Q&A: Gary Ingersoll
Resident professor, Florida campus
Certain teachers seem as much a part of the Bible Institute as Scripture memory or chapter titles. But few have always been at Word of Life ... or even in ministry. The Florida campus has a former titan of industry (well, close enough) as one of its resident professors — a man whose Bible training went well beyond book studies.
Tell us how you ended up at the Bible Institute in Florida.
I came 3,200 miles, from the other corner of the country, to the Bible Institute in Florida as a “job transfer” in 1997. I had been a Word of Life missionary with Local Church Ministries in Washington state for 12 years. The opportunity to be a professor at the Bible Institute does not often present itself (after 15 years, I am still the newest professor at the U.S. campuses), so when I heard an extension campus was opening in Florida, I began asking about transferring to the new position of resident professor. Some five or six months later, we were moving to Florida!
How did you get into teaching the Bible?
Educationally, my story begins in 1970, when I was in the second of a five-year program to become an engineer at General Motor Institute (now called Kettering University, in Flint, Michigan). It was then that I asked Jesus to be my Savior through the ministry at the nearby Riverdale Baptist Church. I earned my engineering degree in 1974, took an educational leave of absence from General Motors (I worked in things like “car crash-testing”), and enrolled at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary. I earned a masters of divinity in 1978 and became the associate pastor at my Riverdale, my home church. An economic recession resulted in my losing my pastorate. So I returned to seminary in 1981-82 to get a masters in religious education and then took an associate pastorate at Bethany Baptist Church in Seattle, Washington. In 1985, I came on staff with Word of Life as a local church missionary to Washington state, where I served until moving to Florida.
What on earth took you from crash-testing cars to teaching the Bible? What did God do in your life?
Well, I got saved when I was a sophomore in college. I was in the second year of a five-year work study program to become an engineer with General Motors when it was the largest company in the world. By that point, I had been around Christian friends for some three years — first in high school and then again in college. I knew they had an inner joy, peace, and purpose I lacked in my life. But because of my background as a teen in theologically liberal churches, I had difficulty sorting out true from error in my understanding of Scripture — I thought I was somehow already a Christian who could work my way to Heaven!
I also came to understand before I was saved that to become a Christian meant that I must change my focus in life. I had natural abilities as an engineer, so I thought I could pursue that career, make a lot of money, and, of course, live happily ever after. Yet as a “seeker” of the truth about Jesus, I came to understand that His disciples were those who took up their own crosses to become true followers or disciples of Him. I believe that the Lord was calling me to salvation but also calling me to a greater purpose in life than I had up to that point.
After I was saved, I had several long conversations with influential older Christians like my college calculus professor, Dr. Bolander. He and others helped me see how I could become a true disciple of my Lord Jesus. He encouraged me to finish my engineering degree (after all, the Lord may just want to use that in my future, too!) and to get involved in my local church. I worked with the teen program, which was involved with Word of Life, and began to help out at some evangelistic activities in our area.
As I became more involved in working with my local churches and helping them with their youth work, I began teaching on a regular basis. So, 20 years before I became a professor at the Bible Institute, I was teaching doctrinal studies to teens at my church each week. Little did I know that the Lord was going to use all of these as preparation to continue my work with young people at the Bible Institute in Florida.
How did you end up in Washington state?
The saddest day in Fran’s and my life had to be the day my ministry to the youth at Riverdale Baptist came to an end. There was a hard-hitting recession that resulted in a third of the people in Flint leaving town to find work. My church lost close to half its membership, so I became an unemployed youth pastor. Without work in Flint, I re-enrolled in seminary and also began working as a contract engineer designing machinery to make breakfast cereal for Post Cereal (I did things like design a better “raisin machine” that adds raisin to Post Raisin Bran!).
I continued to look for full-time ministry in a local church, but nothing was available in Michigan. But we got in touch with Bethany Baptist in Seattle, which had contacted my seminary looking for possible pastoral candidates. I started Word of Life clubs there, became fast friends with the new local church missionary, and went to my first Word of Life camp the next summer in northern California.
What makes Word of Life unique, and why did you want to stick around?
My wife, Fran, and I first choose to come on staff with Word of Life and, from time to time over the past 27 years, have chosen to remain with Word of Life instead of moving on to some other ministry based upon one primary observation: Word of Life continues to afford the two of us a greater opportunity of service for our Savior, Jesus Christ, than anything else into which we could be investing our lives! We could be involved elsewhere, make more money, and perhaps gain greater fame or a more impressive title. Yet we have chosen to invest in the lives of the 120-plus young people that each year become our students. It is our goal to help them grow in their walks with the Lord as we pastor them like a “one-year youth group.” They truly become “our young people,” whom we love!
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