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Spring Thaw energizes, educates 650 students

Whimsical obstacle courses, lanky wooden structures and exotic Egyptian relics peppered campus. Youth Ministry Chair Dr. Rob Hildebrand and his youth ministry majors had spent months building props, planning games and booking entertainment. Now they waited. Anticipation hung in the air.

Buses and vans packed with youth groups slowly rolled into parking lots. Hildebrand watched as 650 high school students began pouring into campus. Then he began to cry.

“It was beautiful to see their energy and excitement over the work we put into it,” he says. “This event says to them, ‘You’re important to us, you’re important to the church, and we love you.’”

‘A catalyst for community’

Spring Thaw 15 Blog 1For Hildebrand, every piece of Spring Thaw is significant. The wild games, the powerful speakers, the silly comedy sketches and the rich theology seminars each play a distinct role in developing students during the three-day retreat.

“Some people think they should be in classes all day, but you can’t expect them to be able to sit down for 20 hours and listen,” says Hildebrand. “The truth is that we learn from watching people and interacting with them. Activities break down barriers between kids and their leaders. It’s a catalyst for community.”

Hunter Johnson, a junior from Mountainview Church, agrees. “I’ve been bonding with my youth mentor this weekend,” he says.

STcamel_featureimageStudents were treated to a variety of activities during the weekend, including bacon bonfires, real-life Mario Kart, a petting zoo, limo rides and a color war. April Fancher-McKinzie, a sophomore from Central Bible Church, loved meeting Curly, a towering camel who visited campus Saturday afternoon.

“Spring Thaw brings youth groups closer to each other, and we get to meet new people,” she says.

‘We’re learning from the best’

But Hildebrand doesn’t stop with games and entertainment. Spring Thaw hosts a main speaker who teaches four sessions during the event. There are also four theology seminars led by Multnomah professors.

STtheology_featureimage“The theology seminars are something I love about this retreat,” says Hildebrand. “Sometimes youth ministry can be shallow. But kids are deeper than you realize; they grapple with tough issues. This is a way they can hear from thinkers who have spent many years studying the deep issues of life.”

Fancher-McKinzie attended Stump the Prof, a seminar where Dr. Brad Harper answered students’ theology questions, which included:

  • How do you know if God speaks to you?
  • Is war ever OK?
  • Does God love something because it’s right or is it right because he loves it?
  • Can you be gay and be a Christian?
  • How does free will work when God is in control of everything?

“It addressed a lot of questions that come up in everyday life,” says Fancher-McKinzie.

Austin Thompson, a senior from Gladstone First Baptist Church, feels the same way. “The seminar was very beneficial to me,” he says. “It helped me understand the Bible more clearly.”

He was also impressed by the professors’ knowledge. “I feel like we’re learning from the best,” he says. “They are people to look up to.”

Supporting the work of the kingdom

Spring Thaw 15 Blog 2It’s Thompson’s second year at Spring Thaw, and he’s soaking in all the information he can. “I’ve only been a Christian for two years, so everything I take in is new to me,” he says. “I’ve become spiritually closer to God and am learning more of his Word.”

Hildebrand says that’s what Spring Thaw is all about. “This event allows us to utilize the assets the Lord has blessed us with to support the work of the kingdom in dozens of our area churches,” he says. “We’ve had people say, ‘Spring Thaw changed my life,’ but really it’s Jesus who changed their life.”

“You guys put a lot of effort into Spring Thaw,” says Thompson. “And it’s not about getting people to attend MU — it’s a chance for people to come together. I think that’s an amazing, selfless thing for a university to do.”

Kenya native and global development & justice student Max Olwa: ‘Living in this community is uplifting’

Max Olwa might be 9,000 miles from home, but he knows he’s in the right place at the right time.

“I came here from Kenya, but I feel like I’ve always been a part of this place,” says the MAGDJ student. “Living in this community is uplifting.” Read Max’s story.


The ultimate youth retreat: Spring Thaw strengthens churches, educates students and develops leaders

What do Indiana Jones, theology seminars, a real camel, MU’s campus and 650 high schools students have in common? That's right: Spring Thaw. The weekend retreat, open to high school youth groups and their leaders, kicks off Friday, March 27 and concludes Sunday, March 29. Every year brings a unique theme, and 2015 is a mixture of ancient Egypt and Raiders of the Lost Ark.


This year MU will host 625 high school students and 103 youth leaders on its campus.

Youth Ministries Department Chair Dr. Rob Hildebrand has been running the event since its debut six years ago. "I do this because I really believe it's important to the kingdom," he says. "Spring Thaw has helped build community in youth groups, strengthened churches and brought kids to Christ. It helps kids experience solid teaching and grapple with deep thoughts in a world that is often shallow."

