Looking back on James “Bebo” Elkin’s fruitful career with RUF

In preparation for writing my article on the history of RUF, I had the honor of interviewing James “Bebo” Elkin, one of the founding fathers of Reformed University Fellowship. Bebo Elkin, along with Mark Lowery, Jimmy Turner, Ford Williams, and Bill Smith are the men most responsible for bringing RUF into being. This group formed out of a group of friends who attended Belhaven College together in the 1960s. They worked together in the leadership of the Westminster Fellowship (of the PCUS, hereafter “WF”) at Belhaven. It was there, through WF, that these men got a taste for campus ministry. After Belhaven, the friends moved on to Reformed Theological Seminary.

After graduation, Mark Lowery was called to work with WF at the University of Southern Mississippi. Unlike many of the WFs across the country, WF at USM was conservative and faithful to the gospel. At the time, most of the WF campus ministries had become very liberal and were teaching a type of social gospel. To help with the work of reviving the campus ministry at USM, Lowery brought in a friend from seminary, Bebo Elkin.

As I wrote in my article on RUF, there was a good deal of resistance in the early days of the PCA to a denomination-run campus ministry. Part of that concern was due to what had happened with WF. No one in the new denomination wanted to see their efforts turn into another venue for liberal, social gospel doctrine.

Lowery and Elkin did not let this concern sideline them. They continued to build what would become RUF at USM and then expanded to Ole Miss. Lowery began to work on a strong campaign to promote the benefits of a denominational campus ministry, but it was really the success at USM and Ole Miss that finally proved the worth of RUF. Close to 80% of RUF graduates went on to become members of PCA churches, and not just members, but active members who understood what it meant to be Presbyterian and Reformed. RUF was turning out to be one of the most effective evangelistic ministries in the young denomination.

When I asked Bebo to tell me what his vision for RUF was then and now, he told me that he thought that RUF, at its best, could be the rudder of the ship. For Bebo, who has shared his love of sailing with countless students, a nautical metaphor works so well. He said that through RUF students would have a better relationship with Christ, a Reformed world-and-life view, and a better understanding of their role in the church.

Bebo related the following story to me to illustrate his point. On July 28, 2009, RUF had its annual “RUF Night” at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS. RUF Night is a chance for the students to learn how to lead worship. One of the elders who was helping lead the worship asked at the beginning of the service for anyone who had been part of RUF, either as a parent or student, to stand. Two-thirds of the people in the full sanctuary stood. It took Bebo’s breath away.

When I asked Bebo what was the highlight of his time with RUF, he told me that hearing from former students is what he values the most. It really makes his day and brings a tear to his eye to hear students tell their stories about how RUF influenced and shaped their lives.

Bebo retired from his career at RUF in June of this year.

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