Ready For My Journey: Interview With Michelle Terry

Ready For My Journey: Interview With Michelle Terry

By Maggie Barnes

On this part of Melrose there is nothing glitzy, glam, or fancy. It’s quiet. The streets that branch off of the iconic fashion strip in this part of town are lined with low tiered apartment buildings and family houses. I’m meeting Michelle Terry at her home. She’s close to Hollywood, but barely touching the sides. It’s a breezy LA night and after watching car after car return her neighbors home from work, I text Michelle to inquire about her whereabouts. She texts back promptly, “I’m home.” When she buzzes me in and greets me warmly, I admit that I’ve been standing under her apartment window for the better part of the last 20 minutes. Laughing she replies, “I put the light on, didn’t you look up?”

   Looking upward is something Michelle does often. To be around her even briefly I notice her fixation on looking up. While others perhaps in thought may without thinking tilt their heads down, her glances are routinely in the opposite direction.

Having just returned home from work, her day spent around acting hopefuls and casting agents, there’s no indication of tiredness. Dressed in nautical wear, red white and blue, the all American color palette, she’s effortlessly chic. There is a playful twang in her voice, and the half tied combat boots that somehow manage to not compete with the sparkly flower attached to her jacket, complete a look to suggest that she’s not simply your “typical” pretty lady. And that’s a good thing.

The gospel truth is that she is different. Terry has a continual testimony that flips the phrase “give an inch and they’ll take a mile”, on its head. She’s a Christian woman who accepts the Bible as the inherent truth, and that intentionality leads her to take steps of faith that sometimes feel like small inches practically, but are confirmed with going the distance responses.

“I was at Paradigm two years ago, and the Lord began to kind of put school in front of me. Just like it kept coming up in conversation. People kept saying well why don’t you go back to school?  I hated school.” She waves her hands around her head in the air for emphasis. “When I was in school I never really felt like I was good in school, or felt like I was a good learner. So the Lord kept putting it in front of me, and I would just come up with all these excuses.” Terry continues, “At the time when it first started happening I didn’t realize that it was the Lord. I was like yeah that’s dumb. No, not doing school, never going back to school. That’s just so not for me. And I would have all these excuses.”

At the time Michelle was working 40 hours a week, she was heavily involved in her church, (she attends Reality LA in Hollywood, CA) and in within her community. Her plate was always full. So to have all these people all of a sudden practically bombard her with the same words involving school was rather surprising. While laughing she pulls her hair to the side and says, “I’m still paying on a student loan from the one year I attended back in ’97.”

But then she became unemployed. And suddenly all the activities and excuses in the world were not as relevant anymore.

Then came the day that she claims was her game changer, “I was volunteering at the church office one day and this guy was helping out there and we were just kind of chatting and I was asking him kind of what he does,  and he told me that he helps people apply for school. Apply for college. And I was like oh no…so it was just another instance of the Lord knocking down my excuse. Just like shutting it down.”

Becoming serious for a moment, with slight hesitant she admits how honestly scared she was of the notion becoming a reality. “I really had to pray on it, and face my fear in that because I was really terrified. Lord if you’re calling me to school, you’re going to have to make this happen. You’re going to have to make my brain work.”

With her hands claps together tightly and residing on the edge of her seat with the enthusiasm of a child, one with the best secret ever waiting to explode, she changes gears and speaks as a woman clearly excited about being a participant in uncertain waters that would send others packing in the opposite direction. Without the knowledge of what she was to study upon taking classes she simply started. “The Lord took it from there. I got accepted. But even for me that was a big challenge because I didn’t know what would happen.”

In less than six months her step of faith in the direction of returning to secondary education, has taken her from community college attendee, to securing her an admissions ticket (with anonymously paid tuition!) to study in the birthplace of three of the world’s major religions; Judaism, Islam, and most importantly to her, Christianity. To the city that more than three thousand years ago ancient maps depicted as the center of the world: Jerusalem. Terry was accepted into the Fall 2012 “Associate Degree of Theology” program at Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, CA. As apart of their two year program they offer a Murrieta Mission Fellowship Teaching Tour that is held in Jerusalem Israel. She’s opted to begin with the tour. Arrival into Tel Aviv, Israel will be September 13 and departure December 11.

