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Man on a mission

Tom Bell’s journey through Christ
Tom Bell is an associate professor of sport management at Campbellsville University.

If Tom Bell was ordered to go back in time and predict the story of his life, never in a thousand years would he have been able to foresee himself embarking on a three-year mission trip to Seoul, South Korea.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Bell said he was raised by non-Christian parents, struggled financially and his father was often away from home working. Bell was taught to trust in himself and strive hard for whatever he wanted. In his high school days, he was a baseball and football player, prom king, class clown and was voted craziest and biggest scatterbrain in his senior yearbook.

“I was always goofing off,” Bell said. “It’s just too fun to be fun.”

After high school, Bell enrolled at California State University, at Northridge, on a baseball scholarship. Bell said he quickly found out that he didn’t have what it took to play Division II baseball, so he decided to focus on obtaining the business degree his father wanted him to get. However, Bell soon discovered he had no interest in a business degree, and changed his major to coaching. Just as Bell was about to earn his bachelor’s degree in coaching, his path took yet another turn.

“A sports psychologist from Cal State Fullerton came and spoke to our department, and I thought, ‘That’s what I wanna do. That’s it, right there,’” he said.

At this time, Bell was trying to obtain his master’s degree in sports psychology, but his father was diagnosed with cancer, so he wanted to stay close to his home. So, he decided to pursue his education at San Diego State University to be close to his father. In three years, he earned his master’s in sports psychology. The next phase in his journey required him to obtain a Ph.D., so he applied and was accepted at Florida State University.

Though it may seem like Bell was cruising on his way to becoming a sports psychologist, there were definite complications on his journey. Bell came from a family that struggled financially, which meant it was up to him to pay his way through all five of his degrees, working full time as a waiter.

Bell recalled being depressed and going to counseling, but said everything turned around when he devoted his life to Christ at 31 years of age.

“All of these things like having all these sports accolades… having all this education, all of this didn’t give me peace,” he said. “Just this one decision [to pursue a relationship with Jesus] did.”

All his life while growing up, Bell was approached by Christians who sought to evangelize him. He would hit them with hard questions, and they would never answer him. That is, until one Easter, he got a call from a person to come visit their church. Open to the opportunity, Bell went to the service. There, he met a man named John Smith who changed his narrative of Christians.

“I went to leave and this guy [Smith] stepped in front of me, and I threw one of my Christian questions at him, and he actually answered it,” he said.

At the end of their encounter, Smith told Bell that if he had any more questions, he should attend their Wednesday Bible studies, but told him to come early so they would have time to go through his questions.

“He was very loving, and my dad was very distant,” said Bell. “So, now, here I have kind of like a father-son relationship, and I have these questions being answered, and I just laid in my bed one night and I said, ‘Jesus if you’re real, come into my life. Show yourself to me.’”

Soon after his calling for Jesus, Jesus responded in disguise. Bell said that back when he used to wait tables, he had a sailor’s mouth, and shortly after this calling, the food was late for one of his tables. When things like this would happen, Bell would normally storm back into the kitchen and give the cook an earful. This time was different.

“I went in and said, ‘Excuse me, where’s the food on table 12?’ And I went, wait I’m not cussing anymore. What happened? I didn’t even try to stop. God just changed me,” Bell said.

In that moment, Bell said he knew God, Jesus and Christianity were real.

Just after Bell completed his Ph.D. at FSU, he worked briefly as an accountant for the state of Florida while searching for a career teaching sports psychology at the university level. He was unable to scrounge up any teaching jobs, until one day he was flipping through the magazine, “Christianity Today,” and a piece of paper fell out.

“Do you want to teach overseas?” the paper read.

In search of any teaching job he could find, Bell filled out the paper and sent it in. Within a week, he got a call asking him where he wanted to go. Bell told the company that he did not care where he would end up, as he was willing to teach anywhere God wanted him to go. So, they gave him a job teaching in Seoul, South Korea.

Bell would then travel to Seoul for three years to teach middle and high school students at a missionary school. His positions included athletic director, Bible teacher, psychology teacher and impromptu sports coach.

Prior to his journey to Seoul, Bell had been looking for a wife for some time, but decided he was going to put those ambitions aside and focus on serving God. However, God had other plans for Bell.

One of the best moments from his time in Seoul was meeting his current wife, Mi Hyun Bell, while working at the same missionary school. Mrs. Bell was born and raised in South Korea, but was a fluent English speaker.

