Prof. Michael Bess

Michael Bess
Prof. Michael Bess B.A., English, M.A., TESOL
  • TESOL Professor



B.A., English-Portland State University; M.A., TESOL-Portland State University

Favorite Quote

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." – Jim Elliot

Where I come from

My family lived in Portland until I was nine; then we moved to the foothills of the Coast Range near Tillamook as part of the “back to the land” movement of the 1970s.  It was a great place for a boy to grow up:  I could walk out the front door and go for a hike, swim in the pond, or climb trees in my own forest.  God was introducing me to Himself through the beauty and complexity of His creation all around me.  I also read a lot of C. S. Lewis and Tolkien that pushed me in His direction.

When I was in college, I met a young man who was a student at a place called – maybe you’ve heard of it – Multnomah School of the Bible.  (Yes, that really dates me, doesn’t it?)  About five minutes into our conversation, he suddenly blurted out, “I think that God wants us to do a Bible study together!”  Now I knew that was not something you say just five minutes after meeting someone.  So I opened my mouth to say, “No, I don’t think so,” but instead I found my mouth saying, much to my surprise, “OK.”  Well, he wouldn’t let go of that until he’d nailed down a day, a time, and a place for our first meeting.  After that, I was stuck in this weekly Bible study with him.  We studied Mark’s Gospel, and over and over the words “repent, believe, and receive” kept coming up.  Then he invited me to his church for Easter, where – wouldn’t you know it – the pastor’s message was “repent, believe, and receive.”  So I really couldn’t resist any longer!  (I think I was that young man’s “Evangelism 101” project.  I hope he got a good grade.  Happily, we are back in contact through Facebook.)

A few weeks after giving my heart and life to Jesus, I was sitting in on a “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” class where the guest speaker was Dr. Ralph Winter himself.  What a joy to hear him explain God’s heart and desire for the nations!  I understood then that it was not enough just to be saved; I knew that God was calling me – of all people! – to be involved in His plan for every tribe, language, people, and nation.  What an awesome privilege and duty!  That evening, I told God that He could send me anywhere He wanted to, and I would be happy to tell people about Him.

My future wife had made a similar pledge.  A year after we were married, I went back to school and began to prepare.  After a decade of study, work, and teaching, we both had finished our MAs in TESOL, and were, by God’s miracles, free of education loans.  (It was still possible in those days to go to school without loans.  That really dates me, too, doesn’t it?)  The story of how God put us in Japan (instead of in the Middle East, where we thought He was leading us) is a series of miracles in itself.  Ask me about it sometime!

We loved Japan, teaching EFL there, and ministering to Japanese people, and hoped we’d never have to leave.  So after seven years there, God had to drag us away kicking and screaming back in Portland.  When we came back from Japan, my wife decided to change careers completely and become a nurse.  I was still teaching ESL.  My Mom’s slow death from a recurring brain tumor was my excuse to descend into a crisis of faith.  I thought my life and career were over.  I had some time off to recover.  One day, seemingly out of the blue, my long-time friend John Runcie asked if I would like to teach some courses for Multnomah’s TESOL Program.  Would I ever!  And by God’s grace, here I am.

It is a great honor and responsibility to teach for Multnomah, first to “give back” to one of the places that is ultimately responsible for my coming to faith, and second to be able work with a wonderful team of professors in training and encouraging like-minded men and women who want to use their teaching both here and overseas as ministry that will continue to reach the nations.  And when I think that some of our MU students will teach ESOL students who may become leaders in business, government, education, and other areas in their own countries, it just boggles my mind, as well as being scary and humbling!

Ministries outside class

Before Japan, my wife and I were involved in a lot of outreach to international students (seemed like a good fit for two TESOL teachers), mostly with groups like ISI and FOCUS.  Now we’re involved with other local ministries, including Good News Community Health Center (GNCHC), a clinic for low-income and/or uninsured folks; Compassion Connect (CC), which organizes huge one-day free health clinics (about a dozen per year in the greater Portland area); Birch Community Services, a resource center which supports “the working poor;” and an accountability group at a church in Gresham.  We worship at Trinity Fellowship in S.E. Portland.

Outside of my work in Multnomah’s TESOL Program, I use much of my time helping my wife with her business/ministry.  (She is an RN in private practice, doing foot care for elderly and diabetic patients; I am her instrument-cleaner, towel-washer, and meal-preparer!)  When she volunteers her services at GNCHC and CC, she brings me along as her clean-up crew.  When I have a moment to spare, I enjoy reading voraciously (mostly history, biography, missions, and theology; George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis are my favorite authors of fiction), tent camping, hiking and walking, rock-hounding, organic gardening, and carpentry.  I am a certified linguistics “nerd,” and my wife and I enjoy doing various word puzzles and games together.  My one wish is to have more time just to be with people, without any agenda or “ministry goals,” just to listen to them and get to know them.

Interesting fact about me

I have never owned a TV in the U.S.  And I have never missed it.  The only time my wife and I owned a TV was during our 7 years living in Japan.

Favorite Scriptures

I really like the books of Hebrews, Romans, Revelation, Job, Isaiah, Jonah, Ruth, and Ecclesiastes.

Some of the verses I try to live by are:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.  (Romans 12:2)

Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.  (Psalm 37:4)

My hope for America and every “land” around the world:  If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  (2 Chronicles 7:14)

And the great missions promise:  There will be some “from every tribe and language and people and nation,” around the throne, worshipping the Lamb.  (Revelation 5:9 and elsewhere)