Meet the 2021 Omark Preaching Competition Winners

The theme for this year’s competition came from Micah 6:8 and was meant to inspire hope in a time of uncertainty. Here, this year’s winners, Tolu Toluhi, Dan Cook, Narah Larson, and Hannah Dickinson, share about the message they hoped to leave with their listeners.

By Cherie Suonvieri '15, content specialist

May 18, 2021 | 10 a.m.

Omark Preaching Competition winners

Winners of the 2021 Bethel Seminary Omark Preaching competition, Tolu Toluhi, Dan Cook, Narah Larson, and Hannah Dickinson

In an unprecedented season—a time when political tensions, racial injustice, and fallout from a global pandemic have coalesced—the theme for the 54th annual Omark Preaching Competition was meant to inspire hope. Drawn from Micah 6:8, the theme “act justly, love mercy, walk humbly,” was incorporated into each sermon by the Bethel Seminary students who participated. Here, you can meet the winners of the competition, Tolu Toluhi, Dan Cook, Narah Larson, and Hannah Dickinson all of whom received a scholarship in recognition of their preaching prowess. 

Photo of Tolu Toluhi

Tolu Toluhi was awarded first prize in the Omark Preaching Competition, which included $1,000 from the Edwin J. Omark Preaching Scholarship and the opportunity to preach at Chapel on April 30, 2021.

Tolu Toluhi

Over the years, Tolu Toluhi S’24 considered a variety of career paths: professional soccer, medical school, dance, theatre, psychology, and public health. Seminary wasn’t on the list. With time, however, he began to recognize the world’s need for an “influx of Christians” who bring a wealth of wisdom and understanding from their faith perspective. He says he chose Bethel Seminary for its pietistic tradition and its commitment to study, practice, and personal formation. 

“With what we’ve experienced this past year as a country, questions of justice and its relation to our faith have been heavily discussed,” Toluhi says, reflecting on the theme for the Omark competition. “Micah 6:8 and the narrative of the whole book of Micah are such a pointed reflection on what God is requiring of us as His people.”

Toluhi spoke to this year’s theme by preaching from Deuteronomy 15:1-11, which he describes as a retelling of the law intended to show God’s people how He wanted them to live in the Promised Land. He spoke of the year of Jubilee, a year when people were to forgive any debts owed to them, when land was to be given back to anyone who had lost it, and when anyone who’d had to sell themselves into slavery because of debt was set free.

“God has this vision for His people that is far beyond what we could imagine in terms of justice…” Toluhi said in his sermon. “The point of the story is to bring God’s people up so they can live in His space and look like Him. He also wants to boast of His people—to be able to say, ‘Have you seen my people? Because they are generous, they are merciful…These people give when it doesn’t make sense.’” 

Throughout the Old Testament, though, a recurring theme is that God’s people don’t want anything to do with this vision, Toluhi says. But hope is not lost, because God later sends Jesus who was “the embodiment of Jubilee.” And because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s people now get to be “Jubilee-bringers.” 

“What does it look like to be Jubilee-bringers? Well, Micah 6:8 gives us a good outline. We have three good points for how to bring this Jubilee. It says, ‘He has told you O man what is good, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

— Tolu Toluhi
Photo of Dan Cook

Dan Cook was awarded second prize, which included $800 from the Robert A. Featherstone Memorial Scholarship.

Dan Cook

For 20 years, Dan Cook S’22 has worked as a talk show producer for WCCO Radio—and about five years ago, he felt a call to vocational ministry. He says he chose Bethel Seminary because of the tremendous respect he has for the staff and faculty, and because of the flexibility offered through the completely online Master of Divinity program, which has allowed him to maintain full-time employment.

Cook’s call to ministry came to him through a preaching experience, so he was excited to be part of the Omark Preaching Competition. And the opportunity to preach on Micah 6:8 felt especially meaningful to him in this current season. “We're living in a time of pain, suffering, and chaos. Whether it's the pandemic, or living at the epicenter of racial tensions in our country, there are plenty of things causing us anxiety and concern,” he says. “It's fair to wonder why God allows these problems and what exactly He's asking from us as believers to help find our way out of these troubling times. The people in Micah's time were living in a time of exile which caused pain, suffering, and chaos and they were wondering those same things.” 