With the availability of other Bible Colleges available I can’t help but ask why she chose this one in particular. This college that began in Southern California in 1965 after growing out of out of Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. Doctrinally speaking Calvary Chapel is evangelical, and they place great importance in the practice of expository teaching, a “verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book” approach to teaching the Bible.

Sharing details on why this college, Michelle reveals that she’d been familiar with the campus for a while, “The first time I remember hearing about it was in kid’s ministry, when I first started serving there.”  The mother of her pastor’s wife, when sharing how her daughter Lindsey met her now husband, she explained it had been at  Calvary Chapel.

“We’ve also gone on a woman’s retreat to Murrieta before, so I’ve actually stayed there for a weekend. ” She’d also heard Calvary Chapel, and their other programs in general discussed at various times amongst friends.

“I thought about Biola. (Biola University is a nationally ranked private liberal arts and evangelical Christian university located in Southern California, and a member of the Coalition for Christian Colleges.)

But Biola is so expensive. Murrieta provides really affording schooling, where you just learn the Bible. And for me it just made sense.”

As a graduate myself of a four year university, I’m curious about the application process of applying to attend a school like this. As we’ve fully settled into the groove of this informative conversation I simply ask. She light heartedly jokes, “Who doesn’t get accepted into community college?” (Which is where she first began her return to school.)

I’m kind of under a similar train of thought regarding Bible College to be honest. And in the world of accreditation and not, a topic we get deeper into later, and course load studies, but in regards to the applying part she replies, “The application took me about three weeks. If I was to have actually sat down and knocked it out, maybe it wouldn’t have been so long, but it took a lot of thought process. There were about 10 essay questions where I had to answer about myself, about my spiritual walk, my spiritual weaknesses, my spiritual strengths. All these questions that took me time to think about. Just writing out my testimony alone took some time. I did have to get three reference letters, one from my pastor, and two from whoever I picked. Obviously I picked people that know me really well. But I didn’t get to see it; I have no idea what they wrote.”

Compared to other schools (Such as the popular Seattle based Mars Hill Program), this isn’t one you’d put on your résumé. They’re an unaccredited school. In effort to explain their reasoning for choosing to intentionally remain unaccredited; on their official website they list several motivational causes.

  • The idea of accrediting a college is to ensure that the institution or program meets certain educational requirements.
  • A college’s accreditation is essentially apart of their promotional campaign. And verifying if a person’s degree was obtained from an accredited school, verses non, they are evaluating a job applicant’s credentials in relation to a job description.
  • They want local pastors teach Bible classes. (Some of these pastors—although called by God, gifted, and experienced in teaching—do not have Masters Degrees.)
  • They want keep the cost of tuition affordable. School can be expensive and accreditation by a recognized agency would increase their prices.
  • Instead they demonstrate credibility through compliance with generally accepted accreditation standards, articulation agreements with accredited colleges, and through the spiritually fruitful lives of the students who have attended. (Inspired by Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-2) )

When I ask Michelle her thoughts and awareness of the schools lack of “accreditation, she nods her head knowingly. She’s well informed about this, and it didn’t sway her decision. “When the Lord called me back to school I didn’t exactly know why He was, but I knew it was going to be in the direction towards ministry. Even when I started at LACC I was like I don’t know what your plan is there, but I know it has to do with ministry. At the time I thought I would get my associate, and maybe do an online counseling course to do Biblical counseling. So I just started, I was ready for my journey however long it took. So as far as Calvary not being accredited, I’m not exactly career oriented like the world is.”

The topic of Bible College in and of itself for those in and outside of the Christian realm, it’s a subject that has been cause for debate. When I bring up the fact that many shepherd leaders are actually opposed to even the concept of “Bible College”, for the first time all night, Michelle Terry leans back in her chair, crosses her legs and is momentarily silent. I explain how they present arguments claiming that Jesus “prohibits” the use of 3 terms in reference to pastors and religious leaders: Rabbi, Father, and Master. And site the fact that Bible colleges pattern themselves after worldly institutions in their “Masters” degree program, with bestowing titles such as “Master of Pastoral Theology” upon their graduates. Many stand firm in their believed notions that Bible Colleges replace local churches as being God’s institution for Biblical doctrine teaching, and do not approve.

[It should be noted that the way we do church—with a pastor routinely speaking to a congregation, on a raised platform and other practices typical especially of Western churches—has been critically examined for their pagan roots, and unbiblical behavior. Like in the book Pagan Christianity by George Barna & Frank Viola.] (Everyone’s a Bible critic?)

