For Jay Kesler, it’s been a dream that does not die easily.
That’s why the 77-year-old president emeritus of Taylor University was in Fort Wayne on Wednesday, throwing his support behind Crossroads Bible College of Indianapolis, which is now expanding to Taylor’s former Fort Wayne campus.
Speaking to about 50 clergy and Crossroads supporters, Kesler called the Taylor board of trustees’ decision to close the campus he retired from in 2000 “probably the greatest heartache of my life up to this age.”
But he said the move last year by Crossroads to add a Fort Wayne campus promises a revival for evangelical Christian higher education in the region.
Based in Upland, Taylor closed its Fort Wayne campus in 2009 after officials said a poor business model and dwindling enrollment racked up millions of dollars in debt for the university.
Now, both Crossroads and Grace College, a four-year liberal arts college based in Winona Lake, have a presence on the former Taylor-Fort Wayne campus along Rudisill Boulevard. The campus earlier this year was renamed “The Summit” by its new owners, Ambassador Enterprises, Fort Wayne.
“I come with the sense that God is beginning to do something new and powerful in Fort Wayne on this particular piece of real estate,” Kesler said.
With another location at a church in Crown Point, the multidenominational Crossroads was established in 1980 after founders noticed there were few pastoral and leadership training opportunities for members of the black community in the Indianapolis area, according to John Crabtree, executive vice president.
The college serves members of all races and stresses “training Christian leaders to reach a multiethnic urban world for Christ,” in the words of A. Charles Ware, Crossroads president, Crabtree said.
The college seeks to reach nontraditional students, he said. Through its Accel program, it offers the opportunity for students to take one class at a time for four hours one night a week for five weeks, year round, he said. Some courses are offered online.
Degrees include associate’s degrees in leadership and ministry and management and ethics and bachelor’s degrees in urban leadership and biblical counseling. Certificates in conjunction with the Fort Wayne School of Urban Ministry are also offered to those not seeking a degree.
The college will work with students individually to transfer existing credits and can give credit for life experience, Crabtree said. It is accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education, and Crossroads credits are accepted by many Christian and some secular colleges, he said.
Also, Grace College and Crossroads accept each other’s coursework. “We don’t see ourselves as in competition,” Crabtree said.
Crabtree said Crossroads has 250 current students, with about 15 attending in Fort Wayne. Ten more are being sought for the Fort Wayne campus by mid-October. The campus will graduate its first two students in May, he said.
Student’s ages range from 18 to 68, with the average age being 34, he said. Many already volunteer or work part- or full-time for churches or church-related institutions, he added, but many also have outside employment or child-care responsibilities, he said.
Crabtree said Kesler will continue to work on behalf of Crossroads as a consultant and possible fundraiser and will participate in an upcoming “listening tour” to hear what Fort Wayne area congregations would like to see the college do.
The tour also aims to introduce the institution to prospective students, he said.
Kesler believes Crossroads can succeed where Taylor didn’t because of “fine people” working with it and a continuing need for the Christian message. He said he’s happy to see a Bible college back in the city.
“I believe the church is the most strategically important institution for our culture,” he said.
“We might have had a plan (for this property), but maybe God had a better plan,” Kesler added. “I’d hate to see this become a shopping center down here.”