Cook prays that anyone who hears his message will come away with a better understanding of how justice, love, and humility are linked—and that pursuing one without the others doesn’t work. “Just as Micah was trying to show Israel, [I hope they see that] there is hope, that God does keep His promises, and that we can be part of the renewal and restoration of all creation,” he says. 

“I want to suggest to you that justice, love, and humility are inextricably linked together. Because true justice requires love. True love demands justice. And without humility we can't hope to achieve either one.”

— Dan Cook
Photo of Narah Larson

Narah Larson was awarded third prize, which included $600 from the Emily A. VanAntwerp Memorial Preaching Scholarship.

Narah Larson

After earning her undergraduate degree in biochemistry and spending several years teaching science to elementary students, Narah Larson S’25 felt drawn to Bethel Seminary by her love for Scripture and her desire to share it more broadly. “I see darkness and confusion in the world, in the church, and within myself, but I know that God's Word is a light,” she says. While at Bethel Seminary, she seeks to devote herself to study and surround herself with peers on similar journeys, so she can grow in her understanding of who God is and how He wants his people to act in this particular time and place in history.

When Larson learned that Micah 6:8 was the chosen theme for the competition, the word “justice” triggered a strong reaction for her. “I and many others recognize a great lack of justice in our society,” she says. “I and many others also seem caught in an endless back-and-forth of judging each other’s sense of what justice is. Being exhausted and discouraged by this, I jumped at the opportunity to look more closely at Micah.”

In Larson’s study of Micah, she found her sense of justice subjected to God’s vision of justice. “Micah chapters six and seven brought me to shame before God the judge. Then, it brought me back to great hope and humility because of God’s overwhelming kindness. That’s the experience I tried to share with my listeners,” she says. 

“Every time I hear Micah 6:8, my stomach drops a little bit because no matter which way I try to think about it, we haven’t lived justly in so many ways. So now I wonder, if we can’t do anything to solve this problem, what is the Lord going to do?”

— Narah Larson
Photo of Bethel University student Hannah Dickinson

This year, Bethel Seminary began a new part of the Omark Preaching Competition specifically for undergraduate-level students currently in the Ministry Scholars program. Hannah Dickinson was this year’s Ministry Scholars winner. She was awarded $500 from the Ministry Scholars program which is funded by the Kern Family Foundation.

Hannah Dickinson

Hannah Dickinson ’22 is an undergraduate Ministry Scholars student majoring in missional ministries. She joined the Ministry Scholars program to connect with other ministry-oriented students and to get a head start on her seminary education. She says the classes she’s taken through the program have contributed to her worldview and how she views the church’s interaction with the rest of the world.

“I think the theme of ‘do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God’ carried much more weight for me in this season than it did even a year ago,” she says. “As I was writing this message, I was immersed in learning more about the divisions in our society and how unwilling we are to listen to others. I believe that there is a call for the church to step into the frontlines of listening and loving our neighbors, even those we disagree with.” 

In her sermon, she referenced a course she took during interim called Bridging the Gap, which equipped students with dialogue skills to help them connect with people who are different from them. “The more I participated in that class, the more I thought, ‘Wow, this is what we’re missing—that conversation piece. That sitting down with people. We’re missing this,” she says.

Dickinson says she hopes that those who heard her message open themselves up to loving people with whom they have differences. “The gospel is uncomfortable,” she says. “Love isn't passive niceties, and Jesus calls us into radical, self-giving relationship with others.” 

“This question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ something we may all be asking, is answered by Jesus [in the parable of the Good Samaritan] that it’s not just the people who think like us or have the same ideas as us…. It’s people who are different from us who are our neighbors.”

— Hannah Dickinson

Listen online.

Interested in hearing more? You can find the full sermons from the winners of Bethel Seminary's 2021 Omark Preaching Competition and learn more about the awards online. 

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