▲ Project manager Eugene Webster guides volunteers building the Word of Life Bible Institute, Jeju. Photo by Cheryl Gredlein
When I first visited the future site of Word of Life Bible Institute, Jeju, in January, brush had been cleared but ground-breaking was on hold until all the required permits were obtained. The final building permit was granted on March 22 and the site, which covers more than 2 hectares, has been a hive of activity since. On my next visit in mid-April, Korean workmen were removing the framework from a newly set concrete basement, the footing for another two buildings had been laid, a soccer field was graded and ready to be grassed and teams of volunteers were building sturdy rock fences beside gravel roads. The first load of precut logs for what will be 11 buildings had been unloaded from two shipping containers and waited, like an oversized puzzle, to be assembled.
Word of Life is a U.S.-based inter-national ministry committed to “reaching youth with the Gospel,” its Web site states. It currently has bible institutes in New York, Florida and Canada but the Jeju institute, which is scheduled to open on Sept. 24, will be the first “teaching site” outside of North America. This means that the one-year college-level program comes under the accreditation of the New York school and graduates will be eligible to transfer to North American colleges. (There is a Word of Life Bible Institute in the Philippines but it does not have this designation.)
Missionary Steve Nicholes will be the dean of the institute and said the program is a foundational course in bible text, “from Genesis to Revelations,” answering the question, “How do you practically use the principles of the bible in everyday life?” Eighty percent of the students at the U.S. campuses were not planning to become pastors or missionaries but would work in a variety of fields, he said. “We even have doctors who have been in their field for 10 or 15 years and are facing all these moral issues and it’s getting so complicated they just say, ‘Pause, I want to take a year off and think through where are my moral guidelines.’ ... This is a place they could come and do that.”
Nicholes has a long relationship with Korea, having first come here in 1988. He was joined by his wife Rhonda in 1991, shortly after they married, and they now live with their four children at Aewol.
Through their mission, they have founded three Schools of Youth Ministries in English, in Gyeonggido, Japan and Taiwan. Those schools offer eight-month live-in programs at which the students are totally immersed in the English language, with most of the course content being bible-related.
About 30 percent of the students at SYME are the children of pastors, who usually do not have the funds to send them overseas to study. Non-Christians can attend the school also, and Steve Nicholes said that out of 50 to 60 students, about 15 may not be Christian. The bible school is a natural progression for Christian graduates of that program who want to continue bible study.
The institute will cater to 250 students and staff at full capacity, with a goal of 50 students when it opens in Sept. “Out of 50 students, 20 we’re trying to attract from overseas - from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand - from Westerners,” he said. “Then at least 20 to 25 Koreans because at SYME, we’re sending 30 students a year to our school in New York.”
Much of the work on the project is being done by volunteer labor, with about 12 churches in the U.S. planning to send workers, many of who are experienced construction workers. The U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek has also committed to bringing 30 people to Jeju to help. One of the volunteers moving rocks the day I visited, Yoshimura Kosuke (Nick), is a graduate of the SYME Japan school and came from his home of Shizuoka Prefecture to help.
▲ Photo by Cheryl Gredlein
“Every day he works here,” Rhonda Nicholes said, “we give him a free day of school so it’s a way for him to earn a scholarship.”
Another volunteer, Eugene Webster from Vermont, has previous experience building log homes and is working as project manager until September. By that time he expects four buildings to be completed - three dormitories and an auditorium for teaching and dining.
Having measured and cut the logs himself for his previous buildings, he said the precut timbers from Lincoln Logs make the process much easier. “You can have inexperienced help on this,” he said. “They’re all numbered, and if you put them in on the right level and in the right sequence going around the building, it should come out perfect.”
Webster, the Nicholes family and their rotating congregation of volunteers make the process of building the complex appear simple, and Steve Nicholes said a lot of things had “fallen in our lap,” including finding a suitable site. “We’re 15 minutes from the beach, 15 minutes from Halla Mountain, 15 minutes from the airport.”
Funding the land purchase was also “a miracle.” “After we had chosen the site, we got a call in the middle of the night,” he said. “Suddenly we got this call that someone, anonymously, was wanting to give $335,000 to purchase land, on Jeju, for this project, and said it has to be spent in 2009.” With that, “We were able to purchase the land, almost exactly to the penny, including taxes and everything.” “We believe that God has opened this door to us - there’re too many circum-stances that have all just gone ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’ and laid it all in a row.”
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