Faith in the future
It was a long and winding road for Josiah Oyebefun '18, but once he found Doane, he found freedom in his education.
Story by Lucas Fahrer
Josiah Oyebefun ’18 has patience in spades.
Even when he found himself transferring between colleges or working 60 hours a week to pay for school, he just kept praying for a future that would keep his parents from the burden of paying for his education.
A future where he could run track to pay for college.
A future that prepared him for med school.
But that doesn’t mean he’s patient with everything. When he hears classmates make excuses for not having time to get homework done or sleep, it wears thin.
“When I was working until 12 a.m. and had to go the gym and then study, I had people telling me they couldn’t get their homework done because they had a lot to do or they had to sleep,” Josiah says, laughing. “If you have to do something, then you just got to do it.”
He would know.
Josiah wouldn’t be at Doane without a lot of long hours and his patient faith. It took a few years, but he finally found the future he was searching for since coming to the U.S. from St. Kitts and Nevis, a tiny island nation in the Caribbean Sea.
His story is one of perseverance, persistence and, admittedly, lots of prayer.
“My faith was a thing that was instilled in me,” Josiah says. “It became something that I took on, and that’s the biggest part of my life and the center of everything that I do. I see it as an opportunity to serve and that’s the center of every Christian. Service is an expression of love.”
He is the son of two Christian missionaries, born Edikan Oyebefun in Lagos, Nigeria. (Josiah is his English name.) He and his siblings Samuel and Esther grew up on the move as as their parents evangelized around Nigeria—building churches, establishing them and starting the cycle again.
Their work with the Redeemed Christian Church of God eventually led them from West Africa to the West Indies, a string of island nations separating the Caribbean from the Atlantic Ocean. The Oyebefuns continued “planting churches” in St. Kitts and Nevis while Josiah’s father Zacchaeus worked as a science teacher and his mother Grace was a nurse.
It was a humble upbringing but a rewarding one, too.
He remembers waking up at 6:30 a.m. every day for bible study with his family. Or the times he’d one-up his folks, waking them up even earlier to read scripture. Or how he began to pore over his father’s science books, which stoked his curiosity for a career in health sciences.
“I remember my eighth birthday, I was reading his microbiology books with words I couldn’t understand but it just seemed interesting,” he recalls. “That’s how I grew an appreciation for the human body and honestly that’s the part of science I really enjoy.”
It was then that Josiah found the gift that would connect him to his academic future. Escorting his brother to a track team tryout in Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis’ capital, turned into an audition for Josiah, too.
“He goes to tryout for track practice and the coach asks ‘Hey, are you here for training, too?’ And I said sure,” Josiah says. “That’s how I started track inadvertently.”
It turned into his ticket to the U.S.
By the time he was a senior at Washington Archibald High School in Basseterre, he was a sprinter for the St. Kitts and Nevis national junior track team and trained at the nation’s track complex with two future Doane students: 2012 and 2016 Olympian Brijesh Lawrence ’12 and Michael Tross ’18, members of the senior team. Josiah started receiving offers to compete at American colleges, a common dream among his countrymen.
But what he envisioned for higher education and college sports was a far cry from reality.
His first school, Tabor College, wasn’t a good fit. It’s ironic, he says, that the lowest point of his faith came at the Christian college in Hillsboro, Kansas.
He transferred after one semester to nearby McPherson College, Tabor’s rival in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, for the 2014-15 academic year.
But while he had a great relationship with the Bulldogs’ track coaches, he found himself drowning in work to make ends meet.
His financial aid left him with a $12,000 tab to pay, and to foot the bill, Josiah took a job in the cafeteria. He picked up shifts no one else wanted.
For three hours each morning before 9 a.m. class, he was working. He’d bolt from track practice every day to make his 5-11 p.m. evening shift. Since he missed the weightlifting portion of practice for work, he wound up working out by himself from 11 p.m. to midnight. Then his next six hours were split between homework and what little time was left for sleep. At 6 a.m., he was back to work.
When he didn’t have track meets, he spent his weekends logging more hours; Saturdays were prime time to make money, with 10- and 12-hour shifts ripe for the taking.
