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Moody Bible Institute’s students learn to navigate cultural differences

Moody Bible Institute Spokane’s record 260 incoming freshmen will sign a statement of agreeing with the school’s doctrinal statement, but from the base of that common culture, their spiritual formation will include respecting those who differ.

Jack Lewis

Jack Lewis

It’s part of a dynamic of cross-pollination that Jack Lewis, associate dean of faculty at Spokane’s campus, believes is important in today’s cross-cultural missions.

Many students who come have experienced short-term global mission trips, and all six of the full-time faculty have taught or done mission work in such areas as Ethiopia, Italy, the Philippines, India, Nepal, Austria, England, Croatia, Poland and Kenya.

Moody Bible Institute also offers mission trips that combine learning experiences, internships and cross-cultural learning. Students earning degrees in cross-cultural mission and aviation do cross-cultural internships.

Jack believes that cross-cultural experiences help people from evangelical backgrounds break through the assumptions that Evangelicals are narrow.

“In a rapidly changing world, it’s a process of learning to respect while navigating topics of cultural change,” he said.

To help respect those who differ or disagree, Jack helps them distinguish what is biblical and what is cultural.  He said churches have often let go of biblical practices and adopted cultural standards, claiming they are biblical.

Traditional taboos against alcohol and movies, for example, are cultural,” he clarified.  “Every culture has a right and responsibility to set parameters for members.  So the school sets parameters for students’ behaviors based on its culture and doctrinal beliefs.”

“We need to balance knowing a  behavior is clear and important in our culture with the need to respect those who are not in our culture and may differ,” he said.

“We disagree in our families and churches on many issues.  We can learn in those contexts to respect those with whom we disagree,” he said. 

Along with his passion to convey this understanding, Jack is enthusiastic about the unique contribution of Moody Bible Institute-Spokane.

Partnerships with a church, air field, community college and local university libraries have made it possible for Moody Bible Institute’s only branch campus to expand its four-year undergraduate program.

In 2004, the incoming class was 40.  This fall it’s 260, up from 216 in 2009 and 168 in 2008.

Along with its numerical expansion, Jack said the campus offers students a basic liberal arts education that includes English, science and math classes for accredited bachelor of arts or sciences degrees.  Majors prepare students for pastoral ministry and preaching, youth ministry, world mission, biblical and theological education and aviation ministry.

He describes the Moody Bible Institute (MBI) campus’ long-term lease with Fourth Memorial Church at 611 E. Indiana as a symbiotic relationship of mutual dependence and benefits.

The space includes the original brick building built in 1909, an addition built in 1954, an education wing built in 1968 and the worship center built in 1992. 

The agreement includes trade-out for upgrading facilities with projectors, screens, wireless, equipment and furnishings, and remodeling classrooms to accommodate the growing program.

Some space is for MBI exclusively—such as faculty and administrative offices, the library and computer lab.  Some space the church shares with MBI during the week—classrooms and the 1,200-seat worship center for chapel three times a week, large classes, orientation, graduation and mission conferences.

Agreements with Gonzaga University and Whitworth University libraries give MBI students access to more than the 10,000 volumes in their own campus library.

Until last year, MBI’s only branch campus received subsidies from the main campus in Chicago.  Now Spokane’s campus is self-sustaining, funded by tuition. 

Jack said MBI, which has a 24-acre campus in Chicago where it was founded 125 years ago, opened radio stations around the United States, such as KMBI in Spokane in 1975, but did not open branch campuses. 

The Spokane campus grew out of previous Bible schools.  The Inland Empire School of the Bible started in 1972 through the Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals in relationship with Multnomah School of the Bible.

In 1974, it became an independent Bible college.  In 1989, it became the Spokane Bible College.  That closed in 1993, and re-opened as Moody Northwest under the oversight of the institute’s distance-learning program.

It began as an external studies division for non-traditional, older students doing correspondence courses and radio classes.

“However, we had traditional students who wanted to go to school four years and earn a degree,” he said.  “They didn’t want to do online classes.”

Another step toward growth came in 2004 when Moody Aviation, which began in 1946 in Chicago and moved about 30 years later to Elizabethtown, Tenn., decided it would be more cost effective to operate at Felts Field in Spokane. 

Moody Aviation has historically trained 50 percent of the mission aviators serving around the world, Jack said. 

Pilots learn to fly and maintain their planes.  Students earn associate of applied science degrees in Spokane Community College’s aviation maintenance program.  MBI offers a bachelor of science in missionary aviation technology through classes at the Moody Aviation Hangar at Felts Field, plus studies in Bible, missions and general education.

“Our training flights have doubled the take-offs and landings at Felts Field,” Jack said.

In 2005, Moody re-examined its policy of not having a branch campus and decided to move the Spokane campus to its undergraduate division.  In 2006, it opened as Moody Bible Institute-Spokane.  Now some students who apply to Chicago are diverted to Spokane.

Of the more than 450 students this year, about 270 live in homes they rent in the Logan neighborhood within six blocks of MBI.  Beginning this year, they pay $7,000 for tuition, plus about $4,000 for living expenses, including rent.  Although donations cover tuition costs for Chicago students, their fees, room and board also total $11,000 a year.

Here we have a unique campus atmosphere, with students learning to navigate life as adults—cooking, shopping and paying rent—while studying within a caring community,” said Jack, who contrasted that with the protected life of students on the Chicago campus, where students are to be in at 10 p.m.

Here students make their own decisions while they study together within an environment of spiritual formation, he said.

Based on the belief that the church is to be in the community and have impact on it, every student spends time in practical community ministries or services.  Opportunities include church and para-church ministries like Young Life, World Relief or Cup of Cool Water, and community-service programs like the Red Cross.

Jack, who was pastor of the Medical Lake Community Church, came on the board of the Inland Empire School of the Bible in 1983 and began as an adjunct teacher. 

A Shadle High School graduate, he completed studies in 1977 at Central Washington State College, where he met and married his wife, Cheryl.

He worked 18 months as an insurance adjustor in the Yakima Valley to gain experience in the business world and earn money for graduate school before studying four years at Dallas Theological Seminary.  He earned a master’s in theology in 1982.  In 1997, while a doctoral student at Gonzaga University, he became the first full-time faculty member at MBI in Spokane.  He completed the PhD in 2000 and in 2005 moved into administration.  He still teaches one class a semester in Bible, theology or ministry.

In addition to the full-time faculty, adjunct faculty include pastors, counselors, missionaries and educators.

Jack said that MBI in Spokane offers a model of training professional pastors in the community, rather than sending people off to study and work elsewhere. 

“Instead of congregations choosing leaders from people they do not know,” he said, “we see churches and the academy working closely to prepare people for ministry.”

For information, call 487-1769 or email