Where did the idea of the synagogue come from? There is no mention in Scripture of God giving a command to establish them… we see detailed instructions concerning the building and operation of the Temple but nothing about the synagogue? So why were they constructed? What was the reasoning and purpose behind them?
It’s early morning and I’m sitting on our deck pondering about just how intricate God’s plan is. So often it escapes us until we take the time to prayerfully ponder and so if you know me… pondering and thinking is something I am all about. I’ve even spent time pondering about pondering… So as you read this please join me in my pondering, as I think about this ministry and how it relates, connects and interacts with God’s design for the Great Commission that is ever unfolding in all its beauty.
Most scholars would look to the timeframe of the exile as the beginning of the synagogue system. At that time the Temple was in ruins and in need of repair, and Jews were scattered across great distances. After the temple was rebuilt the synagogue system remained and continued to grow as a complement to the Temple. They became a place of community and influence, a place of teaching, the exchange of ideas and debate. They were located at major crossroads and cities all connected by a network of Roman civil engineering genius which at the time of Christ consisted of over 50,000 miles of connecting roads throughout the Mediterranean world!
So ponder with me… Galatians 4:4-5 reads this, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (ESV).” So Christ came to us according to Scripture at the “fullness of time.” That means prior to that, God was actively preparing and setting the stage for His Son’s arrival and for the spreading of His Good News. So when the first temple was destroyed and the Jews were in exile, God was setting the stage with the synagogue system! When the Roman Empire expanded and built literally thousands of miles of roadways connecting the synagogue system, God was setting the stage for there to be a launchpad for the Gospel. And so we find that Jesus and His disciples first entered the synagogue. It was the perfect starting point! It was the place of community and influence, a place of teaching, the exchange of ideas and debate, and people went out from the synagogues to all areas of commerce and society. Think about the beauty of all this! In the marketing world this is called a distribution channel. Through the sovereignty of God at just the right time in history, God set up the perfect means to spread the Gospel and reach the world… mind-boggling!
So ponder with me… Is there a similar distribution channel today? Has God set the stage again for there to be a launchpad for the Gospel message… a strategic and beautiful network of influence, teaching, the exchange of ideas and debate… a place that has great impact on both society and commerce… a place that can be found in all major cities and rural areas… and is there something comparable in magnitude to the advent of the Roman highway system where information and communication can be made and transferred across great distances at speeds never before imagined, bringing a global view into focus?
So ponder with me… The college system began mostly through the Church. There is no command found in Scripture to establish these institutions that were originally chartered to train, prepare and equip those called into ministry. And like the synagogue system, colleges began with a deep spiritual emphasis that over time became more political in nature. And yet they remain to be a major place of influence, teaching, the exchange of ideas and debate. The internet has more virtual roadways to connect society and commerce than we can probably count… and I believe that once again God has setup a distribution channel for the Gospel, a launchpad if you will, so strategic that only God could have had the foresight to bring about.
It’s hard to imagine any position of influence that is not touched by the college system. Can you think of anyone in Congress, the Senate, the office of the President, or any official in a foreign country who would not have been to college? Can you see a future where lawyers, judges, police, doctors, nurses, teachers, scientists, engineers, business owners, or investors have not been to college? Currently there are over 880,000 international students in American colleges, representing an increase of 72% over the last fifteen years! In what many call the 10/40 window, a geographical area identifying the most unreached with the Gospel, we find that these countries, are sending their students and future leaders to our colleges!
So ponder with me… Can you imagine the impact for God’s kingdom when students graduate and enter into politics with the conviction to love both God and neighbor, can you imagine future world leaders returning to their countries with an understanding of His grace and justice, can you imagine scientists, lawyers, judges, teachers, police, doctors, business owners and investors basing their ethical decisions and behavior on principles rooted in Scripture? Can you imagine the college-age segment who have walked away from their faith returning to serve locally? Can you imagine the student who has never been to church getting plugged in and inviting their friends… are you seeing what I am seeing…? God has setup a new distribution channel and once again it is mind-boggling!
