Prison seminary holds second commencement

John Surowiec congratulates Christopher
John Surowiec congratulates Christopher

Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary held its second commencement ceremony on June 15, 2013. Nine men, who had completed thirty credit hours in their first year of seminary instruction, received a Certificate in Christian Studies. Graduates were in a celebratory mood.

“It was so good to see my students in high spirits,” says Professor Nathan Brummel. “The last time I saw them was two weeks earlier when they were struggling to complete their final exam in Ancient Church History. They were exhausted after a busy spring semester. Almost shell-shocked after taking five exams. But on graduation day the men were rested and ready to celebrate the goodness of God.”

Many seminary seniors might identify with those feelings, but there is reason for the entire Reformed community to celebrate God’s goodness through this commencement since Divine Hope Seminary is located with the walls of the Danville Correctional Center in Danville, IL. It is a unique institution that on July 7 earned Thabiti Anyabwile’s endorsement on the Gospel Coalition blog as “My New Favorite Seminary”.

At Divine Hope’s second commencement ceremony, Rev. Jacques Roets (Redeemer URC in Dyer, IN) brought a message from 2 Timothy 4:1-2, calling the students to be prepared to “Preach the Word.”Rev. Jacques Roets urges graduates to "Preach the Word."

“My soul was stirred by his powerful address,” says Professor Brummel. “He came in like a lamb—but he spoke like a lion. It is so good for my students to hear Reformed, expository preaching.”

Four students shared how God has been transforming their lives through their theological studies. Rev. Manny Mill, an evangelist at College Church in Wheaton, IL, who directs Koinonia National Ministries, was instrumental in leading URC men to visit Danville Correctional Center for a decade prior to the Seminary’s formation. He gave an exhortation to the graduates from the book of Joshua.

Fifteen supporters and friends of the Seminary attended the ceremony. Although instructors and students are not usually permitted to eat together, they were allowed to share a meal for this special occasion.

“Our Heavenly Father first gave us a feast from His Word and then He gave us a feast for lunch,” says Professor Brummel. “Praise God for the good work that He is doing behind bars in Illinois!”

Rev. Brummel relates that students are being “greater blessings” to family members by sharing what they’ve learned. “We are at the point of preparing qualified students to lead Bible studies. This is the step prior to teaching a version of adult Sunday school. In the future, qualified men will deliver sermons—exhort as seminary students do.”

groupSummer school began on July 10 with 34 men returning to class after a month’s break. In addition to Professor Brummel’s course on the Exilic and Post-Exilic Period, instructor John Surowiec is teaching Old Testament Survey.

“Teaching at Divine Hope and being involved with our students has been a great blessing for me,” Mr. Surowiec says. “It is exciting to watch the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the students. The men are coming to understand God’s providence and how all things work together for good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.”

“I don’t want to sound like all of the men have reached some holy, sanctified plateau,” he adds. “They are at different levels of sanctification and certainly not all of them are saved. However, those who are have impacted the relationships with each other in class, and the wardens and chaplain at Danville report that they are able to see small beginnings of an impact on the culture of the prison. Certainly there is far to travel on this road, but the first Seminary class was offered in March 2012 so the Lord has richly blessed these efforts so far.”

Divine Hope is seeking a Reformed pastor (Th.M or PhD preferred) to teach Hebrew and Old Testament courses. Candidates must have five years of pastoral experience and belong to a NAPARC member federation. Rev. Brummel requests prayer that God would give a qualified pastor the desire to engage in theological education within the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 13 of the September 11, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

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