And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.—Romans 8:28
This report has been prepared that you might be informed of the impact of COVID-19 on the Bethlehem College & Seminary community. By the grace of God, at this writing, only two students appear to be exhibiting symptoms of the virus, though untested and undiagnosed, and none of our faculty or staff is known to be infected. We give glory to God for his hand of protection yesterday, today, and forever.
With everyone else, we have been forced to make significant changes to the ways in which we conduct what would otherwise be the normal routines of instruction, community, and administration. We have asked those responsible for the various units of operation of the college and seminary to give you a brief update on the ways we have responded to the present circumstances, the steps we have taken to care for our community, and some of the challenges we see ahead. You have made substantial investments of your service, prayer, and treasure in the education of these students and the support of the godly professors who teach them, all of which are worthy of our maintaining your informed perspective and confidence.
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:19
At this writing, Bethlehem College & Seminary is in need of $225,000—before June 30, 2020—to fund current-year scholarships, that is for this school year already in progress and drawing to a conclusion.
matching grant opportunity
We rejoice in announcing that generous contributors to The Serious Joy Scholarship have offered a gift of $100,000 to match gifts made before June 30. A timely and generous response to this match would not only enable us to complete the current year in good financial stead but help us respond to new dynamics in the school year to come. A quick match of these contributors’ $100,000 would leave us needing only $173,670 to end the year without having to draw on limited financial reserves.
NEW TAX-SAVING ADVANTAGES IN CHARITABLE GIVING
from the office of the president
We’ve all experienced the upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic in our personal and professional lives. It has involved dramatic changes at Bethlehem College & Seminary as well. Because of our concerns for the safety of our students and faculty, we made the decision to move all of our courses and activities online even before the mandates were handed down from the government. It has been amazing to watch how seamlessly the transition has gone and what a positive attitude all have demonstrated throughout the transition.
Courses are being taught, mentoring is still happening, meetings are being held, and work is being done. I thank the Lord for our students, faculty, and staff as they’ve approached this situation with seriousness and hopefulness.
We are hopeful through all of this because our hope resides unshakably in the sovereignty of God who is in complete control of this pandemic as well as everything else in the universe. That hope is evident in our meetings and conversations surrounding the adjustments that have been made to continue our God-glorifying, Christ-exalting approach to higher education. And that hope is evident in the ongoing, faithful support of so many of you.
As I speak with the presidents of other Christian institutions of higher learning, I come away blessed and encouraged by how the Lord has positioned us for such a moment as this. Because of our low overhead (we own no buildings) and our “no frills” approach to education, we are not seriously threatened by the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Will we need to continue to be careful in protecting the safety of our students, faculty, and staff? Yes, but our sense about all of this is that the Lord is already using it in some remarkable ways for His glory, and that when the crisis has passed, we will be stronger and better and more eternity-focused for having experienced it.
May the Lord bless you and encourage you in every way, dear friends!
Tim Tomlinson, Ph.D.
Jason Abell, M.B.A. | Vice President of Administration & Chief Financial Officer
By God’s grace, the Bethlehem College & Seminary Executive Council, consisting of the President’s Cabinet and representatives from faculty, student life, and administration, met on March 11 to discuss the quickly moving coronavirus. Given that the following week was our spring break, we deliberated whether to hold classes after spring break. We determined that the most loving thing to do was to suspend residential courses and move to online classrooms until Monday, April 6. As a team, the Executive Council then began to work to create a communications plan and a special coronavirus web page and FAQ to maintain communication with each other and students as the nation’s response to the virus changed almost daily. The next two weeks were hectic as the IT department quickly made online classes a possibility, providing faculty access to two online conferencing solutions, and integrating the favored solution with our student information system. We determined to remain online through the remainder of the semester and to move commencement to a virtual celebration.
The administrative team worked with Bethlehem Baptist staff to allow essential personnel to continue to access the building to collect mail, print and send checks, and deposit payments. We have striven to keep as many of our part-time staff employed as possible. To steward our resources, we instituted a spending freeze to tighten our belts for the remainder of the year. We are also anticipating a potentially challenging budget cycle for the next fiscal year and are working to develop budget cycle scenarios that anticipate a myriad of eventualities. We have carefully watched for possible financial assistance, most directly by evaluating and applying for the Payroll Protection Program loan as provided by the Small Business Association.
Through all of this, however, we are not trusting in the government or our ability to manage this crisis but are trusting deeply in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the creator and sustainer of all things. Our mission is to spread a passion for his supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples, and we delight in carrying out this mission during a significant historical event that is bringing the world to its knees. I’m so thankful for the excellent staff with whom I have the privilege of working; I’d love to name them all, but won’t embarrass any.