In Matthew chapter nine we find Jesus going to different cities and villages entering the distribution channel of the synagogue system to proclaim the Gospel. “When He saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd…” then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Today as I labor in this new distribution channel of college campuses and encounter the crowds… like Jesus I am filled with compassion, I am broken because they are like sheep without a shepherd and my heart echoes the same prayer request for harvesters to be called and funded to reach this strategic mind-boggling distribution channel. The stage is set, the need is great and the stakes are high.
Thanks so much for pondering…
=== JOE ===
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To join us in financial support just fill out the envelope enclosed with this newsletter including a check made out to Missions Door. If you don’t have an envelope please include a separate note that you would like to support Joe and Annie Shea and how often in faith you plan to donate and mail to the address at the bottom of this page or simply go online to our website.
If you are currently supporting us, thank you. Perhaps you know someone or a business looking for a ministry to support? If you have been supporting our ministry with one-time gifts perhaps you could start making a commitment to donate regularly. If you have never contributed but have thought about it, please, now is the time. Any response of any amount really makes a difference.
Thanks again so much for enabling us to be incarnational on campus sharing Christ, training and overseeing area staff, expanding ministries to more campuses and helping the local church connect with this “generation in need!”
This Christmas as we all contemplate the virgin birth, a recent family event has us drawn to the memory of a miracle birth in our own family, almost twenty-six years ago…
I was then working as a Software Engineer, and the idea of full-time employment in Campus Ministry was not even on our radar screen. Annie was pregnant expecting our first child and we were so excited about becoming parents… We had already decided on the name Jeremiah (if we had a son) and it may sound silly but I actually read the book of Jeremiah out-loud to Annie’s womb and the child within. The name Jeremiah means, “exalted by God” and that was our desire from the beginning that God would lift this child up in a special way. We just had no idea how that name would be literally fulfilled five-and-a-half weeks before his due date.
Annie had a very normal pregnancy and everything was going perfectly and according to plan, then one day while she was at work, she began to hemorrhage badly. She was rushed to the hospital by ambulance and I received a call at work telling me that I needed to get to the hospital. I was not told about the bleeding because they didn’t want me racing to the hospital and risking an accident. So when I arrived, there was a probe somehow monitoring the baby’s heart rate and I was shocked to see so much blood! Every few minutes it would just push itself out soaking towels that were pressed against her. I didn’t know what to do. I was completely helpless. I am a person who needs to feel in control and I was so far out of my element and so scared at what was going on around me. I was holding Annie’s hand and asking her what was going on when all of the sudden the heart rate monitor sounded an alarm and the baby’s heart rate plummeted. The nurse in the room who was carefully monitoring the situation ran into the hall and literally screamed, “This baby is in distress!” It was like an explosion code blue kind of thing as people were running everywhere frantically. Within seconds Annie was being wheeled down the hall away from me. One nurse picked up surgical scrubs and basically threw them at me from a foot away. I remember them hitting my chest and then catching them in my hands with a bewildered and confused look on my face. The nurse quickly said, “we don’t have time to wait for you, put these on and then you can join us in that room” pointing to a special surgical labor room down the hall… and she was gone!
Fumbling, I quickly put them on and sprinted the short distance down the hall. I carefully and slowly pushed open the big wooden door to find Annie on the other side with a tube down her throat, already completely out and under anesthesia. I couldn’t believe this was happening! I was so helpless, frightened, and lost, completely lost… there was a stainless-steel stool beside her and they told me that I could sit there as they hurried and prepared for an emergency C-section. I sat on the stool, silently screaming out to God in prayer for help. With one hand I gently held Annie’s hand, and with the other I reached into my back-pocket for my New Testament which I always carry with me and just flipped it open catching a random page with my thumb. My seemingly random selection brought me to the Gospel of Matthew in the middle of the beatitudes. As my eyes looked down to focus on some words of possible comfort, they were tunneled to a pericope heading that read, “Do not worry!”
