Written by Elizabeth Reda, GCBI Graduate, class of 2019-2020.

I was twenty-two. I had already graduated from a four-year undergraduate program. I’d told myself I was done with school.

Except that the idea of GCBI North (the Great Commission Bible Institute) intrigued me. It would be a smaller, more intimate setting of students than I had ever experienced. I was told that we would read through the entire Bible out loud, cover to cover, in just eight days, prior to the first lecture. That alone is an experience you won’t find at other institutions.

One of the first questions I was often asked by friends and family was, “How is this different from what you’ve already done?” Let me share a few things that made my GCBI North experience unique:

Getting to know the Bible better than ever

In addition to the study of the Bible, most post-secondary Christian institutions incorporate other courses of study: theology, psychology, ethics, English literature, general studies, etc. The whole point of GCBI North is that the entire program is focused on studying through each and every book of the Bible. The Bible is the only textbook. Professor and founder, Dr. Randall Smith, concisely analyzes the Word of God, providing insightful biblical teaching while making Old and New Testament principles relevant and applicable to our twenty-first century world.

GCBI North students spend four hours in class each day, three days a week. This allows time, opportunity, and flexibility in a student’s schedule for a part-time job, if they should choose to have one. Each day, students watch video lectures taught by Dr. Smith and participate in classroom discussions facilitated by the pastoral staff of Renew Church, a multi-campus church based in the GTA. The discussion times are informative and helpful, as we talk about what stuck out to us from the lectures and ask questions about the teaching or the portion of the Bible being studied that day.

Living in Christian community with other students

As enriching as the teaching is, there’s more to the GCBI North experience than the time spent in the classroom each week. Living in a house with ten other people in a family-style environment became eight of the most formative months of my life. The GCBI North residence is a comfortable, spacious home in a residential neighbourhood, where students share bedrooms and bathrooms, cook meals and watch shows, do chores and homework together.

A typical school day starts off earlier for some of us than others. Some get up early to have ample time to get ready for the day, and others sleep in, rushing in five minutes to get ready for class. The GCBI North classroom is located a short drive from the residence, at the offices of Renew Church. When we finished classes for the day at 12:30 p.m., we would drive back to the house where we would make lunch from the kitchen stocked by our residence directors. It could get a little hectic in the kitchen, so we would sometimes prepare lunch in shifts, or make enough food to share.

Afternoons and days outside of class were spent doing homework and assignments (or procrastinating by watching Netflix), reading, and playing board games or video games together. Some students held part-time jobs, so it wasn’t too often that all of us were home at the same time.

Residence Directors Maggy and Kevin Laton are well-loved by everyone, and keep the house of 12 people organized and running smoothly. They help create a schedule to coordinate students to make dinner each evening, and another team to clean up afterwards. Daily and weekly chores are also assigned, with weekly chores being done on Saturday mornings. A laundry schedule gives everyone the opportunity to use the washer and dryer.

As it goes in any family, you may have disagreements, and people can get on your nerves from time to time. There is a lot to be learned through that: forgiveness, unconditional love, communication, conflict resolution. GCBI North gave me numerous opportunities to learn how to love others as Jesus does and show them his grace. 

Developing transferable skills in ministry

Another rewarding experience at GCBI North is the opportunity to engage in practical ministry in collaboration with Renew Church. Ministry opportunities depend on what the Covid-19 pandemic allows for, but with or without Covid, Renew Church has lots going on: Sunday worship services (live-streamed during Covid restrictions), weekly community groups, Renew Kids children’s program, a youth group and a young adults group, just to name a few. There are many opportunities to serve and grow in each of these ministries to develop skills in leadership, worship, children and youth ministry, and A/V tech.

Personally, my internship was with the worship team at Renew Church, leading worship at one of their campuses each Sunday. This is something I had started doing prior to attending GCBI North, and was easily transferable to my internship. In this role, I had to prepare the Sunday set list during the week, choose people to play in the band, send out their invitations to play or sing, lead rehearsals and execute the set list each Sunday. 

Things obviously changed and became a little bit more complicated once the Covid-19 pandemic hit and public health restrictions began rolling out in March of 2020. At GCBI North, precautions were taken immediately in order to maintain the safety and health of the students. The residence went into lockdown and we were able to continue our studies uninterrupted from the safety of our “bubble.” 

Renew Church had to adapt their services and programming as well, which meant that church services moved to a livestream format on Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings. At the residence, all of the GCBI North students would join in the living room to watch the service and worship together, as initially we could no longer serve in our internships because of the lockdown. Since then, these same livestream services have opened up new opportunities for this year’s GCBI North students to receive hands-on learning in the areas of A/V, tech, worship and children’s ministry in Renew’s video production studio.

The Covid-19 pandemic affected GCBI North for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. Our graduation ceremony ended up taking place in an online format, thanks to the amazing tech team at Renew Church. The GCBI North class of 2020 graduated in our own cozy living room, with each of our families watching from their living rooms all across Canada. It was certainly the most unique graduation ceremony I’ve ever experienced, but one that was sweet and intimate, and a memory I’ll cherish forever.

GCBI North is more than an eight-month study of the Bible, or a read-through from cover to cover in eight days. Yes, GCBI North is an opportunity to expand your biblical knowledge, but it is also a once-in-a-lifetime chance to serve in a local church in different areas of ministry, make new friends, live away from home in a family-style setting, and learn more about who you are and how God made you. Perhaps you’ll even discover what he wants for your future. GCBI North is an eight-month investment that truly has the potential to benefit your life long-term, if you choose to allow it. If you’re wondering what’s next for you after grade 12 or another school program, I recommend that you check out GCBI North.

If you are interested in learning more about GCBI North, visit our website or contact Executive Director Mitch Van Rassel, 416-737-7476 or mitch@renewchurch.ca.

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