This story was originally published in February, 2011. We are reprinting it in honor of Dr. Ireland’s receiving the 2013 Willis E. Snowbarger Award for Teaching Excellence.
“At the first class meeting of the Biblical hermeneutics course I teach, I tell my students that my wife and I will throw a party for them on the last night of class to celebrate that they’ve made it through,” says Dr. Herb Ireland, adjunct professor in the School of Graduate and Continuing Studies. He teaches this six-week religion course – required for their bachelor’s degree – to nursing and business students.
Over his five years with Olivet, Dr. Ireland has taught the course more than 30 times – most often on site at hospitals in Morris, Rockford and the greater Chicago area. There are usually 12 to 20 students in each class, ranging in age from 23 to 50-plus.
“I estimate that about 20 percent are disciples of Jesus; 50 percent have a Christian background, but they aren’t practicing their faith; and 30 percent declare no religion at all. Occasionally, students may be Muslims or from another world religion. Most of my students have only a superficial understanding of the Bible and Christianity.
“We meet together four hours once a week for six weeks. That means we spend 24 hours together. During that time, we ask hard questions about God, death and dying. I take them to God’s Word to find the answers. Sometimes I encounter real resistance.”
He also takes a photo of every class and keeps it with his class records.
More than a professor
Dr. Ireland devotes part of every class meeting to ministering to the students. “I was a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene for 35 years before I came to Olivet,” he says. “I also serve as associate chaplain for the grad school.
“Each time the class meets, I pass around a sheet of paper and ask students to write down their prayer requests. I promise that I will pray for them that week, and I do.
“I’m their professor, but when God opens the door, I become their chaplain. That’s when I really see the Holy Spirit working. I have many opportunities to help them deal with that they are encountering on the job and in their lives every day. Sometimes that gets intense.”
When students turn in reports that are required for the class, they often discuss how what they are learning is dovetailing with the reality of their lives. Dr. Ireland writes personal comments on each of them.
“Their reports let me see the impact that our class is having on them,” he says. “Right now, I’m working on a book to encourage other professors. I want more professors to see the fertile field for ministry that they have in front of them.”
Some of the student comments he’s received?
Bruce* shares: “This is the most dynamic and satisfying class I’ve ever had.”
From Albert*: “My life is completely changed for the good spiritually because of this class.”
Judith* says: “This class has been eye opening, cleansing and has begun the process of healing in my heart and soul.”
Janelle* offers: “Thank you for reminding me who I am.” Students have also blessed him with a variety of small gifts to thank him for the impact he has had on their lives.
Dr. Ireland’s contact with his students doesn’t end with the party he and his wife give for those who complete the course. “I make two visits to each of my students after the class ends,” he says. “This is for encouragement and prayer. I already have their trust, and I invite them to call or e-mail me with their prayer needs.
“Often, I have the opportunity to encourage them in another course they’re taking in the program. I want them to know that I did more than just teach them a course.”
Dr. Ireland has found his own personal blend of teaching, ministry, caring and cooperation in relating with his students. His contributions to helping students develop a biblical worldview are also growing God’s kingdom today and for eternity.
Miranda*, a nursing student, puts it well: “I miss seeing you on Wednesday evenings, Dr. Ireland, but I haven’t forgotten your message. I’m enjoying my new found faith in Christ and sharing it with my family!”
*Names have been changed to preserve confidentiality.