What happened next, I cannot fully or adequately explain… It was as though time itself stopped and I felt something supernatural envelop and wrap around me, feeling a peace and love that again I cannot describe. It would be like trying to explain the most beautiful music that you have ever heard without the ability or instruments to recreate it. All I know is that ALL, and I mean ALL, the doubt, apprehension, confusion, and fear were sucked out of me like a dry sponge laid out over a single drop of water. I was at peace… a peace that surpasses all understanding… and I had this strong impression whispered into my soul louder and more effectively than an audible voice could have been, telling me that everything was under God’s control and I was to trust Him and not worry. Simultaneously as this was happening, everyone else in that surgical room did not have the peace that I had just received. There was a helicopter being prepared to transport the baby to a neonatal unit at the hospital across the city if he was still alive. In seconds I watched the doctor literally carve a deep cut from Annie’s navel straight down her belly and then with two hands he tore the incision wide open, grabbing some of her insides he pulled them out and piled them on her stomach above the incision point. Then his hands once again disappeared inside her reaching into the incision… and he quickly pulled out a baby, our son! He simply passed him above his head to someone else as I heard the sweet cry of life echo and fill the room! The doctor, never looking away from Annie, began working to stop the massive bleeding. She had lost so much blood and went into some kind of toxic shock, her life hanging in the balance. There was just so much blood… and yet in the midst of it all… I was in a place of perfect peace, completely certain everything was going to be fine.
It was hours before Annie would know that we had a son and cradle him in her arms for the first time. The next day, a close friend of ours who was working on the maternity ward, told us how there was a meeting held to discuss our case. We learned from her that no one in that operating room held out much hope for the baby or Annie to make it. The rate of death at that time was estimated to be over 90%. The placenta had somehow detached and Jeremiah in effect should have drowned, or had some form of brain damage. And yet he was perfect in every way. To the doctors’ amazement this tiny little baby was able to hold his own body temperature without an incubator just hours after birth. Annie, again to the doctors’ amazement, miraculously did not need a transfusion and recovered quickly from the toxicity. A few days later they both came home from the hospital, Jeremiah weighing just four and a half pounds truly embodying the meaning of his name “exalted by God!”
Over the years Jeremiah has continued to live out the meaning of his name. He has a deep faith and passion to invest in children. He leads the Awana program at our church and teaches high school English in a special program for students who are at risk of not graduating without individualized care and help. While in college he was heavily involved in our ministry on campus where he also met Katie Smith, a beautiful woman ideally matched for him. And just last month on November 20th Jeremiah and Katie entered into the sacred covenant of marriage! I was honored to be the one to officiate the ceremony and lead them in their marriage vows. I will admit that a few times the audience must have imagined the words of Scotty on the Starship Enterprise, “he’s breaking up, he’s breaking up, captain!” It truly was a beautiful day and we could not be happier or prouder!
On campus I often find myself sharing this story with students and even faculty when challenged about the existence of God or his involvement in our lives. While I have no way to adequately explain why God at times steps into our lives, intervening in the odds and revealing his presence in miraculous ways, and yet at other times chooses not to… One thing I am fully convinced of is this… God is real and actively seeks to reveal himself to us in a myriad of ways. And nowhere is this more evident than in the incarnational birth of Jesus Christ. In this season, where we celebrate the miracle birth of all miracle births, where God willingly and literally entered humanity to be Emanuel- “God with us”- to bring about peace, reconciliation and true salvation to all who will believe… consider also the wedding celebration of all wedding celebrations to come. Where our Heavenly Father will lead his Son and the beautiful bride called the Church into sacred vows that will end all brokenness, pain and suffering. A place where every tear will be wiped away, where everything will be made right, where death will truly lose its sting, where temptation will be disarmed and evil will be no more, Amen! This Christmas season may the whole of the Gospel be seen and pondered by all throughout the New Year!
=== JOE ===
To join us in financial support just click on the donate tab and follow the instructions.
If you are currently supporting us, thank you. Perhaps you know someone or a business looking for an end of the year tax deduction? If you have been supporting our ministry with one-time gifts perhaps you could start the New Year with a commitment to donate regularly. If you have never contributed but have thought about it, please, now is the time. Any response of any amount really makes a difference.
Thanks again so much for enabling us to be incarnational on campus sharing Christ, training and overseeing area staff, expanding ministries to more campuses and helping the local church connect with this “generation in need!”
One hundred and fourteen years ago in 1900, only two miles from our home in Spencer, an interdenominational Christian school was founded. According to historical information the Bethel Bible Institute provided training in evangelism, the Bible, and the preparation of pastors and missionaries for Christian service. I recently spoke with the local town librarian and she told me how the school often baptized new believers in the Seven Mile River that runs just down the street and where Annie and I often walk. By late 1922 the school had grown out of their current space and was in need of finding a new location….
