Max Olwa might be 9,000 miles from home, but he knows he’s in the right place at the right time.
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.
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.'"
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."
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 run.
"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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
Stories are found in all the nooks and crannies of the globe. They burst upon wrinkled faces, sparkle through aged eyes, are crusted upon worn-out sneakers, tucked into treasure-boxes, worked into the cracks in the gravestone, and are told and retold with increasing fervor. Life itself is embedded in story, and each individual bears the marks of it.
That's why we graced this year's Global Ministries Conference with the theme of storytelling. The 75th annual event, which runs from February 24–26, will emphasize the overarching narrative of God's worldwide redemption and our roles as believers within his story.We'll be exploring this theme through workshops, plenary sessions, evening activities, prayer hours and conversations. We'll also be bringing our students' stories into the event through an open mic evening with Spoken Word artist Micah Bournes, an international worship night, and a Snack Chat featuring students who have served overseas.
Dr. Greg Burch, intercultural studies department chair, hopes the GMC will encourage more students to share their stories and ultimately the greatest story of all — the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. “When you share stories, people listen,” he says. “Storytelling is a powerful means of communicating the Gospel around the world. A deep passion to see people reconciled to their Creator and profoundly restored is in Multnomah’s DNA.”
That’s why this conference has always fit well into the fabric of MU's mission. It provides an array of opportunities for volunteer work and encourages a readiness to serve. Classes are cancelled for three days while students speak with missionaries and connect with agencies that interest them. Even those who don't feel called to full-time mission work will cultivate a global focus and discover ways to enter the stories of local organizations that need their time and talents.
Stories can't be resisted, and that is why God chose to woo his world through a story which required him to enter it himself. It cost him to write his masterpiece, and yet he did it anyway. This year's GMC will simply be a celebration of the way he has worked the same theme into people of all walks of life. And we will rejoice together because he never leaves his stanzas unfinished.
Olivia Morud is a senior English major at Multnomah University who’s helping organize the annual conference. This is her second year volunteering at the GMC.
When students arrive for chapel on February 5, they’ll know something different is about to happen. The lights in the Student Center will dim, accentuating a brightly-lit stage dominated by an 89-foot-long scroll. The crowd will be peppered with new faces: members of Portland’s Jewish community, local Hebrew professors, pastors, university presidents, board members and Multnomah alumni. Everyone will be there for one reason: celebrating the official dedication of a rare Torah.
The Torah, a parchment scroll on which the first five books of the Old Testament were written, is more than four centuries old and was likely used in a synagogue in eastern Europe.
Last fall, Ken and Barbara Larson, who collect ancient manuscripts, announced their decision to gift the valuable artifact to Multnomah Biblical Seminary. The Larsons purchased several scrolls, all of which are hundreds of years old, in Israel. Multnomah is one out of 40 seminaries nationwide receiving a Torah from the couple.
Ancient Asset Investments, a brokerage firm dealing in rare biblical artifacts, has been assisting the Larsons with the donation process. Todd Hillard, the firm’s owner, said his clients had a vision for placing the Torahs in leading seminaries. “They have a deep passion for seminary education, and they want history to influence future scholars,” he said.
Multnomah’s scholars are already bubbling with enthusiasm over the generous gift. “The students are very excited,” said Biblical Languages Chair and Hebrew professor Dr. Karl Kutz. “It feels like we’re participating in a piece of history. When you’re reading from a scroll that someone read from 400 years ago, that’s pretty cool.”
Students will begin reading the scroll at the Torah dedication. After University President Dr. Craig Williford and the Larsons share a few words, Hebrew students Becca McMartin and Daniel Somboonsiri will read from the scroll out loud. Dr. Kutz will close the ceremony by giving a message from Psalm 19, where David wrote about the central importance of God's Word in our lives.
“Receiving this scroll is a testament to Multnomah’s commitment to the Scriptures,” said Kutz. “It’s a pretty significant object.”
And although that object is more than four centuries old, it’s durable enough to be used frequently for decades to come.
“We intend to use the scroll as an object of study in and of itself,” said Kutz. The document has corrections made by scribes, which opens doors to many more unique learning opportunities. “We can learn about scribal work, the transcription process and more,” he said.
Following the dedication chapel at 10 a.m., an expert in ancient manuscripts will lead a colloquium* at 11 a.m. in B1. Listeners will be treated to the full history of MU’s scroll and even get to handle the document themselves. The session will conclude at noon.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity for our students to interact with another historical manuscript,” said Kutz, who headed two Dead Sea Scrolls projects at MU in 2013 and 2014. While he admits students can feel disconnected when delving into the intricacies of how the Scriptures of yesterday became the Bible of today, he’s confident the scroll will help bridge the gap. “The Torah takes the history of the biblical text from an abstract expression to something tangible,” he said.
Everyone is invited to attend the special chapel at 10 a.m. in the Joseph C. Aldrich Student Center and the colloquium* at 11 a.m. in B1. If you would like to RSVP or ask questions about these events, contact Joy Kruger at 503-251-5361 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*A conference at which a scholar or expert presents papers on, analyzes and discusses a specific topic.
For Michael Watson, the reason for returning to college was simple. “I want to finish my degree before I’m 30,” he says. But once he began his classes, the biblical foundations major realized he was going to learn more than he ever imagined.
“The Degree Completion Program has been above and beyond what I expected,” he says. “It’s incredible how relevant everything is.” Read Michael's story.