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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

To Stand Among His Witnesses

By Robert and Marilyn Abplanalp
Dec. 11, 2011

Bethany University, previously known as Bethany College, Bethany Bible College and Glad Tidings Bible Institute, served its purpose for nearly a century (1919-2011), functioning for thousands of students as a place where the Lord used preachers, presidents, professors and staff to shape the hungry hearts and minds of learners, in obedience to the voice of God.

The college served as an incubator for young students of fledgling faith; for some it was a spiritual and emotional boot camp where they learned self-discipline and commitment; it was a place for maturing disciples, a spot where they were made to struggle with the Jacob-wrestling God.

Here students yielded the reins of their lives to the Holy Spirit, who later would go with them into the fields for which they were molded.

During a holy moment somewhere on Ellis Street in San Francisco, or on the grounds of the Scotts Valley campus, flames of an inextinguishable fire were sparked in the spirits of young scholars. It was light for their lives, their relationships, and eventually for their service to Christ. Remote localities throughout the earth would one day hear the glad tidings of salvation from the lips of these servants who would come through the doors of Bethany.

Mission fields around the world, as well as the spiritual terrain of our own nation, would be permeated by the influence of Spirit-filled alums: pastors, evangelists, missionaries, teachers, district leaders and other diverse servants by whom the anointed influence of founders Robert and Mary Craig was still felt.

In 1937, the Northern California and Nevada District reported that of the 37 missionaries it supported, all had been sent out from Glad Tidings Bible Institute. (Two early graduates were Martha Merrill Simpson, who received her call to China, and Clarence Radley, who eventually gave his life serving the Lord in Nicaragua.)

The school had financial and geographical limitations. Capacity enrollment over the years reached some 650 (under the leadership of President Dick Foth), and averaged about 450 over its last decade. However, the witness of the college is the spiritual fruit produced by those who attended. One writer for Triumphs of Faith magazine caught what was happening in the early days of Glad Tidings Bible Institute in San Francisco:

“God has placed His seal upon the school in giving it a strategic location. Almost all the students are actively and efficiently engaged in the salvation of precious souls.”

One by one, students were led by the Holy Spirit straight into the belly of a hurting society. Many were already filled with the Holy Spirit and a fire burned in their hearts. They came to Glad Tidings Bible Institute for training for ministry — they came to spend and to be spent for the lost.

The Lord had promised Robert Craig 100,000 souls if he’d “dig deeper into God and faithfully preach on every corner of San Francisco.” So, the Lord of the Harvest sent young men and women who would need instruction for immediate service; the work was urgent and within arm’s reach just beyond the institute’s doorstep.

By the end of 1941, the Great Depression was over and Robert and Mary Craig had passed on. Through a husband-and-wife team, two servants who loved the Lord with their lives, God accomplished that which He had set out to do.

Historian Everett Wilson writes in Bethany College: 75 Years of Dreams … of Destiny:

“Glad Tidings Bible Institute had prepared more than 1,000 young persons for Pentecostal leadership, Pentecostal churches had been planted in many cities and towns of the state as the extension of [Craig’s] own church, and Glad Tidings graduates had crisscrossed the nation, planting churches and carrying the Pentecostal message to a number of countries of the world.”

Much later, President Dick Foth asked out loud as he sat, pondering Robert Craig’s desktop: “What great dreams were sparked here? What overwhelming challenges were faced and won here in prayer? Whatever happened, Bethany is part of the result and you and I are part of Bethany.”

The wind of the Spirit blew steadily upon the school. Leaders sacrificially gave of their talents and lives. Presidents such as Leland Keys, C.C. Burnett, Dick Foth and Everett Wilson — as well as many others — saw to it that the previous and coming generations of students were properly educated for service to Christ.

This was no longer in the mold of those first students who had shown up for training for immediate service. Now the school’s education was designed and established for a variety of callings and giftings.

William O. Vickery, former superintendent of the Northern California and Nevada District, noted how Bethany had grown in purpose and direction, stating that Bethany Bible College’s purpose and mission was to prepare individuals to serve the church as the church fulfills its mission. He added that such preparation must not be reduced to that of pastors and missionaries and evangelists: “The church is not restricted to the clergy.” It was the direction the breath of God was blowing the college.