Six years ago I was invited to be the keynote speaker at a missions conference in Barrington RI. After presenting the message that particular Sunday morning, I was immediately approached by Pricilla, a cheerful woman who right away struck me as someone who knew how to get things done and always had a plan in motion to do it! She explained how she lived in West Virginia and was in RI that weekend visiting family. She went on to tell me how she was planning a missions conference with a number of churches in the Parkersburg area and wanted to know if I would be willing to come to WV and speak at their conference. We have a supporting church in WV and saw it as a great opportunity to visit with them and also speak at this conference. So after a few phone conversations and emails to iron out details and logistics our flights to Parkersburg were booked and in the Spring of 2009, Annie and I flew to West Virginia for ten days.
So what does a missions conference in WV have to do with meeting someone in RI? And what does that have to do with a Christian school located a few miles from our house looking for a new location 92 years ago…
Well… you’ll just have to keep reading to find out…
For the past ten years* I have been directing the ministry at Nichols College in addition to my role as an Area Director. During this time God has allowed me to build a solid reputation on campus. I have been able to lead an ongoing Bible study on Wednesday evenings (at first we met from 11:00 PM to after midnight. Now we start at 9:00 PM). I have also had the privilege to teach a unique course on campus with both a Jewish and Muslim professor where I present and represent Christianity. And for the past two years I have even been asked by the student body to give the invocation prayer at commencement. Ministry at Nichols however is not always easy. Most of the students who come to our study are not Christians, and developing community and the solid student leaders critical to growth has been an ongoing struggle. At times over the years I have considered closing the ministry and starting a new ministry on a different campus. While this past year was a good year ministry wise, it also came with more challenges and discouragements than any other year we have had… this year more than any other I questioned if God was perhaps leading us in a different direction…
On our trip to WV we were able to visit our supporting church in Beckley while enjoying the beauty of the West Virginia hills, and rivers. We especially enjoyed real southern hospitality from everyone we met! On one of the evenings while sitting in Pricilla’s living room she said, “So tell me more about your ministry.” I told her about my area of responsibility and each campus. But when I mentioned Nichols College, I was not prepared for the connection about to be made… She inquired, “Nichols? Where is that located?” “Well it’s in a very small MA town called Dudley.” Her eyes brightened with curiosity, “Really, my father ran a Christian school in Dudley MA, and then he moved the school to RI.” “Really, and you think it was somehow connected to Nichols College?” “Well the name is very familiar to me…” The conversation then moved more toward her father and his ministry. I remember Pricilla saying, “In fact you remind me a lot of him, he was so passionate about the gospel and was also a great storyteller, I think that’s what really attracted me to you when I first heard you speak in RI, you remind me of him in many ways.” I felt honored to be seen in this way and found it very interesting, but I knew Nichols was founded in 1815 and the dates didn’t line up for this to be the same place where her father ran a Christian school. Besides in all my years of ministry at Nichols I had never heard any mention of a Christian school in their historical roots. But we talked and marveled at the idea that God is the connector of people and that there in her living room in WV this connection to the small town of Dudley, MA, our ministry, and her father was made between us. I remember saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if they actually were the same place, and your father, when he was all packed and ready to move everything to RI, took one last walk on the grounds and prayed that God would raise up others to walk on these same grounds, proclaim the gospel message, and continue to be a light on the hill?” We both laughed and Pricilla agreed that her Dad would have been very likely to have prayed that very prayer!
Annie and I went back to West Virginia in 2012 to again speak at Pricilla’s missions conference, but no further information about her Dad’s school and its connection to Nichols was finalized.
