I am writing to you with news of a significant and exciting change for Bethany Bible Training Center. I have a lot to try to communicate, and I know this letter is long, but I ask that you read it carefully, and I pray that God will witness to your heart the things I am about to share.
As a friend of Bethany, you probably know that we have struggled throughout our nearly 45-year history to meet our financial obligations. In the seven years I have been President, we have done all we can to live within our means, but the cost of constant repairs to hundred-year-old buildings, and even the expense of heating in upstate New York winters, just drains our finances. You would be amazed at the number of staff required to maintain the grounds and our 55,000 square feet of buildings.
In the past, I was never sure what we would do if we came to the place where the needs of the buildings required more than we had. I have gone before God again and again and questioned whether it was possible to carry on without the finances we needed to pay our staff and our bills. I had assumed that if we were not able to continue on in this property, then we would close our doors and the school would be finished. But while I was praying this past May, I felt the Lord begin to speak to me that He had different plans for the school’s future.
Let me take you back four years to one of our Board meetings. As we were seeking God for the school’s future, Joe Nieves gave a prophetic word that, just as God led the Israelites by a cloud in the wilderness, the cloud was beginning to move, and it was time to move on from this location. The Board of Directors (Dan Backens, Alan Bugos, Jack Buskey, Steve Chiyka, Donald Laughner, Joseph Nieves, Joanne Picataggi, Ed Szumowski, and Tom Worth) unanimously voted for me to begin to look for a new location for the school. At the time, nothing opened up, so I put the idea on a shelf.
But back in May, I felt the Lord speak to me that the time had come to move the location of the school. With the Board’s blessing, I contacted Board member Dan Backens, who pastors New Life Providence Church in Virginia Beach, and with whom Joanne and I have had a 15-year relationship. I met with Pastor Dan in October 2012 in a meeting I felt was very much orchestrated by the Lord. With the unanimous approval of Bethany’s Board of Directors and the consent of the elders at New Life Providence, we are making preparations to move Bethany Bible Training Center to begin the 2013-2014 school year at the New Life Deep Creek Campus in Chesapeake, Virginia.
The Deep Creek Campus, a church plant of New Life Providence Church, provides us with a chapel that seats about 200 and office and classroom space—even a cafeteria. We are also looking into renting houses on the same street as the church to use for men and women’s dormitories. We are taking things one step at a time and trusting that if God is leading us, He will open the right doors for us.
While we are still arranging all the details of the move, for many years I have sensed a connection in the Spirit between the school and the Virginia Beach area, which others have witnessed to. I did not necessarily expect to see that connection work itself out quite in this way, but I see the Lord’s hand in so many aspects of this move.
Not only will the school be relieved of the expenses of the buildings (which cannot be livable indefinitely without major repairs), but we can also pare down staff needs and operating expenses. From this position, we can concentrate on being a “School of the Spirit” instead of tending to school buildings. This location is also accessible to more students and will provide them with more job opportunities to support themselves, which will relieve the school of the number of scholarships we presently award at our own expense. Of course, we will continue to make the school available to those God sends our way. Our goal is not to become a profit-making organization, but by the grace of God, to be self supporting, and to faithfully continue in the purpose God has for this school.
Let me be clear: relocating the school has been discussed at different times throughout the school’s
history, but it is never—never—a decision we would make for purely logistical reasons. Moving to Chesapeake is not just a “Plan B” because finances are tight; I and the Board believe we are being obedient to the Lord’s direction for the school at this time. I know I speak for all of us when I say that we have approached this decision soberly, and we know that we answer to God for our stewardship of His school and ministry. It is a weighty responsibility, and one that none of us takes lightly.
I know I also speak for many of you when I say that I love these old buildings in Salisbury Center. As a student in the 1970s, I met God in Small Chapel services that lasted for hours and carried up through the tunnel and into pot-clanging singing sessions in the Cafeteria. As Dean, and now President, I have seen students on their faces at the altar or dancing for hours or just sitting and talking in the “Caf.” I have walked the grounds of this school and encountered God here in a way that has been unique to any other place I have ever been. I have spent 16 years of my life in the various positions God has called me to here, and I will profoundly miss this place, just as I know so many of you will. Whatever your experience here, and however God has impacted your life through Pinecrest/Bethany’s ministry, I know that for me, what God has done in my life here is tied up in this campus, and it is something I will always treasure.
When Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain, Peter cried, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4). But Jesus did not even respond to Peter’s emotional proposal. His intention was not to build stationary monuments to God’s glory where man would begin to worship at the altar of past experience; it was to have a people who lived in such intimate communion with Him that they would carry His heart and His presence into the ends of the earth. We cannot remain stagnant, pitching our tents at the literal or figurative location of past revelations of God’s glory; we must be obedient to move with Him as He leads.
There is no substitute for God's presence, and as Moses prayed, so our hearts cry to the Lord, “Unless You go in the lead, do not make us leave this place. For how shall it be known that Your people have gained Your favor unless You go with us…?” (Exodus 33:13-16, JPS Tanakh, a modern Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible).
As profoundly as God has moved here in Salisbury Center, I am convinced that His purpose for Bethany Bible Training Center is not confined to this campus; His intention goes beyond a location, and I believe He has a continuing, unique call for this school to fulfill. I have great anticipation for what He has in store for us and for the students He has yet to send our way. If He is leading us to a new place, then His plans for us there are greater than anything we could try to manufacture on our own.
You have been a faithful friend of this ministry, and I ask you to continue to stand with us in this next phase of Bethany Bible Training Center. We need your support now more than ever. Our financial situation has not changed since the last time I wrote you: our staff is now 44 weeks behind pay, and we have overdue bills, as well as the coming costs associated with moving an entire school across several states. Your donation, large or small, is so needed and appreciated at this time. I have also included an insert with some specific ways you can lift us up in prayer.
Please also mention Bethany to anyone you think might be interested in coming as a student. We believe God is going to continue building on the spiritual foundation that has been laid here in Salisbury Center and what He has been doing in the lives of our students, and we are expecting great things in the years to come.
Jack Picataggi, President
and Bethany Bible Training Center’s Board of Directors