Chris Bruno, Ph.D. | Associate Academic Dean & Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology
When it became clear that this pandemic was going to affect our school in significant ways, we made the decision to move our courses online for several weeks (we later extended this for the rest of the semester and now our summer modular courses). As we discussed this issue among the school’s leadership, there was a shared desire to move quickly to serve our students well, and we were among the first institutions of higher learning in the state of Minnesota to make this call. As expected, our faculty have risen to the occasion, making adjustments to continue teaching courses through Zoom. We should also mention that Jason Abell went above and beyond the call of duty to explore and implement online learning options through Zoom. Overall, while it is certainly not ideal to meet online, the close relationships between students and faculty have made the transition relatively smooth.
We have also implemented weekly online faculty lunches on Fridays, which have provided an opportunity to collaborate, share concerns, and enjoy time together (including some good-natured teasing about college rivalries). God is helping us navigate these unprecedented waters, and we are thankful that we can continue to equip men and women to treasure Christ above all things, to grow in wisdom and knowledge over a lifetime, and to glorify God in every sphere of life, even through Zoom. We ask for prayer that the remainder of the semester would be effective toward that end and that we might have wisdom to know how to prepare for any eventuality that might affect future courses. We are confident in God’s continued call on our school and grateful for the opportunities we have to serve our students during this season.
Rick Shenk, Ph.D. | Director of Non-Traditional Degree Programs & Assistant Professor of Theology
In the non-traditional programs (M.A. and B.Th. degree completion), both on our main campus and in Tennessee, we have instituted Zoom sessions for all of our evening classes. What impressed me is that so far, two weeks in, we have had full attendance and full participation of our students (if a student was missing, I have yet to hear that from any professor—and I have asked). I suspect this is, in part, because all of the professors (many of them adjunct!) have been contacting their students individually by phone and Zoom to see how they are doing personally and academically. This has been an added burden on the professors, but not only have I not heard complaints, I have instead seen cheerful attitudes and a can-do spirit. Students are completing their work well and contributing in class. In fact, every student is utilizing their video and microphone and is fully engaged. While I eagerly hope we are face-to-face again soon, if we need to continue with Zoom, we are learning how to make this work almost as effectively as the classroom.
Barb Waldemar | Dean of Women
It’s the highlight of my job to meet in person with our college women each semester. It is a deep joy to hear how the Lord is meeting them in the pressures of their studies, in navigating sometimes complicated relationships, and through the trials of sin and suffering. It’s a huge encouragement to my own faith as I watch the Lord shape them over the time they spend with us. I was well into the process when we made the decision to take our programs online. In this extraordinary season of stay-at-home, I’ve been using Zoom to meet online with our women. While there are barriers to overcome, I’m so happy that I can still see their faces as we talk! It’s a wonder that we live in a world where we can connect this way.
Our students are feeling many losses—grief is not too strong a word. Many have lost their jobs. A good portion of them have needed to move home suddenly, which prevented them from saying goodbye to their close friends in person. Our seniors will not participate in their graduation ceremony, which is traditionally a very special event that highlights God’s grace in enabling them to persevere through years of rigorous study. The isolation is weighing heavy. A couple have contracted suspected cases of COVID-19 and are feeling sick. Anxiety and stress are dialed up. Even so, as I’ve asked them, “What’s keeping you afloat?” many have shared Scripture that they are clinging to and finding comfort in. The Lord is near. May he continue to strengthen us to carry on amid stretching circumstances and give us grace to grieve the losses well.
Daniel Kleven | Director of Admissions
On Wednesday, March 11, when the Executive Council reached our decision to move all classes online for two weeks, we hoped that it would be a temporary and precautionary measure. The admissions department immediately announced that our March 27 Spring Preview Day was postponed so that those who had registered could make other arrangements, and we closed down our “Class Visit” form. One week later, on March 18, it was clear that we needed to move online for the rest of the semester and the admissions team would need to transition all of our activities strictly online. In-person visits are one of the most important elements in a student’s decision to commit to a school, so we created a plan to offer as much of the Bethlehem experience as possible in a virtual format. Students can now sign up for a Virtual Class Visit and observe a virtual classroom alongside our students. In fact, it’s never been easier to visit a Bethlehem class! Our Spring Preview Day was adapted to a virtual format for Monday, April 13, featuring a class visit and a program overview with Q&A.
