by Rob Reimer
President, Steinbach Bible College
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20–21).
Monday, March 9: I wake up in my hotel room and make my way down to the hotel dining room. I had just completed two weeks of intense ministry and student recruitment in Brazil. I enjoy a delic16ious Brazilian breakfast and a strong cup of coffee. (Yes, decaf coffee can be strong!) After a couple of hours I am driven to the Brasilia airport, fly to Sao Paulo and meet up with the SBC Pursuit team. From there we flew to Chicago and then on to Winnipeg, completing a 27 hour day of travel. Little do I know how much the world is changing.
March 11: I return to SBC, tired, but full of enthusiasm and eager to share with the Admin Team how well my time in Brazil had gone. We chat about a variety of things, including a little bit about this new virus called COVID. It’s good to be back. I’m anticipating a great finish to an excellent year.
March 12–13: The NBA officially cancels the rest of their season. The NHL and other sports leagues were soon to follow. I think this “COVID” thing might be something significant. Our Admin Team meets to talk about isolating any Mission Xposure and Pursuit students who are not feeling well. Throughout the day the conversation quickly turns to implementing protocols about classes, food services and the dorms. Medical experts are consulted, and their recommendations are all the same: take this virus seriously.
March 16–20: I am now in isolation at home because I just returned from Brazil. The rest of our team is working tirelessly addressing the ever-changing needs of the college. By now many of the other colleges and universities across the country are closing their doors and moving online. Our Admin Team met four times on the 16th to address the ever-changing conditions and assess how COVID is impacting SBC. We make the difficult decision to send our students home Friday at noon. All dorms need to be evacuated. Those with no place to go are assisted in finding a place. Students are refunded their dorm and food fees for the remainder of the semester, resulting in a $71,000 loss of revenue. Doing the right thing often comes at a price.
Spring: We finish the final five weeks of the semester online and cancel graduation. The rest of the semester is a blur. Each day consists of multiple Microsoft Teams meetings, watching and listening to the various government agencies, more Teams meetings, more decisions that changed previous decisions because of consistently changing information. All of which is done from home offices. Chapels go online and are deeply cherished. We sing together, receive challenges and encouragement from faculty speakers, and pray for one another. These chapels are my highlight of the final five weeks.
With the coming of spring, a “new normal” emerges. We are allowed to return to work, starting with a few at a time. We cancel all our rentals for the spring and summer as well as our golf tournament fundraisers and virtually every other event we had planned. Donations fall by over 60 percent. Our student numbers for the coming year had stalled at 30 new students since the middle of February, though thankfully returning student numbers were high. We anticipate having only 85 students on campus, the lowest number of students at SBC during my entire 13-plus years at SBC.
I wonder how God will provide this year.
It is the middle of July. It looks like we will be able to have classes in fall. We hope that we can have them face-to-face instead of online. What will the semester look like? Will there be a second wave that forces us to close our doors again? Will any students show up? We are still at 85 students, from mid-February to mid-July we did not gain one student.
Labour Day has finally arrived. Students are back on campus! It looks and feels so different. Masks. Hand sanitizer. Limitations on classroom sizes. Seating arrangements for chapel and the dining room. A limited number of dorm students.
But we are all here. The buzz of a new year is indescribable! God is good!
September 28: We finish our All-College Retreat. It was fantastic! There is a huge significance to the All-College Retreat. Before the retreat, we are a college. After the retreat, we are a family. Spending a weekend together playing, relaxing, singing, sharing, praying and worshipping together is powerful. We experience the presence of our Almighty God moving among us.
October 13: It’s the day after Thanksgiving. We hold our own special Celebration Chapel. We celebrate God’s faithfulness throughout the past eight months. Six weeks before the semester started, we had 85 students.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…”
Today we have 127 students studying on campus. We have 56 students who are auditing at least one course. There are an additional 16 online students and 14 more Apprentice U students taking SBC courses as part of their U of M studies. A total of 210 students are being trained to “Follow Jesus, Serve the Church, and Engage the World” at SBC this semester alone! This is our highest enrollment since 1961 and one of the three highest in our 84-year history.
The 127 on-campus students are comprised of 56 students from our four supporting conferences and an additional 14 students from other Mennonite churches. We have 24 international and Indigenous students.
October 17: Our postponed Graduation Day finally arrives. The weather is cool, but it is sunny and dry—graduation is happening outside at Quarry Oaks golf course. Thirty-four of the forty-four graduates enjoy a banquet with the faculty prior to the graduation ceremony. After the banquet, the grads have photos taken and then proceed to the first fairway where they join a small number of family and friends. The ceremony is shorter than usual, but all receive their certificates or diplomas. After the closing benediction, we pick up our lawn chairs and leave for home. Our 2019–20 academic year officially comes to an end.
As president of SBC I cannot begin to express my profound appreciation to our faculty and staff. Their efforts and dedication over the past eight months have been nothing short of heroic! They have put in many long hours and lived with much uncertainty. They have carried out their calling with steadfastness and a lot of grace.
I also want to thank you for your support during a most trying time. Your prayers, words of encouragement, and financial support have been the church at its best. Thank you!
This past year will always be remembered for COVID-19 and the affect it is having on all of us today. For me, this past year will be remembered because God was “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”