08/05/11 — His life: Well-lived

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His life: Well-lived

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 5, 2011 1:46 PM

News-Argus Video Report

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Dr. Donald Ribeiro chokes up while talking about his friend, Dr. W. Burkette Raper, during Thursday's funeral service for the former Mount Olive College president.

MOUNT OLIVE -- The campus of Mount Olive College provided a fitting backdrop as close to 2,000 people gathered over the past two days to remember and pay homage to Dr. Burkette Raper.

Raper, 83, president emeritus of the college, died early Monday morning of cancer.

Close to 500 people filed through Rodgers Chapel Wednesday night to pay their condolences to Raper's family.

Another almost 1,500, including former Gov. Jim Hunt, former Congressman Martin Lancaster, numerous Free Will Baptist ministers and past and present college faculty, staff and students, were on hand Thursday morning for the funeral service in Kornegay Arena.

Burial was at 4 p.m. in the Friendship Free Will Baptist Church Cemetery near Trenton.

Speakers at the service eulogized Raper as a man whose vision and commitment were the driving forces behind the college's development and growth, especially during its formative years.

"Ours is a sacred purpose today," David Hines, dean of the college's School of Arts and Sciences, said during the service. "We have gathered to honor the memory and to celebrate the life of Burkette Raper."

Hines read from Isaiah 54:2: "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes."

The passage is addressed to a people returning from exile and the prophet was seeking to give hope to a people who thought that hope was futile, he said.

"This passage became a defining passage for Dr. Raper," Hines said. "He knew that if one wanted a larger tent that the supporting stakes had to go deeper and that the ropes had to be longer and stronger. Hope, confidence and gratitude define Dr. Raper's life. He believed that the future of our church depended on ministers effectively equipped to serve God's people. He believed in the importance of providing a quality Christian education for all.

"He believed God could do all things. He had the audacity to believe that a great Christian college could spring up from humble beginnings -- $6.17 to be exact. His faith, his vision inspires us to seek expanding horizons and to pursue the road to excellence. He challenges us to believe that our future is only limited by the breadth of our vision and the depth of our faith."

Hines said he had often heard Raper speak of his life's work as his attempt to pay back a debt that he owed the Original Free Will Baptist Church. Raper and two siblings lived for a while at the Free Will Baptist Orphanage, now known as the Children's Home, in Middlesex, following the death of his father.

That debt has been repaid a hundred times over, Hines said.

Raper served the college for more than 50 years, more than 40 as president, from 1954 until 1995. Following his retirement, he was director of planned giving for the school, which is sponsored by the Original Free Will Baptist Church.

Hines called on those in attendance to recommit themselves to the vision and passion that so consumed Raper.

Dr. Michael Pelt, retired chairman of the college's religion department, knew Dr. Raper for 57 years.

It was while at the children's home that Raper began to believe that God had a purpose for his life and he sought out that purpose in prayer, Pelt said.

Raper served at seven churches, including Friendship Church in Jones County, where he met his future wife, Rose Mallard.

"They were married Aug. 19, 1951, and his marriage to her was without a doubt one of the most important decisions of his life, for she has been a pillar of strength through all of those years," Pelt said.

It was while a student at Duke University that Raper came to appreciate the real meaning of education and to relate learning to his sense of Christian vocation, Pelt said.

"In a September 1954 report to the Convention of Original Free Will Baptist Raper wrote, 'My prayer is that we shall build in this state a college that is both Christian and sound in scholarship,'" Pelt said. "'Out of our small beginnings is a vision of an education institution that will be a credit to the cause of education in general. I solicit your prayers, cooperation and support.'"

Pelt said that later that same day he heard Raper preach for the first time using the passage from Isaiah.

Pelt said that Raper had sacrificed much over the years, but had done so willingly.

"Sacrifice, he once said, is really giving up things of less value for things of higher value," Pelt said. "From the very beginning, Burkette had a vision for this college without which it would not have survived. He tried untiringly to keep that vision alive."

"He was widely recognized for his ability to persuade others to give liberally towards the endowment of the college as far as providing scholarships that would help students and their parents to meet the cost of education."

Speaker Dr. Donald Ribeiro said he learned early on that he, like many others, could not say "no" to Raper.

Ribeiro said he had visited Raper in the hospital recently and that Raper asked him to share his "heart's desire for the future of God's work in our lives. Even at this time his mind and his heart were not on himself, but everyone else."

Ribeiro said that over the 35 years that he knew Raper that he could not recall ever telling him no. He said he wondered if anyone, with the possible exception of Mrs. Raper, had ever told him "no."

"One day I got a call, no, the call," he said. "You know the one I am talking about because many of you have received that call."

That call was to discuss the creation of the North Carolina Foundation for Christian Ministry, he said.

Ribeiro asked those who have donated or received help through the foundation to stand and many in the audience stood.

"Look around. I do believe we are fulfilling Dr. Raper's heart's desire for God's work," he said. "I believe a truer measure of success is in the rare gift given to a few who inspire others to greatness, to be more than they ever imagined or hoped they could be. This personifies Dr. and Mrs. Raper's lives."

Nido Qubein, past president of High Point College, said he arrived at Mount Olive College from Israel not speaking English and not knowing anyone.

"I have not come today to mourn the death of Burkette Raper," Qubein said. "I have come here today to celebrate the life of a man who planted seeds of greatness for literally thousands of young men and women."

Qubein said that he was among those whose life was touched by Raper and his vision. Measured by the people that he touched, Raper would have to be considered an Olympian, a gold medal winner, he said.

"I remember Dr. Raper as this person that you could not say "no" to, not because he intimidated you, but because he persuaded you" Qubein said.

People did not say "no" because they wanted to be his partner, he said.

Raper was a steward and servant, something that everyone should strive to be, Qubein said.