Diane Markle prayed at the end of a lunchtime YWCA Bible study class, part of the Bible Institute of Hawaii. The institute marks its 30th anniversary today at an Ala Moana Park fund-raiser.

Loving, learning and the Lord

The Bible Institute’s classes give people
a chance to share ideas and feelings

By Mary Adamski

Love was the topic of the Tuesday noon group at the Richards Street YWCA, but the spin was different from lunchtime gossip sessions under way elsewhere.

Not a movie star, nor the hottest guy in the office, but Jesus was the subject of the downtown office workers.

"About love ... he doesn't mean a warm, gushy feeling," said Brad Smith, who led the group to share ideas about forgiveness, forbearance and sacrifice in their relationships with spouses, children, friends and co-workers.

The workday break for religious refreshment was one of a dozen weekly classes being taught around the island through the Bible Institute of Hawaii. The nondenominational Christian school for adults is marking its 30th anniversary today at its annual "Walk in the Word" fund-raiser at McCoy Pavilion in Ala Moana Park.

Smith's course, "A heart-to-heart talk on life-changing issues: the letters of John," is standard fare in the curriculum, which is offered in quarterly sessions. About 250 people are enrolled at any given time. Some are meeting requirements for a one-year or three-year certificate in biblical studies or Christian ministry, which equips them as a lay minister or leader in their own churches.

Brad Smith directed the lunchtime class.

Many others are studying just to enhance their own knowledge and beliefs; as Bruce Nelson of St. Christopher's Episcopal Church put it, "rewarding myself." Nelson said he practices his faith and has for years but "this has opened up the new insights into scriptures for me."

Nelson was in his third institute class, a Wednesday night session at Central Union Church titled "The Dangerous Jesus, a study of the book of Mark."

"Jesus is more Robert DeNiro than Mr. Rogers at this point," Steve Peich told the class. "Jesus is not always really nice. Life with Jesus is a call to risk." He said Christ's ministry to the marginalized people of his day, tax collectors and prostitutes, "is upending these people" challenging religious leaders.

Peich's 21st century perspective on the 2nd century text and his self-described New Jersey delivery -- "Ya know what I mean?" -- stirred a lively response in his class of 30, many of whom were university students in a campus fellowship program. Several different denominations were represented.

Hitomi Nakaoka, taking her first institute class, said: "He makes the Bible come alive, more meaningful than when I read it myself. When I first became a Christian, my image was that they were nice," said the convert. But she said, "I'm learning there is a lot more to it than that."

The Bible Institute's senior faculty member, Ada Lum, recalled that it was just such a class on Mark's Gospel while a student at Wheaton College that set her on her career path. In her 50th year as a Bible instructor, she has taught courses in 112 countries through the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students and has been with Bible Institute of Hawaii for 18 years.

"If you were Jesus recruiting disciples, what traits would you look for?" Lum asked her Wednesday class on "Creative Ideas for Lively Bible Studies" at Chinese Christian Church. The answers ranged from honesty to sense of humor to computer literacy.

A sense of humor is OK for a modern-day disciple, too. To spice up the deadly geneaology at the beginning of Matthew's gospel, Lum's workbook suggests that "yays" and "boos" be inserted in the recitation of begats.

Class members represent 10 different churches and the pages they flip through are from many different translations.

The gilded lettering on Lum's Bible cover has been rubbed off with use. "I've worn out 10 Bibles," she said. "I mark up my Bible. I wear it all the time because I bought it for use, and when it's worn out, I will buy a new one."

Ada Lum conducted a bible study class at the First Chinese Church in Makiki.

Lum said, "The older generation heard the Bible taught by one person: This is it. The younger generation likes to talk about their feelings, they immediately have opinions."

As for interpretations, "there are some non-negotiables ... and there are some peripherals," she said, and the latter includes exploring women's role in the church. "What is God's Glass Ceiling for Women" is the title of the course Lum is teaching on Maui this quarter.

Deborah Pimental said the institute classes "provide depth" to what is taught in her own church, New Hope Christian Fellowship. Her husband, a contractor, earned a one-year certificate in the program.

"He's a changed person," she said. "The two of us want to be used by God." A college graduate, she, too, is working for a certificate to equip her to lead Bible study. "We kind of see the path ahead for us."

Smith said the institute chose from the beginning not to offer a degree program for people on a professional track but to make Bible studies available to ordinary congregation members. The school was started by Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Waikiki, as members recognized a need for basic backgrounding for a new wave of converts, the "Jesus people" of the 1970s. It was set up by the Rev. Don Baron, now retired, as an extension of the Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle. In 1984, it became independent and is now directed by a seven-member board, representing six different denominations.

"We purposely are in the community rather than having a facility," said Peich.

Smith was ordained in the United Church of Christ and did missionary work in Venezuela and Japan before joining the faculty six years ago. He earned a doctorate from Columbia International University in South Carolina last year, writing his dissertation on the Bible Institute.

Peich, with a master's degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, was ordained in The Missionary Church and served in the Philippines and Thailand. He joined the institute two years ago.

"We are a para-church organization," said Peich. "We work alongside churches, but we don't want to steal their sheep. We want to add vitality to that body, to help what is in place to grow and thrive.

"We find a profound hunger to hear the Word."

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