Then a few months ago in May at the close of the school year I received a call from Pricilla, “Hi Joe, I’m going to be up in the Worcester area on Friday and I was wondering if you and Annie might have time to meet for lunch?” “Sure that would be great.” “Also I was wondering if I could bring my brother Paul with me, he is older than me and he was actually born on the grounds of my Dad’s school. If you could, would you give us a tour of the campus and we can finally know if they are the same place…” I arranged to meet at a restaurant near campus and we anxiously awaited for Friday to come. Paul was so much fun , and had the sharpest wit and humor, he had us all laughing throughout the meal. Then I asked him, “What do you remember about the buildings at your father’s school?” He replied, “Well there were three main buildings and one of them I remember was named Conant Hall.” “Conant Hall!” I replied, “there is a building on campus by that name!” He went on to describe the other buildings as well, it must be the same place… but then the years…. 1815? it did not match… We left the restaurant and headed to campus. I felt like we were filming the next National Treasure movie. After parking close to Conant Hall, we walked slowly across the lawn and up the steps. The campus is closed over the summer on Fridays so no one was around but the building was unlocked. We walked in and Paul just smiled, “I’ve been here!” He said as he walked over to the window and pulled the curtain back, looking out the window he pointed and said, “I was born about thirty feet from where I’m standing!” I could not believe it… but what about the years…. Then I said, “Wait there is a book written by a professor on campus about the history of the college – maybe the library has a copy?” We all left the building and started out for the library to get answers. We got about half way and Paul was getting a little winded so I asked if he wanted to wait there and I would see if the library was open first, before he made the whole trip. He agreed and I went down the small incline to the library only to find it locked. I walked back up to Paul who had noticed a cutout stone sign that read, “Nichols Academy” against the building. We both looked up to see a new sign posted on the wall of the building above the stone sign, and we read it together. The middle paragraph reads:
“Between 1911 when Nichols Academy stopped enrolling students and 1931 when Nichols Junior College began, the building was used by the town of Dudley as a junior high school, by the Dudley citizens for community celebrations, and by the Bethel Bible Institute, formally of Spencer, MA…”
It was the same place!! A few weeks later I purchased the book from the campus bookstore and sat down to read the section I found on the Bible Institute and right there on page 123, Pricilla and Paul’s Dad’s name, Howard W. Ferrin, is listed as the second president of the Bethel Bible Institute! After a few name changes he moved the school to the Providence/Barrington area of RI, and then in 1985 the school was merged with Gordon College of Wenham MA.
After reading the historical account I walked back over to the sign and stone cutout and reread it slowly. Once again I imagined the year 1929. I imagined Howard Ferrin, eighty-five years earlier with everything packed and about to leave for Rhode Island, pausing to take one last walk around the campus grounds and… perhaps calling out to our Lord in prayer… “Please Lord, as I have walked these grounds proclaiming the Good News may you send others to this place to be a light on this hill and walk these grounds again… May they serve students as I have, showing them your love and teaching them your truth, preparing them to engage the world for your glory. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.” Chills ran up my back and down my arms, a smile began to form from ear to ear, thinking how the ministry of Campus Ambassadors at Nichols college may very well have been set into motion with a simple prayer from a Godly man heading to RI. And now God has allowed me through a missions conference in RI, a friendship in WV, and local history in our hometown to see the connections that I am now part of. Some may call it coincidence but I believe God often creates the intersections of our individual stories in ways that challenge, comfort, confirm and reveal His will for our lives and his Kingdom business. God is always at work seeking to invite us into His epic story and even when we may not be able to see or understand the connections, in faith we trust that they are being made… I walked across campus heading back to my car, praying as I have so many times before a prayer just like the one I just imagined!
To our readers who are currently supporting us financially and in prayer, thank you for being part of our ministry and enabling us to reach out to students, to train, support and recruit our staff, and to expand our ministries onto new campuses, thank you so much. This is your story too! If you are not currently supporting us please prayerfully consider joining our story of ministry and let’s see what new connections God is lining up!
=== JOE ===
Please pray for all of our campuses about to begin the new semester. Please pray for strong student leadership, and for students to be desiring to share their faith on campus and for their to be an openness to the gospel. (Worcester State, Fitchburg State, Springfield College, Nichols College, and our campus in CT. We also have plans to expand with three possible new campuses this academic year!
To join us in financial support just fill out the envelope enclosed with this newsletter with a check made out to Missions Door. Please include a separate note that you would like to support Joe and Annie Shea and how often in faith you plan to donate. If you do not have an envelope use the address at the bottom of this page or go online to our website.
Shea’s current support status 76% Additional support needed $2,900/month
* The CA ministry at Nichols College actually began in 1989 but was discontinued in 1990 before I joined CA in 1999. The ministry was restarted a few years before I began directing the ministry having two different directors.