Then there are the questions about why women would chose to go to a bible college. Men typically go for motivated reasons including but not limited to, becoming church planters, becoming pastors, biblical scholars, and educators of The Word in some regard. “God calls people to different aspects of ministry. I think women in general don’t, well I know women in our community aren’t going to bible college to become church planters. But just to be equipped in however God plans to use them. The Lord directs their life and how He plans to use them, and just being prepared for that. Being grounded in The Word.”

So let’s talk about women then. I tread the subject lightly. If you ascribe closely to biblical content there’s more than one verse plainly stating that women are not to be teachers over men. I wouldn’t be the first woman myself to note, well if women aren’t suppose to teach then why do we have female teachers in any regard? Like in math, science, college English and so forth. I’d like her to point out where the Bible says teaching every other subject is fine, just not the most important one—God’s instructions for life. Calvary is very much only about men teaching, and Michelle agrees with this. She doesn’t imply that she has all the exact answers on the matter, but she’s still able to answer quickly, wisely, and firmly, in a way I find truly impressive. “I believe that’s biblical. I don’t think women should be teaching men. I don’t think women should be say a teaching pastor of a church. Women are definitely called to be deacons.”

(What about co-leading with their husband?) “I don’t really agree with that either. It doesn’t portray Christ in the Church. Jesus didn’t have a “co”…

(Aren’t there influential women in the Bible that do in fact educate?) “Yeah you can definitely teach. Whether its bible studies, or like how it is with our church, the way they do equip. Our women’s connect. Women’s retreat. Those women are teaching. There is definitely a place for that. It depends. I’d say it would be case by case. I think it happens. There’s obviously going to be women out there that are educated and have learned a lot. They will be friends with a guy—and that guy’s going to learn. In small group situations we have women that are co-leading small groups. And they’re teaching. And people are learning.”

I’m impressed because what she’s expressed here in case you missed it is that to learn and to teach mean different things and are expressed in different ways. We all as people in general learn from each other and teach each other, but ultimately she attests to the fact that God created men and women differently and in different ways He’s placed on their hearts things to do, how, and why. It’s a complexity. To even slightly grasp it requires getting to the root.

Michelle isn’t interested in debates. She’s interested in pointing back to Christ.

And pointing to Christ is something the three month teaching site study she’s set to attend, does in a depth like no other. It will take students through all four accounts of the Life of Christ in the land where Christ spent His life and ministry. Their eight credit class will be divided into four parts with each section covering the events of Jesus’ life from each full Gospel account. Every part of the Life of Christ class will be taught in both an inductive bible study style and a hands-on/on-site teaching style. She will be apart of their dorm living that is situated in the New Imperial Hotel, in East Jerusalem. The Hotel is located within the Old City of Jerusalem close to the Jaffa Gate.

[Accessible Wi-Fi internet is provided by the hotel. The Hotel is also within walking distance to many higher speed internet-access coffee shops in the area. The campus itself will provide access to a US based internet phone line, so students can phone home…  (Michelle mentions that she plans to Skype all the time with her community group members while abroad.)]

I end the night with two last questions, there’s a rapport between us that suggests that this interview could go on and on, but for what’s left of brevity I ask this; what are you going to do when you get back? Or more importantly, what will you do if you don’t raise enough money to actually be able to go…?

             “Lord only knows. It’s something I’m praying about and definitely considering. The Lord has definitely called me to school. Whether that be going to the Murrieta campus, or finishing through their online course, it would really depend on the Lord’s provision. If He provided the means to go, then there’s a good chance that I would probably do that.”

“Well you know Maggie; it’s really one of those situations that you just gotta have faith. God has really confirmed that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. So I’m just going to trust Him. I’m definitely going to do all that I can to be saving and raising as much as I can. I’m going to really trust that God is going to provide for this somehow. And I don’t know how. It may be a last minute thing. But I really feel that the Lord will provide this.” She says this smiling in a way that makes you wonder if her mouth knows other expressions. And of course…she looks up.

Some say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s clear that in Michelle Terry’s life God is her WILL, and her WAY.

*For more information on Michelle Terry, or to donate to her cause you can follow her blog Michelle Goes to Bible College (http://michelleterry.wordpress.com/).

(Jan. 2012)

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