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Northland: A Frest Start?

November 12, 2015

Exactly 20 years ago I was in the middle of my first semester at Northland Baptist Bible College. This week I was back on campus to meet and hear from the men at Project 14 Global Mission. Much has changed at Northland in the 20 years since I first arrived in northern Wisconsin. As I drove onto campus, the most obvious change was a noticeable absence. Instead of a campus filled with students and staff the dorms were empty and the buildings were dark. Several dozen pastors, alumni and friends of Northland met in the dining hall to get a glimpse of what is in store for Northland. The time was one of looking back. Alumni and former staff members shared fond memories of their time at Northland. Everyone was reminded of the burden that prompted Paul Patz to found Northland Camp. Dr. Ollila spoke briefly of his own ministry heart that was poured into the students and faculty throughout his years as President and Chancellor.

The time was also one of looking ahead. The new Northland board discussed their plans for the months ahead. Much is still uncertain. They have not laid out a specific multi-year plan of action. All future plans are contingent on continued financial support and finding proper leadership to take Northland Mission one step further. Northland camp will be open this summer. Depending on the success of camp, further plans will implemented. While many would love to see a Bible college at Northland, and the board is giving due consideration to the possibility, no promises are being made.

The time was one of cautiousness. The financial burden of a large facility like Northland cannot long be carried by any group. Future progress depends in large part on having the financial wherewithal to expand to the ministry. Future progress depends on having the right leadership in place to guide Northland. For many alumni and pastors Project 14 is a bit of an unknown. This meeting was my first real exposure to them. I am encouraged that their mission, to train national pastors to fulfill the great commission, dovetails with what attracted me to Northland in the first place- training men and women to do the work of the ministry. The board seemed to carry themselves with genuine humility. They were not seeking to build a name for themselves on the reputation of Northland. They seemed to view their role as holding the mission in trust until suitable leadership could come in and take Northland even farther. The attitude of humble service is greatly encouraging.

The presence of Dr. Ollila lending his support coupled with the assurance that he would be a vital counselor to the work encourages me and many other Northland alumni who recognize the singular influence Dr. O had on shaping the heart of Northland Baptist Bible College. The inclusion on the steering committee of men who love Northland, understand the ministry it once had and have already shown wisdom in leadership is a great encouragement to me. Much of what I saw and heard is encouraging, but there is still much we don’t know. What will be the scope and shape of future ministry? How will the 2016 camp season fare? If a Bible institute is started, who will lead it? What will be the ministry philosophy as Northland goes forward? These are serious questions that can only be answered as things unfold in the months to come. While we wait, I pray for God to lead this board, to raise up the right leadership for future ministry endeavors and for there to once again be a small college tucked away in the woods of northern Wisconsin training servant leaders for great commission living.

As the day ended my wife and I walked down to Reflection Lake (one of our favorite dating spots on campus) and talked about what had been and what might be. I reflected that like the temple of Jerusalem, the glory of the second may never be that of the first. Northland may never be a prestigious international university. Northland may not have a campus overflowing with students. If a Bible institute does spring up out of what remains, it may spend many years in relative obscurity. Northland may never be more than a small Bible college. If Northland moves forward with the ministry philosophy it once had, then serving with little notice will be no great hardship. I for one think what made Northland so special and so effective was it’s smallness and comparative obscurity. Northland Baptist Bible College was a school with a heart to train men and women for the work of the ministry. It desired to raise up servants who would lead a church of 10 as faithfully and compassionately as they would would a ministry of 1,000. In my estimation, Northland would make a serious mistake if it tried to become a celebrated Christian institution. If Northland will focus on training a small group ministry minded students to go into the world and preach the gospel, I believe the vision of Paul Patz and Ken McCoy will be realized. If Northland will make it her ambition to please God by quietly investing in servant leaders, I believe she will continue to have a powerful impact on the world for the kingdom of God.

I am cautiously optimistic about the new leadership and direction of Northland. Much that we would like to know can only be learned as the ministry takes each step forward. No one knows if there will ever again be a Bible institute or college in Dunbar, Wisconsin but the early signs are encouraging to me.

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