Before Minnesota issued its stay-at-home order, we shot video footage for both a housing tour and a library tour, and staff and faculty are recording additional videos to share with prospective and accepted students. Admissions-recruiting travel has been suspended, including multiple conferences, and we are pursuing only the lowest-cost methods of promotion, using the assets already at our disposal. Our admissions team is not panicked, and our applicants aren’t either. Since Bethlehem first took action on March 11, we have continued to receive new applications, acceptances, and deposits, and we have more accepted and deposited students (year-to-year comparison) than any other year in our history. Our student ambassadors have been deployed to personally connect with every accepted student to pray for them and answer any questions they have during this difficult season. We are hopeful but dependent on God to bring next year’s class safely home.
Cody Sandidge, M.Div. | Director of Student Discipleship
All in-person meetings, events, or communication relating to student discipleship are no longer possible. As a result, a handful of student events are cancelled and others have been transitioned to online. I have opened up my schedule to meet with students via video chat, prioritizing freshman and first year seminarians. In place of a cancelled event in the college House System, houses will compete in a series of “Stay-At-Home Challenges.” These challenges are intended for houses to maintain a sense of togetherness even though many of them have moved back home due to COVID-19. I have communicated with those of our seminarians who are in the middle of internships that there is understandable flexibility as they aim to complete their credits. Many are unable to do the original assignments scheduled for them, but I have given general suggestions on how they can creatively finish their internships with their pastoral supervisors. As it relates to one-on-one mentoring, I have emailed the mentors of all of our male undergraduates as well as our seminarians. In that email I provide general encouragement and guidelines they might consider for mentoring in the midst of COVID-19.
Tom Steller, M.Div. | Dean of Global and Alumni Outreach, Associate Professor of New Testament, & Senior Advisor to the President
There have been two big impacts on my ministry in light of COVID-19. Earlier in March I was planning to teach at our extension site in Yaoundé, Cameroon. As I was putting my luggage on the scale at the Delta desk, a text came in telling me President Trump was about to increase the travel restrictions. It no longer seemed wise to go, so I exchanged my ticket for a voucher. I called Dr. Dieudonné Tamfu, the director of our extension site in Yaoundé. We prayed and decided he would teach the conference alone. One hundred pastors, from many parts of Cameroon, participated in the conference with great benefit. A pastor came up to Dieudonné and said he had never heard the word “sovereign” before and now is thankful for this truth. The day the conference ended, the borders of Cameroon were shut down. Since then I have been in regular contact with Dr. Tamfu. The cohort is continuing its classes in creative ways, complying with Cameroonian COVID-19 guidelines. Concerning my teaching at the Minneapolis campus, I am surprised at how seamlessly the transition to online teaching has gone. The students seem fully engaged as we exegete the Greek text of Paul’s magisterial epistle to the Ephesians together. We are learning together what it means to worship a God who “τοῦ τὰ πάντα ἐνεργοῦντος κατὰ τὴν βουλὴν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ” (Ephesians 1:11).
Barbara Winters, M.S.L.S. | Librarian
While the library is closed to students, a skeleton staff crew has been deemed essential, in keeping with Emergency Executive Order 2020, Section 6—that is, we perform work that cannot be done at home through telework or virtual work. Having access to our print collection is critically important. Staff are scanning articles and chapters of books that are necessary for students to prepare class assignments. Scores (often hundreds) of pages are scanned, checked, stored, and transmitted daily. We are also providing online inter-library lending work and reference and research assistance, as needed. We perform daily cleaning and disinfecting operations to guarantee that the work area is kept safe.
Dave Clifford | Director of Outreach Events and Church Partnerships
Regarding our various church-equipping initiatives, we are continuing to promote, via email, our free online video resources and curriculum that churches and individuals may use at home for self-study. The online video resources include all seminar and plenary sessions from our 2015–2020 Bethlehem Conferences! The Biblearc website remains a helpful tool for pastors with regard to sermon preparation, as most pastors are continuing to preach—albeit via livestream or recorded video messages. Finally, we thank God that the 2020 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders was able to be held on February 3–5. Planning for the 2021 Conference has now included many conversations with our vendors and partners in order to clarify potential liabilities, payment timelines, etc. We are actively learning from our friends who were required to cancel their own events. We take note of how they communicate to their attendees and modify them into online events in order to avoid full cancellations and refunds. We are in this fortunate position to be able to prepare in advance now, knowing that we may face a similar situation for the 2021 Bethlehem College & Seminary Conference.
- Pray for grace and wisdom for the taskforce making plans for in-person classes this fall.
- Pray for protection from the virus for our students, faculty, staff, and community.
- Pray that the saints of the church will be able to gather together soon.
- Pray for the deliberations of the presidential succession commission.
- Pray that the Lord would provide the needed funds to finish our fiscal year well.