The Mystery Of Mart Green

Tuesday, May 5th 2009, 10:11 pm
By: News On 6

By Terry Hood, The News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- Before his family swooped in to rescue Oral Roberts University, most people in Tulsa had never heard of Mart Green.  Now, he's a major player in our city, but for most of us, he's still something of a mystery.

Oral Roberts University is home to 3,000 students from more than 60 countries.  It's famous in corners of the world that have never even heard of Tulsa, Oklahoma.  But, just a year ago ORU, awash in controversy and drowning in debt, was on the brink of failure.

"ORU needed a miracle and it could have been somebody else.  But, ORU would not have been there the next year had something not happened," said Mart Green.

ORU got its miracle.  But, it came with strings attached. Mart Green is the man who holds those strings. 

Hobby Lobby was born on the Green family's kitchen table.  Mart's dad, David, started with a $600 investment.  He paid Mart and his brother 70 cents for every picture frame they glued together. 

Times have changed.

"I don't know much about this job any more to tell you the truth.  It's bigger than I am," said Mart Green.

It's also technically out of his department.  Turns out dad wasn't the only natural born retailer in the family.

"I'm 19.  I don't know enough not to do it.  You think you can conquer the world.  So, I came home at 19 and started the first Mardel in 1981," said Mart Green.

Mardel, a chain of Christian book stores, now operates in six states.  It's an important cog in the wheel of the $2 billion Hobby Lobby empire with headquarters in Oklahoma City that sprawl over 3.4 million square feet.     

Inside looks something like Santa's workshop.   More than 2,500 people work at the headquarters.  There are the printers, the framers and the candlestick makers. 

Products from the operation are shipped to every corner of the country. But, under the vast roof, there's also room for surprises.

"When I got in the film business, which is what we're doing here.  It was way out of my league.  But, I learned. Found some good people," said Mart Green.

Ethnographic Media now has a staff of 23 good people, state of the art equipment and it sends film crews around the world.

So, how does an Oklahoma businessman, who'd never even been to a movie, end up making them?

It all started with one story.  One amazing story. 

 "I just thought it would be a movie.  I didn't think I would make the movie," said Mart Green.

In the mid-1950's, five American missionaries made contact with the Waodani Indians in the jungles of Ecuador.  It was the most violent civilization ever recorded.  Ultimately, all five missionaries were murdered.

Their wives and children responded to this tragedy with an incredible act of faith.  They befriended the tribe, shared the good word and lived with them for decades in peace.

Their story is immortalized in film End of the Spear.

And, in making it, Mart Green lit a firestorm. 

Just days before he was to begin shooting, the film's lead actor, Chad Allen, went on national television as a gay man, advocating for gay marriage.

You might think at this point, a conservative Christian like Mart Green would find a new lead actor.

You would be wrong.

Many in the Christian community were outraged.  More than 100 pastors called on Mart Green to repent.  It was a soul-wrenching ordeal and it has had a lasting impact.

"It's more complicated.  The issues get more complicated when you get to know people.  The people involved in these issues.  And, you realize it's not so black and white all the time," said Mart Green.

Green has since brought the same approach to films about AIDS in Africa, guns in schools and violence in the Middle East. 

He sees the work as his ministry.  And, he includes voices that others often silence.

"I think loving people is something that helps everybody.  If we can learn to love each other and respect each other, we can have differences.  I don't have to change my convictions, but yeah, I think love can make a difference," said Mart Green.

Today, more than a year after the Green Revolution, the difference at ORU is not just about money, it's about hope.

A man who never graduated from college is now the chairman of ORU's Board of Trustees.  And, as unlikely as it seems, since Mart Green's taken the helm, ORU has rallied support from more than 14,000 alumni and is now almost debt free.

"The momentum is shifting at ORU.  And, it's exciting to see it go from near death, on its death bed, its last breath, to we're not running marathons yet, but we are going to run marathons some day," said Mart Green.