Six years ago, Andrew Alfeche was one of those kids. He remembers his first time at the retreat like it was yesterday. "I fell in love with Spring Thaw," he says. "It was an  incredible experience."

During that weekend Alfeche stayed in an MU student's dorm room, where he overheard theological discussions that sparked a nagging interest in the Scriptures. "Hearing how passionate that student was about explaining the Gospel made me excited," Alfeche says, "I thought, 'If students here know the Bible that well, I want that too.'"


Spring Thaw has been hosted on campus for the past five years. Youth groups from all over the Northwest attend the event.

Two years later, Alfeche enrolled at MU. He's been volunteering at Spring Thaw ever since. "I always enjoy it so much," he says. "It's a lot more than a youth retreat. It's giving students a passion to follow Christ."

Volunteers like Alfeche have always made Spring Thaw possible. Several MU students and staff members plan, build and facilitate the retreat each year. A small group of students majoring in Youth Ministry take on larger leadership roles and serve as interns.

"This event gives them a chance to participate in some advanced youth ministry training," says Hildebrand. "They'll finish their weekend knowing they had a significant part in leading one of the larger youth ministry events in this region. It's very good experience for them in terms of skill development and résumé building."


Students are treated to comedy skits, theology seminars, real-life Mario Kart, a bacon bonfire, bubble soccer and more.

The retreat is hosting a main speaker, Sid Koop, who will speak several times during the weekend. High school students will also attend theology seminars led by MU faculty. Hildebrand believes students learn best when they're in a balanced environment, so he developed plenty of activities, including comedy skits, a bacon bonfire, real-life Mario Kart, bubble soccer, hockey and a color war.

"Spring Thaw is a lot of work," he says. "But I believe it's important to the work God is doing in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m glad to be a part of that."

Registration is full, but visit the Spring Thaw Facebook page for more info about this retreat.

Chaplain and seminary graduate Emil Khooda: ‘New Wine, New Wineskins is a hidden gem’

When Emil Khooda decided to earn his M.Div., a friend recommended Multnomah for its out-of-the-box thinking and cultural engagement program — New Wine, New Wineskins. That program had a lasting impact on Khooda’s life.

“Christians can get insular and forget to engage with people outside their faith,” he says. “New Wine is a hidden gem — it paints a vivid reflection of who Christ is and how he interacted with people.”

The seminary graduate says the program equipped him to meet his calling as a hospital chaplain. “Now I can meaningfully speak into peoples’ lives,” he says. Read Emil’s story.


MU’s global studies program prepares students for work around the world

MU's intercultural studies program was recently renamed the global studies program. But the switch is more than a name change. I sat down with Global Studies Chair Dr. Greg Burch for the full scoop.


How is global studies different from intercultural studies?

Global studies provides students with everything intercultural studies did, but changing the name opened up the opportunity to add five concentrations:

  • Global Ministry
  • Children at Risk
  • Culture and Diversity
  • Applied Linguistics
  • International Regional Studies

These concentrations are interdisciplinary. So a student might take an English class on minority voices. Or say you have a student who wants to work in the Middle East after they graduate. Now they can spend a semester over there. Want to translate the Bible? Applied Linguistics will teach you how to preserve culture while giving the written word of God to those who haven't had access to it. Our concentrations provide students with better skills to work in their area of interest.

Why was this change made?

Over the past couple of years our department has been researching a way forward for our program given the complexities of our globalized world. We noted that the intercultural studies program had remained virtually unchanged for a number of years, so we assessed the program through student focus groups and one-on-one interviews. We got the sense that the current program was not connecting as well as it could with this generation of students who were living in a highly complex mission environment.

What kind of feedback were you getting from these focus groups and one-on-one meetings?

Students talked about needing practical skills and a targeted education. Now these concentrations get to the skills they wanted. We’ve also indicated potential career options around each concentration.

Another thing they mentioned was having redundant classes. So I removed an entire class and combined other classes.

What are you most excited about as you move forward?

The Children at Risk concentration. I’ve worked with street children and children at risk for over 10 years. That’s what God has made me for. This concentration prepares them for national and international work with kids.

We’re also enlarging the opportunities students will have for vocational ministry and marketplace jobs. I’m excited about the fact that we’re getting beyond that secular/sacred divide in missions that was so ingrained in many of our Bible colleges and seminaries. We have come to realize that we must engage with our culture and world in vocations that are relevant to where people are at.

Some students are not in the position to raise support for missions the traditional way. But there are things they can do beyond missions work. Their calling can be found in governmental or secular organizations. They can have salaries and still serve Christ in their mission. Others will still feel called to serve with faith-based missions agencies, and we still prepare people for support raising and missionary service.

There is a crisis in missiological education today. The culture of missions is changing, but a lot of missions programs haven’t changed. We’re trying to get ahead of the curve, and we’re trying to engage where we are today without watering anything down.

