would eventually recognize as just a few of his trademark phrases:
Oh, my aching shattered nerves…
What does the scripture say!?!
You know what I find fascinating about ____________ !?!
That’s in the book of first opinions.
Back when people were coming to Jesus like it was goin’ out of style!
Incidentally, Ron can get away with saying shut up, but not me.
I recognized this person from somewhere… but where? Then it hit me. He’s a modern John the Baptist. Clothing made of camel hair? Sweater vest. Eats wild honey? No sign of botulism, so probably. Eats locusts? Yes, because he’s been on mission trips. Shouting and raving, pointing passionately to Messiah? Yep, yep, and yep.
It was fun to watch Ron teach at a weekly bible study called By the Book and, more importantly, to be under his teaching as a student at Spring Arbor. He would ask the room rhetorical questions that only the freshman would try to answer. There is never a correct answer to Ron’s question. Should you be fortunate enough to give the word/phrase he’s looking for, Ron will internally change the answer. This was strategic on his part and kept us on our toes. It has been said that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” With every question, Ron was setting us up to learn something.
One time, Ron asked about 500 of us “How do we break the law? How do we know we need the law?” I raised my hand, and my fellow upperclassmen thought I was out of my mind. I said “Because we do stupid things like ride our yellow mopeds around campus without wearing a helmet?” (a direct reference to, well, what Ron did). He told me to shut up. So I did.
I spent time on-on-one with Ron over the years. He is the model of being fully present. Even though his stare can get a little… intense… he none the less listens with warmth and grace. Whether in counseling or up front, Ron modeled a deepening love for Jesus, memorizing scripture, the importance of actually doing what scripture says, and having the right expectations. Stuff I didn’t even know I needed, even though I was a college student and knew everything.
I won’t even get into what Ron taught me about speaking to groups, but let’s just say my impression of him is based on a deep appreciation and love for his character and teaching style. There’s nothing like it. Kopicko once talked to me about how he had the chance to “make it big” by writing a bunch of books and speaking nationwide. I asked him why he didn’t make that jump. He quoted the great Howard Hendricks who said
You can impress people from a distance, but you only make an impact up close.
Ron actually lived this out, and I’m glad to be one of the thousands who have been impacted by his faithfulness to the Lord and to the students and community of Spring Arbor University.
Thanks Ron — for being faithful to your calling. For not going big but staying in the bubble with us. For not thinking too highly of yourself. For pointing people to Jesus with consistency, grace, and intention. Thank you.
Please don’t stop.
There are more to be impacted.