“One thing I really appreciate about my wife and our marriage is that both of us, when we wake up, one of our first thoughts is, what can I do to bless my spouse,” said Bell. “I think if you have two people who are looking out for the best interests of the other, you’ve got a really good marriage. We have one of the best marriages that I know of.”

When Bell and his wife first met, she said her first impression of him was, “Seriously, can a human being be this nice? I was skeptical.”

To this day she describes Bell as, “a man who sincerely loves God and others.”

While teaching in Seoul, Bell knew the citizens were “hungry” for English lessons. Finding his unique way to teach while serving God, Bell and his wife gave free English lessons that were always focused around the Bible.

“I look at my job teaching as secondary, in that I think the primary reason that I’m here is to share Christ with people,” said Bell. “I think my job is to make sure that the people that I teach here about Christ.”

The time Bell spent in Seoul wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, however. Dealing with the children at his school was challenging at times because all of the ambassadors’ kids went there, and some of them, according to Bell, had “attitudes.”

Another challenge he faced while in Seoul was adapting to the traditions and cultural norms. For instance, Bell and his wife were out walking and an older man behind them was swearing at Bell in Hangul – the Korean language. Put-off by this, Bell’s immediate reaction was to confront the man, but his wife stopped him, because in their culture at that time, a person was not allowed to correct an older man.

Toward the end of his time in Seoul, Bell’s pastor told him he should be a pastor. Through a series of interactions, the pastor was able to persuade Bell to go back to the U.S., go through seminary school and become a pastor. His decision to move back was also aided by the fact that he did not know Korean or the native language, Hangul, so continuing to live there would’ve been a struggle.

Bell going back to America meant that his wife would also go with him. So, before he left Seoul, he reassured his wife’s family of his commitment to her, with the help of Mrs. Bell translating for him.

“The God that I’m serving here is the same God in America, should we go to America, and I’m going to honor your daughter the same way I honor her here. It really doesn’t matter where we’re at. The scriptures tell me to treasure her, so that’s what I’m going to do,” Bell said.

When Bell arrived back in the U.S. with his wife, he began seminary school in Tennessee. As usual, right as he was about to graduate, Bell’s old FSU roommate called up and asked him to send his resume for a job opportunity at Liberty University. Within a month, Bell was teaching sport management at LU.

Immediately at LU, Bell was faced with adversity. The issue with his new position was that when the prior teacher quit, he took all the course information with him. Not a problem for Bell, though, as he wound up teaching there for four years.

Bell’s next stepping stone in his journey included moving on to Bluefield College, now Bluefield University, to be the director of sport management. However, around two and a half years in, one of the primary administrators at BU made a statement in a faculty meeting that Bell felt did not honor God. Baffled at the remark, Bell knew he did not belong there, so he went back to the online job search. There, he found an 18-month-old job offer at Campbellsville University. Within a month, he was teaching at CU, and is now an associate professor of sport management.

Reid Sturn, a student in Bell’s Introduction to Sport Management class, said he really enjoys the class and Tom’s contagious positivity. Sturn grew up going to a Christian private school, and said he enjoys getting back to those principles, and doing work and lessons through God in Bell’s class.

“Everyday [Bell] starts class with five to ten minutes of devotions.” Sturn said. “Like, we’re talking about product selling now, and he’ll find ways to sneak devotions into his lessons. He finds a way to bring God in, and he’s not afraid to speak his mind.”

In 2019, Bell received tenure at CU. Mrs. Bell also established her career at CU as an international student advisor. They have been happily married for almost 25 years, and have two kids, one going to the University of Kentucky, and the other attending cosmetology school in Las Vegas.

Mrs. Bell used the Bible verse, Ephesians 5:25-27, to describe God’s impact on their relationship, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it to make it belong to God.”

“I see this verse alive everyday through Tom,” she said.

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About the Contributor
Joe McBride
Joe McBride was born and raised in Everett, Washington. This is his fourth year of college, but his first year at Campbellsville University. His prior colleges include Everett Community College and Washington State University Everett.
McBride is a pitcher for the Campbellsville University baseball team, and has been playing baseball since he could swing a bat. It's safe to say baseball is life for McBride, as playing professionally is his main goal in life.
He's majoring in mass communication with an emphasis in journalism, and is minoring in sports management. He hopes to become a sports writer someday. This is his first year reporting for The Campus Times.
Outside of education and athletics, McBride lives on a lake off campus with three teammates and enjoys fishing and hunting small game on their property. His role model is his 82-year-old grandfather who was a renowned sportswriter for 40 years.
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    Larry HenryNov 19, 2023 at 6:06 pm

    From a former writer this was great reporting and writing.