Twelve men celebrated their seminary graduation on December 20, 2012. That may not seem remarkable, but these men are inmates at the Danville Correctional Center in Illinois. They received certificates for completing 30 credit hours in a year of study at Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary, which meets on-site at the Danville facility.
“The graduation was a big success,” says professor and administrator, Rev. Nathan Brummel. He credits part of that success to the post-graduation lunch arranged by his wife, Paula. She and other women from their church prepared some of the food. “Many of the men had not had a meal like this for years or decades. They had the freedom to choose what condiments to put on their subway sandwiches and this was a big hit—because in prison you simply receive on your tray whatever the cook plops onto it.”
The meal was the first time Rev. Brummel had the opportunity to eat with his theological students. Even though they are served the same food, he usually must eat in a different location. Not only was it unusual for him to dine with his students, but it also provided the rare sight of a warden eating with inmates. Thirty friends of the Seminary joined the faculty, Board, students, and the wardens to celebrate this milestone.
“It did my heart good to be able to sit down next to my students and share a meal with them for the first time,” says Rev. Brummel. “The students are my friends. They are spiritual sons—even if they are older than I!”
The lunch provided an opportunity for Board members and friends of the Seminary to interact with students. Due to the distance between supporting churches and the Danville facility, Rev. Brummel describes this interaction as “precious and important.”
Professor Mark Vander Hart, from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, delivered the commencement address. Rev. Vander Hart was involved in the organization of Divine Hope Seminary and still serves as an ex-officio member of the Board.
He says, “I spoke from 2 Corinthians 4:7 about the great treasure of the gospel, but as it is conveyed by jars of clay, thus bringing into great highlight the all-surpassing power from God.”
The spring semester has begun for Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary with 32 students filling the classroom. One of those students transferred from another institution in order to attend the Seminary.
“We praise God for providing us with our first transfer student! So far transfers from maximum and medium security institutions have been denied,” explains Rev. Brummel. “But God opened the door for Kevin to transfer from another medium security institution to join us for our spring semester.” Rev. Brummel currently has 15 applications from men in other facilities requesting transfers to Danville to pursue a theological education.
Divine Hope classes meet three days per week. Rev. Brummel leads devotions and teaches Greek, Anthropology, and Ancient Church History. Two days per week, he is joined by John Surowiec, who provides instruction on the epistle of Romans to the entire class and on the Heidelberg Catechism to the new students. On those days, Rev. Brummel teaches Old Testament History: Monarchy Period in addition to his instruction on Greek and either Anthropology or Ancient Church History.
“It is a great blessing to have John Surowiec teaching at DanvilleCorrectionalCenter two times a week,” says Rev. Brummel. “We have enjoyed the camaraderie of engaging in this work together. John has participated in leading chapel services in Danville on Sunday as well.”
Divine Hope’s ministry may expand during 2013 both at DanvilleCorrectionalCenter and beyond. Rev. Brummel hopes to reach more of the general population at Danville through leading additional Sunday chapel services, perhaps with the assistance of Mid-America faculty and students. He is also planning weekend theological conferences at other prisons within the Illinois Department of Corrections, which may be called “The Danville Conference on Reformed Theology.”
“The first conference is planned for February 22-23 at RobinsonCorrectionalCenter in Robinson, IL,” says Rev. Brummel. “This is a minimum security prison that is 80 miles south of Danville.”
The conference theme is “The Glory and Supremacy of the Holy Trinity” and will include these sessions: God in Three Persons: Blessed Trinity, Creatio ex Nihilo: Your Father Created the Cosmos in Six Days, and Not a Hair Can Fall from Your Head: The Supremacy of God in Providence.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 16-17 of the February 27, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.