Told from the perspective of the college Director and Dean, David Belles.
Forming the IFCA-SUM Bible College
The formation of the IFCA-SUM Bible College began when I was attending a small rural church located in Bloomfield, New York. I was an elder at the time when our pastor, Pastor Alan Schrader and I began talking about training and equipping God’s people. We both had an affinity for higher education. We had both taught as adjunct professors. What really solidified it for us was a trip we took together to Moshi, Tanzania. While we were there, we taught a course to pastors at the Kilimanjaro Christian College.
After we returned home, we developed coursework for our local congregation with the thought that we would eventually offer the courses to the wider Christian community in the region. However, in 2012 Pastor Alan left Bloomfield to take a church in Cleveland Ohio connected with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies, the IFCA. Still having a desire to establish a work for the training and equipping of Christian leaders, Pastor Alan approached the executive leadership of the IFCA to gain their approval for him to establish a training center at the church in Cleveland. After making the proposal the executive board asked Pastor Alan if he was interested in something with a much broader vision and scope. The executive board asked if he would be willing to lead the effort to establish a bible college for the entire fellowship. As this was always in Pastor’s Alans heart, he accepted the challenge and immediately called me to ask if I would be interested in helping with the effort. Of course, I was thrilled to take on the challenge with Pastor Alan, having the same desire to work in a college. And so, in 2014, Pastor Alan, myself, and a small group of qualified educators from the IFCA, started the college.
It was always our intention to one day pursue becoming a fully accredited institution. However, we all knew that this would take a significant amount of time and funding to accomplish.
An encounter from 30-plus years earlier
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son
I have always been fascinated with this scripture passage. It implies that when Jesus Christ became incarnate and entered into human history that it was at a point that was most opportune for his arrival. What made it opportune was not merely the context of that particular point in human history, but that all the groundwork that God had been putting in place since the Fall of humanity was now complete, it had reached its fullness, and now the stage was set for the arrival of the Son of God.
It is my experience that God often works this way. There are events that occur well in advance of where he is leading us. These events can be years, sometimes decades or more, in advance of the culminating event. It is only in hindsight that we see what God was up to, and realize that there is no way we can take the credit. All the glory goes to God.
When I was in my early twenties, I reached a point after holding down a few different jobs that I needed to focus. After a conversation with my mom I determined that I wanted to pursue a degree in music. So, in 1983 I applied and was accepted to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee. During my first semester I met another student named George Neau. George was a few years older than me. He was also married with two kids. As we got to know one another we developed a friendship. George would invite me to his home on Sundays, which was nice since I was on my own and far away from my family. As I got to know him better, I discovered that George was in a great deal of pain. Before he started attending the conservatory George’s father had committed suicide. To make matters worse George discovered his dad and held him as he died. Upon hearing this I did what any friend and believer in Christ would have done, I stood with my friend and shared the love of Jesus. In the course of walking with my friend through his pain he thoroughly committed himself to the Lord.
Once that happened, George was determined to do something to serve the Lord. We both got the idea that we should form a Christian contemporary rock band, but in order to be effective we needed to go to bible college. In the spring of 1984, Jimmy Swaggart announced that he was starting a bible college. Since we both liked brother Swaggart, we decided that we would visit the college to see if we ought to apply. We drove down to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and managed to get an appointment with someone from the college’s administration. In spite of him informing us that Brother Swaggart did not support contemporary Christian rock music, we sensed that God was leading us to attend. That sense that was born out by both of us being accepted for the fall 1984 semester of the first year of the Jimmy Swaggart Bible College.
Once we were both attending classes, our paths began to diverge as the reason for our going to the college faded and changed. George attended for two years and graduated with an Associates degree from the college. I attended for two years as well, but after meeting my future wife at the college, we married and never returned.
After I left Jimmy Swaggart Bible College, George and I lost contact. I found out that he went on to do street ministry and start a church in New Orleans. Still latter I discovered that he had founded the School of Urban Missions Bible College in 1993. Occasionally I would check the SUM website to see how they were doing, but I never spoke to George in person.
A Divine Appointment
In the book of Acts, chapter 8, Philip is sent by an angel down a desert road. Philip had just completed a very successful evangelistic effort in a Samaritan city when he received instruction to leave all that and head out into the desert. While he was traveling, he encountered an Ethiopian eunuch in need of spiritual direction. Philip shared the gospel and then baptized the eunuch before moving on to his next assignment. This is a fine example of a divine appointment. Philip had no idea why he was being directed to leave the city where he was experiencing great success proclaiming the gospel and head out into the desert. God had a purpose for sending Philip out into the desert, there was a divine appointment he wanted Philip to keep.
In January of 2017 we moved from our home of 22 years in upstate New York to Cleveland Ohio to be closer to the work of the IFCA Bible College. I was still working full-time for the same employer I had back in New York, but now I was at least closer to the actual operations of the college. That seemed like a major step forward for me personally and I hoped it would be for the advancement of the college. After I arrived, we made significant changes to make the operations of the college more efficient. Still, we were at least a decade and over one-million dollars or more from becoming accredited.
In September of 2018 God initiated what would turn out to be a divine appointment. On a Sunday, I received a call from a most unexpected source; it was George. We had not spoken in over 33 years. George had obtained my phone number and was calling to catch up. He asked what I was up to, so I told him about our bible college. He described to me the new initiatives that SUM was taking to broaden the impact they could have training leaders called to ministry. It was then that he asked if we would be interested in partnering with SUM. The partnership would enable us to offer fully accredited degrees to our students. I immediately realized the impact of George’s offer. This was an opportunity to realize a significant portion of the vision that Pastor Alan and I, as well as the IFCA Executive leadership had for the IFCA Bible College. With this partnership we could leap ahead over a decade as well as save a massive financial investment.
I went to Pastor Alan with the offer, who immediately saw its significance. We scheduled a meeting with our IFCA general overseer and presented it to him. He likewise saw the potential and took the proposal to the rest of the executive board. On December 13, 2018 the IFCA signed a Letter of Intent and Understanding with SUM Bible College and Seminary formalizing the partnership. Now the IFCA-SUM Bible College & Theological Seminary can offer fully accredited degrees to its students!
There is a Latin phrase, Coram Deo. Roughly translated it means “in the presence of God.” The idea is that everything we do is before him, and therefore everything we do is subject to his providence. There is no way that anyone could have known the outcome of my friendship with George. There is no way anyone could have known that the college that George would found and build would one day help to fulfill the vision Pastor Alan and I had to establish a college many years later. There is no way that anyone could have orchestrated in advance the timing of these events. It is all Coram Deo, in God’s presence and under his sovereign providence. All the glory goes to God.
All degrees accredited through our partnership with SUM Bible College and Theological Seminary.