On top of classes and competing in track, Josiah’s average work week was 60 hours.
“Let’s just say sleep is not something I really need anymore,” says Josiah now, his head hanging with a haggard expression thinking of how he survived at McPherson. “When you have that kind of schedule, you learn to not procrastinate a single thing.”
Every dollar went to pay for his education. And yet, sleepless nights and exhaustion weren’t enough for his patience to waver. He just kept saying prayers to find an easier way, especially after McPherson announced a tuition increase for the 2015-16 academic year.
It paid off that winter. On the same day that he traveled to a track meet at Doane, an old friend—Brijesh—was in attendance to be honored for qualifying for the Olympics.
It was divine providence. Brijesh introduced Josiah to Tiger Track and Field Head Coach Ed Fye ’82, and the rest is history. Better financial aid was available at Doane, so Josiah filed his transfer paperwork and arrived for the Fall 2015 semester.
Because of his scholarships, the trials and tribulations of his college journey are over.
“When you don’t have to worry about money, I don’t need to take on a loan,” Josiah says. “That freedom, it will help for years to come. It’s been awesome.”
The 60 hours he used to spend scraping together money for school he now spends on things that fulfill him.
In the last year, he’s declared a major in biochemistry and a minor in Spanish. He’s become a standout sprinter for Tiger Track and Field and joined Tiger Soccer as a walk-on this fall. He works as a tutor for biology statistics and a peer mentor for underrepresented minorities in the science department. He’s a student congress senator. He volunteers. He joined Alpha Pi Epsilon fraternity. He’s part of Doane’s Campus Crusade for Christ. For fun, he’s taking French and German classes. (He’s fluent in English and can also speak some Ibibio, a Nigerian dialect.)
Above all, he’s heavily involved in undergraduate research in Doane’s Center for Undergraduate Research on Biofilms, working with Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Tessa Durham Brooks on a vaccine project.
His work ethic and faith revealed themselves quickly. In just one summer working together, Josiah helped move the project forward with a detailed approach and the stick–to–itiveness that’s gotten him to this point.
“He’s always really, really positive,” says Elkhorn native Riley Jones ’17, Josiah’s soccer teammate and a fellow undergraduate researcher in Dr. Brooks’ summer research lab. “He’s hardworking, especially from a research standpoint.”
Now in the latter half of his college career, Josiah is channeling his energy toward a future in medical school. He wants to merge his love of science and service as a missionary doctor, a job Dr. Brooks sees him uniquely qualified for.
“It’s about appreciating other people’s cultures and also thinking about their entire environment, thinking more holistically,” she says. “I think that’s Josiah’s strength. He really sees the value in his research, we can have these discussions on faith and then he can nerd out on anatomy and physiology. I think that will make him very effective.”
Through it all, Josiah has remained outstanding in the classroom and in competition. He’s passed all of his classes with flying colors, receiving virtually all A’s and can count the “B’s on one hand.”
On the track, he’s been an all-conference performer and a conference champion in 100- and 400-meter relay teams. In his only season in orange and black, Josiah helped Tiger Track and Field sweep indoor and outdoor Great Plains Athletic Conference championships and contributed a first-place finish as a member of the Tiger men’s outdoor 100-meter relay.
All because he finally received the financial aid he needed—and deserved.
“It changes a person’s life. My scholarships mean that instead of working, I can do those things that actually build toward my career,” Josiah says, “like volunteering with the Food Bank. I can spend hours in between class studying. I have freedom to make friendships. I can devote my time to causes I’m interested in. It also means my parents have some money in their pocket.”
Josiah’s work has helped his parents pay for his siblings to go to college. Samuel is a track student-athlete at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and Esther studies at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario.
This is the power of prayer, Josiah says. He remembers praying for specific scholarship amounts, even when he was low in Tabor or overworked in McPherson. Year after year, it was prayer that he says led him here.
And patience, after all, is a virtue.
“I guess it has been a long road, but it’s been a testament to God’s faith,” Josiah says. “When he says he will, he will.”