This excerpt paints a rather bizarre picture of life at Bible College. If you attended one, you will surely be able to relate, and if you had the good fortune of missing such an experience, sit back and enjoy, vicariously, my world of "crazy!"
It was 1980 and Jesus was supposed to return to claim his spotless bride, “the church” (the Pentecostals that is; not the Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians or Catholics). It was also the year Jill and I graduated from High School. I had desperately hoped that the celestial wedding would be delayed long enough for me to go to college, get married and even have a kid or two, but the signs of the times were clearly pointing to my imminent exit into the clouds, sadly with my virginity still in tact. In the spring, our school auditorium had been converted to a College Fair, where venders from all of the higher institutions of learning, in the area set up booths to recruit students. Most of our classmates chose Idaho State University, the college only 30 minutes from home. The more daring ones went further North to the panhandle and landed at The University of Idaho in Moscow. The Mormon kids dutifully applied to Ricks College in Rexburg, or their mother ship, BYU in Salt Lake City. A fair number of students joined the ROTC or enlisted in a branch of the armed forces. Then there was Jill and me. Our pre-rapture holding pen wasn’t even mentioned on a single brochure, let alone in a booth with zealous scouts, promising scholarships. Oh no. We chose a tiny, unaccredited , knock off version of real college, a thousand miles away in the town of Ellendale, ND, population 1,200. The school was called Trinity Bible Institute, one of several colleges affiliated with the Assemblies of God, and with an enrollment of only 380 students. Of all the viable options at our disposal, why on earth would we choose this completely underwhelming place as our alma mater? We wanted to be equipped and ready to share the gospel, make disciples and help usher in the second coming of Christ. And… our parents agreed to pay our entire tuition if we went there. My rose colored glasses saw Trinity as a utopia of sorts, where Christianity along with strict accountability abounded. My fear of missing the rapture fueled my desire to stay hemmed in with other like-minded folks. This school fit the bill. It was like military boot camp, only for believers, with a very stringent code of conduct. Girls could only wear dresses, despite the bitter North Dakota subzero temps in the winter. Boys had to wear button down shirts and ties and dress slacks. Absolutely no PDA (public display of affection) was allowed. If a couple wanted to go on a date, they had to secure a chaperone to accompany them, the closest thing we ever had to a threesome.
Emergency sirens, typically used to alert the area of a tornado, signaled us, not into our underground bunkers, but into our dorms for mandatory study hours from 6:00-9:00 pm, no exceptions. Lights out at 10:00 p.m was also strictly enforced. Many “past curfew” nights were spent under the covers with a flashlight, preparing for a test, ready to quickly power off at the sound of the R.A.’s footsteps in the hall, perhaps reminiscent of a young teen secretly devouring a forbidden Playboy, sans the gratification. If I was caught STUDYING, after hours, (gasp! God forbid on a college campus) I would get a demerit, which went in my school file.
Our spiritual development was fostered through mandatory chapel services every morning where we spoke in tongues and listened to an edifying sermon. Additionally, each student was required to sign up for a weekly time slot in the prayer room called, “The GAP,” creating a 24 hour prayer chain to intercede for the needs listed in a prayer request journal located in the room. This was a hot, stuffy, purple, ceiling to floor, shag carpeted cave with dim lighting and no windows. The second I went in to pray, I was overcome with drowsiness and found myself napping like a bear in hibernation. I felt guilty that the prayer chain had been repeatedly broken on my watch but the physical conditions of the room made it impossible to stay awake. It may have been more exciting if the prayer requests had included juicy gossip or tantalizing dirt, but it was filled with stuff like arthritis, headaches, warts, goiter, etc. and, no matter how spiritual I tried to be, praying for Mary’s grandmother’s hip replacement put me out faster than NyQuill p.m.
The rules of the school relaxed a bit when the ancient founding president died and a younger man came in to fill his fossilized footprints. The name changed from an Institute to a College, for which I was grateful, because the original, sounded a bit too much like an “institution” conjuring up images of crazy people in straight jackets which was simply untrue-- we did NOT have straight jackets. In our sophomore year, women could wear pants as long as they zipped in the back or side, but not in the front (because only people with penises needed such an accommodation) and boys no longer were required to wear ties. By our junior year, everyone could wear blue jeans on the weekend but just not to class, and even those without a penis, could finally wear front zipped slacks. The chaperone mandate had also been lifted and couples could alas, venture out at their own risk, without a third wheel accompanying them. Occasionally, though, a “weak” couple would slip up and have to confess, in front of the ENTIRE student body, during chapel that they had engaged in premarital sex. That was the moment one could hear a pin drop in the auditorium as all eyes fixed their gaze on the poor embarrassed fornicators, who wished to God there was a magic trap door on the stage that would swallow them up and spit them out far, far away from the condemning stares. The consequence of academic probation or permanent expulsion held no sting compared to the shame of being publicly flogged. As long as humiliation was the goal, though, I think my mama’s solution would’ve been most effective. “I see you two like to have sex. Well why don’t you just go ahead and start doing it right now in front of all these witnesses. Go ahead. Don’t be shy. Come on. Get those legs up!” Not only would they have learned their lesson, we would’ve had one heck of a great chapel service! It was bad enough when students were found wonting, but one time even a married staff member was caught in a sex scandal with a student. It wouldn’t have been a laughing matter if not for the fact the offender’s job title was, Director of Student Affairs.
It goes without saying, my college years were the absolute antithesis of what a typical college experience would be. Spring break consisted of forming a choir, visiting different churches in various cities, and sharing our testimonies about coming to faith in Jesus—a far cry from the “girls gone wild, Cancun, Spring Break edition” shown on HBO after hours. On the weekends, we would load up in a van and head to the city of Jamestown or Aberdeen and have our own version of a “good time” which included handing out gospel tracts to people on the street or going door to door to tell people about Jesus. I despised “witnessing” to strangers almost as much as the poor victims we preyed upon seemed to loathe us. Unsuspecting shoppers would be minding their own business, maybe enjoying a Hot Dog on a stick or an Orange Julius from the food court, when suddenly, they would find themselves trapped between the condiments and the napkin dispenser, being asked to repeat the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Going door to door was even worse, because, invariably the favored football team on T.V. would make a touchdown and the fans would go wild, while the poor victim, with Budweiser in hand, was kicking himself for answering the door. Now, besides missing the play of the century, he had to politely listen to the four freaking spiritual laws from some stupid, acne faced intruders, when all he really wanted was to get his fat ass back in that lazy boy recliner. I still shudder when I think about it. And yet, to admit I was embarrassed, was to confess that I was ashamed of being a Christian, and the very reason I feared God would “spit me out his mouth” for being only lukewarm and not on fire for Him.
When I completed my Freshman year and Christ hadn’t yet stormed through the clouds on his white stallion, as predicted, I was hopeful that the calculations were far enough off, that I might have at least a few good years left on earth. Marriage and family were high on my bucket list and I was convinced I would find my “godly” pastor/missionary husband before I graduated. “Trinity Bridal College” as we affectionately knick-named it, was the ‘80’s version of Christian Mingle or eHarmony, for wannabe church leaders. Most of the girls I knew, were determined not to leave without their M.R.S. Degree and I, too, was on a manhunt, looking for the perfect guy to partner with me in saving the world. His name was Troy.