Consistent with Vickery’s statement has been the school’s historical tradition of exporting some of its most qualified teachers to assist other Assemblies of God institutions. In the early years, Alice Luce founded Latin American Bible Institute in La Puente, Calif., Emil Balliet eventually became the president of Southern California College in Costa Mesa, and the sons of Reuben and Harriet Wilson — Lewis, Everett and Noel — have served as professors and administrators at two different universities.

More recently, Byron Klaus is president of Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Mo., and Robert Cook presently serves as president of the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education at the national offices in Springfield.

This list is far from complete, and the many unknown names are equally important. Dr. Wilson aptly writes: “Glad Tidings Bible Institute/Bethany is the experience primarily of the many alumni whose lives were not celebrated but whose lives are in no sense less worthwhile, ennobled or profitable to the kingdom of God.”

In the 1950s, under the leadership of Leland Keys, Glad Tidings Bible Institute had gone from a two-year degree-granting program to a three-year program, with an accompanying expanded curriculum.

A story is told of Dr. Keys from the early days when he was preaching at Glad Tidings Temple. Keys was describing how Elijah had prayed a short and open prayer to God, who answered with fire from heaven, consuming the soaked sacrifice on the altar.

As the story goes, Brother Keys himself experienced the power of the Lord coming upon him, and he raced from the platform, circling the large, packed sanctuary, proclaiming in a loud voice over and over, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”

Those in the congregation saw his hands waving victoriously in the air. Before he’d returned to the platform, numerous lives had been charged with the power of the Spirit of God.

In 1966, C.C. Burnett aggressively led the school to status as a four-year degree-granting accreditation, while keeping steady the heartbeat of Robert Craig to reach the lost. Within the first few months of his tenure as president, Burnett “[completed] a process begun by Dean L. Thomas Holdcroft and the former president Leland Keys; the school was asserting its rightful place as a leader in the preparation of Pentecostal young people” (E. Wilson).

The American Association of Bible Colleges had evaluated Bethany and announced that it would be listed with those Christian colleges “deemed worthy of confidence because of [their] procedures and organization.” Such colleges included Biola and Moody Bible Institute.

Burnett expressed what many of the presidents would at some time feel regarding Bethany’s growth and development: “We can only afford to go in one direction: [We must] expand to meet the demands. But, only the Lord knows how we will carry out our desires for progress.”

Fittingly, a text for one of Burnett’s most powerful sermons was Matthew 16:18: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” (KJV). The Scripture reflected what had been etched into his heart by the Holy Spirit, enabling him to lead the college upstream.

As various presidents led the college through the 20th century and into the first decade of the 21st, some faithfully substantiated its beginnings while others directed their strength more forcefully to advance the school’s purpose, expanding its vision and educational possibilities. Everything had led the school away from the urban San Francisco streets to Scotts Valley, not far from the craggy, windblown and wave-battered west cliffs of Santa Cruz.

“The Spirit blows where He wants to blow,” wrote Henry Nouwen, “and freely gives us wholly unexpected possibilities for life” — possibilities such as those articulated by President Dick Foth, whose leadership offered a fresh approach to the campus and to the institution as a whole.

Foth reaffirmed the purpose and mission of the college in new colloquial terms, and the atmosphere of the academic community shifted as well, becoming more relationship-oriented, like the president himself. The dynamics of the administration were adjusted, befitting a more effective institution. Major improvements were made in the appearance and overall development of the physical campus as well. For more than a decade, Bethany realized the fulfillment of many long-awaited dreams.

Eventually the school headed toward its final days. Once Bethany was a place where “altars” were built. Ideally, these were altars on which individuals throughout the community laid down everything that countered a life of consecration. Notwithstanding the task of its leaders to see that its identity stayed true, the Lord, who initiated the work in the first place, was wrapping things up.

Like many things pertaining to the kingdom of God, the closing of the college isn’t what it seems. The vision has changed, and from now on that vision will be fulfilled in an unveiling of the Church in the four corners of the earth.

God’s purpose for Bethany continues in the lives of those whose hearts beat similarly to that of Robert and Mary Craig. The students themselves have become its buildings and its facilities — “flesh and blood locations” around the world. So, “Christ plays in ten thousand places” in lieu of one tiny campus in Scotts Valley, Calif.


ROBERT ABPLANALP, a freelance author, and DR. MARILYN ABPLANALP, vice president for Faculty and Student Relations for the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education, live in Springfield, Mo.


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