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Friday, October 1, 2010

Building With Faith and Family


Oct. 1 (Jeju Weekly) When the first students arrived at the Word of Life Bible Institute, Jeju, on Sept. 16-17, their orientation was likely to include instructions on worksite safety. That is because the 35 students will help in ongoing construction of the island’s first bible school, working for their faith in action as much as word.

The inaugural class of 35 is made up of 11 female and 23 male students, with 15 from North America, 15 from Korea and five from Japan. Dean of the institute, missionary Steve Nicholes, said that six or seven of the students had arrived on Jeju early to become part of the volunteer work team building the facility, trading days of work for later days of tuition in the one-year college-level program. “They’re here to work, to travel and to study,” he said.

Work began on the site after work permits were received in late March and has progressed rapidly as the students, faculty and family members have been joined by volunteers from Korea and the United States, including a group of young U.S. Forces Korea military personnel from Osan Air Base on Korea’s mainland. For Nicholes, fellow missionary John Hawkins and site manager Eugene Webster, the construction has been a family affair with their wives and children working alongside them to build what will be a permanent home for the Nicholes and Hawkins families.

WOLBI, Jeju, is the first teaching site of the international ministry outside of North America, joining campuses in New York, Florida and Canada. An additional school in the Philippines is not college-accredited.

“At our schools, even in New York,” Nicholes said, “the students work eight hours a week and that keeps the costs down.” Each area of work, such as the kitchen or maintenance department has a full-time employee assisted by student workers. “Usually, that would be more maintenance than building,” Nicholes said, but with only three and a half of the planned 11 buildings completed at the Jeju campus, students can expect to work on construction for some time yet. “Over the next two months, visible construction will be going on,” he said. “They’ll study in the morning for four hours and in the afternoon they’ll work for two hours, four days a week.”

The official opening of the teaching site will be postponed until the designated dining facility cum auditorium is completed and until then, teaching will take place in a room in one of the completed dormitory log houses and a building intended to eventually be the maintenance and storage facility will be used as a kitchen.

Construction of the permanent facility has been delayed temporarily as the institute awaits further funding. Financing does not come from a central foundation, Nicholes said, but is given specifically for the project.

“We’re a faith mission, so every month for the last 20 years, we have family, friends and churches in America who send money each month. If it’s individuals, it’ll be twenty, thirty, fifty dollars a month, and it goes to our headquarters in New York and we operate and get our salaries out of that.”

Nicholes first came to Korea in 1988 and was joined by his wife, Rhonda, in 1991, shortly after they married.

Through the mission, they have founded three Schools of Youth Ministries in English, in Gyeonggi province, Japan and Taiwan. “The same people have given every month for over 20 years.”

A church in Seoul that Nicholes helped start, the Cornerstone Community Church, has also supported each project the Nicholes have initiated and its members have supported the institute financially.

Tuition costs for students, excluding those who have labored in return for part payment, are $9,876 a year, which includes food and board, education and guided tours to Thailand and Israel during the 11-month study year. The Thailand trip is intended to expose students, many of whom plan to take up missionary work, to what is involved in the field. “We let them know that this kind of work is not a burden or an obligation or a feeling of, ‘This is what I have to do.’ If you’re gifted and you’re called to do that, it should be enjoyable,” Nicholes said. Although many WOLBI students in the United States are not potential missionaries but have other reasons to want to spend a year studying the bible, a high percentage of those in the Jeju inaugural class do intend to do mission work.

The Israel trip will introduce students to the land of the bible, Nicholes said, with an expert guide who knows the culture as well as the bible sites. “We’re studying all these sites as we go from Genesis to Revelation so we go to those sites and we are able to talk about that.” Nicholes will himself teach bible survey, which he described as a “birds’ eye view” of the entire bible.

During his interview, Nicholes was interrupted constantly by phone calls, of which he later wrote on his Facebook page he had received 66 by 9:05 that evening. Sounds of hammers, drills and saws were a constant on the worksite but, despite the activity, a sense of peace pervaded the land in Aewol. Pines surround and grow throughout the property, including one that grows in the middle of a grassy lawn that will hold a futsal field and other sport areas. The concrete foundation has been laid for the next priority – the dining facility cum auditorium – but Nicholes said $200,000 is needed to purchase all the materials to build that.

Hearing him tell how funding and opportunities have fallen into place for the project thus far, even the most doubting Thomas would have to believe in a divine guiding hand and the existence of miracles. From an unexpected donor who provided almost the precise amount needed to purchase the land to a Jeju-born pastor who helped overcome legal and logistical obstacles on the island through family and alumni contacts, Nicholes believes God is the undisputed driver of the project and will provide what is still needed.

“We don’t want anyone to give out of obligation,” he said. “We just want them to know the need, to be praying for it.” For himself and his team it is considered an investment, Nicholes said. “We’re investing in these students and the people who are donating are giving for that to be accomplished.”

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