Trinity Bible College: A family on the prairie
By Ann Floyd
Words a Trinity Bible College student would never say while on campus:
Lets eat at McDonalds at noon. Or, Lets
take a break and go to a concert tonight. Why?
The closest McDonalds is 30 miles away in Aberdeen in a neighboring
state South Dakota. And a concert? Well, TBC in Ellendale, N.D.
(population 1,700), is the cultural hub of Dickey County and
its largest employer.
Welcome to rural America. And thats just the reason many of TBCs
almost 350 students made their way to this 30-acre campus.
Dennis Niles, newly elected president, sees rural ministry as still
big, even with the recent emphasis in the Assemblies of God on urban
missions. "I have a burden for these small towns," Niles says. "People
need Jesus in that little town of 1,000. You can build a good church
by being a good pastor. When you travel across the Dakotas, Montana,
northern Minnesota and other rural areas, you see a lot of Trinity graduates
When I visit in April, mounds of snow still stand in shady parts of
the beautiful campus which once belonged to the University of North
Dakota Ellendale branch. But a spiritual prairie fire is evident.
According to student leaders, the recent spring break brought the fervor
evident in the Friday morning chapel service.
"Theres such energy," Niles says. "The students came back from
break saying, God was working through me. They didnt
say, I did this
or We did this
"I think God is saying, Grow up. Put your roots down. Be discipled.
We have celebrated. We have been challenged and charged by the Word.
Faith is alive in our lives. Now lets package this and take it
into a dark, confused, disappointed world and let the light shine."
Students like sophomore Michelle McEwan have found a way to combine
the rural and the inner city. She led a ministry called Hearts Aflame
to Minneapolis during spring break. Team members worked with the homeless,
addicts, drug dealers and prostitutes.
McEwan, from inner-city Omaha, Neb., says, "Im able to use my
testimony to reach them. Ive found Trinity is a good place to
be if you want to seek Gods face and hear His voice."
Shawn Daniel, 21, of Taft, Calif., finds ministry on campus as a resident
adviser and member of the football team. "I came here because I wanted
to play ball," Daniel says. "Then God really got a hold of my life.
He just grabbed me and shook me."
Daniel looks forward to his summer of childrens ministry in San
Juan Capistrano, Calif. He will return to TBC for a fifth year. He wants
others to see his involvement at TBC not just as a leader but as "someone
whos willing to fill a need," he says. "Were training pastors,
music directors, youth leaders. I want them to say, Daniel was
a servant. I remember the time he opened the door for me. I remember
the time he sat down with me and explained the schedule. This guy was
an example of Christ. "
The close living Tonya Day of Orem, Utah, says, "People are
around you 24/7" makes for a proliferation of more than 30 ministry
groups to get the students involved beyond the campus. "You get the
experience here," Day says. "It makes you grow so much." To minister,
the teams have to overcome distance, inclement weather and aging vehicles.
"God wanted me here because the atmosphere is so different," says Marcus
Montana, 21, of Rougon, La. "I needed to be stretched and He knew this
would be a stretching environment for me.
"Jesus is on this campus," he says. "His Spirit has been moving and
Ive just been loving it." Montanas background as a troubled
teen in the inner city, being raised by a single mom, is a reminder
to him where God brought him from. Hes confident God can do the
same for others.
Niles, on campus since 1995 as vice president of development, says,
"This is a generation that wants to make their lives count. God is raising
up students who look beyond the paycheck and the perks and say, I
want to do something that is going to outlive me; thats going
to make an impact on society; that is going to make a difference in
peoples lives. Theres a servant desire in these students.
"Maybe todays young people would prefer to have a more exciting
life in the city," Niles says. "We dont necessarily fight that
here at Trinity, but we have to be able to bridge that and express to
them the centrality of ministry here. Were incredibly focused
on developing ministers and missionaries. This is a Bible college; its
not going to happen any other way here."
Family is a word I heard often.
"There are a lot of young people who really dont have a good,
strong family," Niles says. "But they find one at Trinity."
McDonalds isnt an option; no mall is even remotely close.
So "the family" gathers in the cafeteria day after day. Faculty and
staff are there and many married students. (Families can live
economically in Ellendale because rent is inexpensive.)
"We really strive to foster healthy relationships," says David Bauchspiess,
23, of Rapid City, S.D., president of the Student Association. "Our
theme this year is, To love God, to love people and to build relationships.
Dan Kuno, dean of students and teacher for 14 years, tells his class
of freshmen, "A lot of people in the Bible had to go to a desert place
away from all the comforts."
Students at Trinity Bible College say the prairie works just fine when
a desert isnt available.
Ann Floyd recently retired as associate editor
of the Pentecostal Evangel.