Who is this program for?

If you’re interested in serving people, working with ethnic groups, church-planting, international vocations — this is critical for you. You’ll be given the tools to thrive. If you want to be a transforming force in the world, these classes will help. Each concentration has its values and provides practical skills in those areas.

What are the benefits of getting the Bible and theology major with the global studies major?

You’ll be well-rounded. You’ll become someone who loves God’s Word. And if you work with non-faith-based organizations, where you might be a minority as a Christian, developing habits of spiritual discipline will be all the more important.

Also, understanding global theology helps us understand what other people are thinking, so we’re not surprised with different ways of processing. We need to think openly when learning from the global church. Our faculty does a wonderful job preparing students for that.

Join the party

The Global Studies Department is having a celebration/informational meeting, and you're invited!

Friday March 13
10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.*
Bradley Hall, B3

Intercultural studies students will learn about transitioning to global studies, and others can hear details about the new program. There will also be food, music and a time of international worship.

*This time counts toward chapel credits

Learn more about our global studies program.

Right at home in Reno

When Pastor Mike Stewart decided to spring for a Master of Divinity degree, he knew he couldn’t look far from home. The 43-year-old’s roots had burrowed into Reno, Nev. — and into the church he and his wife planted 10 years ago.

So when Stewart discovered Multnomah’s Reno-Tahoe campus, he was delighted. “I love the convenience of experiencing world-class education 15 minutes from my office,” he says. “With my family being planted in Reno, an accredited resource like Multnomah is a God-send.”

'Equipped to minister'

MU’s presence in Reno-Tahoe was a long time in the making. Conversations began more than 15 years ago when several church and business leaders from northern Nevada approached Multnomah about the possibility of creating a Bible college in Reno.

“Many of our young people were leaving Reno for their college education,” says Dean of Students Tony Slavin. “But then they would never return to Nevada. We needed a place where they could be equipped to minister in the church here.”


Director of Reno-Tahoe John McKendricks and Dean of Students Tony Slavin.

'Filling a role no one else is filling'

In 2008, MU’s board of trustees approved a recommendation to merge with a little school in Reno called Meadows Bible Institute. After the board at Meadows accepted, both institutions negotiated an agreement that would transfer all Meadow’s assets to Multnomah. Under the direction of former president Daniel Lockwood, the agreement was signed that summer, and the first accredited biblical university in Nevada was born.

“We’re filling a role that no one else is filling,” says Director John McKendricks. “And we’re maintaining connections with the broader faith community.”

Slavin agrees. “What’s going on in the classroom is inseparable with what’s happening in local churches,” he says. “Students are gaining a hands-on approach to ministry from well-educated pastors.”

'A strong biblical foundation'

One of those students is Alina Bjerre, a 25-year-old kindergarten teacher earning her Bible and theology degree. Like Stewart, Bjerre has deep roots in Reno and wanted an education close to home.  Multnomah was the perfect fit. “I was so excited about what I would learn here,” she says. “I see value in getting this degree. We should all have a strong biblical foundation.”

Bjerre is building that foundation with the help of some talented and caring faculty. “The professors are fascinating to listen to and passionate about what they teach,” she says. “And they’re so personable — I feel like I can talk to them about anything.”

But what stands out to Bjerre the most is the unique community Multnomah attracts. “People come here with different interpretations, but we all love Jesus,” she says.

'Diversity within our unity'

Slavin feels the same way. “We have amazing students spanning across all ages and representing 17 denominations,” he explains. “MU creates an atmosphere that encourages diversity within our unity. These students have become my family and friends and co-learners. We teach them how to study and how to think, but not what to believe.”

That’s something Stewart has greatly appreciated. “There's a grounded, practical feel to the classes and intended outcomes at Multnomah,” he says. “I've been able to connect so much of what I’ve learned to the church I pastor. MU also provides a place for students to gather in a neutral environment for fellowship and discussion. My education has been valuable, but the relationships I’ve developed have been invaluable.”

Learn more about Multnomah Reno-Tahoe.

MA in TESOL graduate Bernie Bernardo: Representing the Master Teacher

Comments Off Written on February 25th, 2015 by
Categories: Students

Bernie Bernardo, an English instructor at Portland Community College and Columbia School of English, says MU’s MA in TESOL program didn't just teach him practical methodologies — it taught him to own an uncompromising faith.

“At Multnomah, you learn how to become a teacher who represents our Master Teacher,” he says. Read Bernie's story.



Found in translation: Hebrew program gives students insight into the biblical text

Comments Off Written on February 24th, 2015 by
Categories: Programs

Multnomah offers one of the finest Hebrew programs in the country. Expert professors provide a solid educational experience focused on extensive reading and designed for long-term retention. Devoted mentorship, innovative teaching methods and an in-depth understanding of language are the hallmarks of this major. "We’re learning things that are normally introduced at an advanced level ," says Hebrew major Julia Glanz.

Earlier this month, MU received a Torah scroll that will provide countless learning opportunities for Hebrew students in the decades to come. "It feels like we’re participating in a piece of history," says Biblical Languages Chair Dr. Karl Kutz, who headed two Dead Sea Scrolls projects at MU in 2013 and 2014. "When you’re reading from a scroll that someone read from hundreds of years ago, that’s pretty cool. The Torah takes the history of the biblical text from an abstract expression to something tangible." 

Learn more about MU's Hebrew major.

Striking the right chord: Music program brings students, listeners closer to God

Comments Off Written on February 16th, 2015 by
Categories: Students

MU's music program equips students — musically and spiritually — for effective worship and ministry in any setting. By combining studies in Bible, theology and ministry with classes in musical training, knowledge and practice, the Music Department prepares graduates for leadership in churches, arts productions, parachurch organizations and community arts organizations. Graduates are teaching music, leading bands and recording albums.

Music majors are given access to private lessons, practice rooms and a fully-equipped professional recording studio. They also get plenty of one-on-one discipleship with professors. Wendy Contreras credits Music Director Stan Campbell with helping her see the point of making music: bringing people back to God. “I saw how the Lord used my music to touch people,” she says. “When I realized that he’d given me this gift, I wanted to be responsible with it. Multnomah’s music program is great for people who want to speak of the Lord in the art they create.”

 Learn more about MU's music program.

MU’s Torah unrolls new learning opportunities for community

Comments Off Written on February 6th, 2015 by
Categories: Events, Press Releases, Students

Thursday dawned wet and dreary, but it might as well have been Christmas for MU’s Hebrew department. As soon as people filed into the JCA Student Center that morning, they saw the reason: A 16th-century Torah scroll lay partially unfurled on stage, offering the crowd an enticing glimpse into the rich history of biblical transmission work.

MU president Dr. Craig Williford commenced the Torah Dedication Chapel by introducing the donors, Ken and Barbara Larson, who had flown in from Florida that morning.

“We can feel your enthusiasm in the air,” said Barbara Larson. “We’ve been impressed by your faculty and students, and we’re excited for what this Torah will do for the school.”

The scroll, which is durable enough to be used frequently for decades to come, will provide countless learning opportunities for MU students.

“We intend to use the scroll as an object of study in and of itself,” said Biblical Languages Chair and Hebrew professor Dr. Karl Kutz. “We can learn about scribal work, the transcription process and more.”

MacKenzie Williams and Chad Woodward are two students who will benefit from using the Torah, and they expressed their gratitude to the Larsons during the dedication.

“Thank you for this opportunity to grow as a Hebrew community,” said Williams. “This means a great deal to me.”

The gift means a great deal to Kutz as well.

“You can imagine I’ve been anticipating this moment for some time,” he told the crowd. The scroll, he said, represents many things: history, centuries of faithful copying, transmission work, and the enduring faith of God’s people. But most importantly, he noted, it represents an appeal. “This Torah is an invitation to a relationship with the living God…an invitation to me and you,” he said.

After the dedication chapel, the scroll was swaddled in cloth, tucked into a padded suitcase and transported to Bradley Hall for a colloquium with Ancient Manuscripts Expert Dr. Scott Carroll.

Four long tables, each draped with a black tablecloth, lined the stage. As the Torah was carefully unrolled, it crackled and popped, creating stiff waves along the tabletops.

The 89-foot scroll, Carroll said, was composed somewhere in Eastern Europe during the Reformation. Constructing the parchment for such a Torah is no small feat — the artifact is comprised of 50 calf skins.Vegetable components were used for ink and goose feathers for writing. It took a scribe an entire year to create the manuscript. 

“If this Torah could talk to us, imagine what it could say and what it’s seen,” said Carroll. “It was preserved through the Enlightenment and the Holocaust. Through a wonderful turn of Providence, it’s in your community now.”

Listeners were invited on stage to get a firsthand look. Some gently touched the scroll's edges — smooth on top, suede on bottom. Others bent over the relic, iPhones poised. A few scanned the impeccably centered lines of text, their eyes searching for familiar passages.

Carroll then asked everyone to encircle the room so the scroll could be completely unfurled, a scene you might witness in some synagogues during the Jewish festival Simchat Torah. Young and old, seasoned Hebrew scholars and novices alike held the Torah together. It was the first time the scroll had ever been fully unraveled.

Hebrew student Thomas Belcastro was euphoric. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “When I came to Multnomah, I didn’t expect I’d ever be holding a 600-year-old scroll. I actually get to study it on Monday.”